A world without sweats might still be months away, but retailers at the Designers & Agents trade show were in search of fashion with a little splash.
While millions are still working remotely and living somewhat cautiously, many are welcoming the opportunity to attend weddings, special events or just go about their daily routines with a little more freedom. Alisa Greenspan, owner of Loop New York, was on the lookout for on-the-rise designers for her pop-up shops. An offshoot of the pandemic has been retailers’ interest in hosting pop-ups with Loop to drive traffic, she said.
Instead of just buying items for work or day-to-day, shoppers are buying styles they really love, but they are doing so carefully. “People are like, ‘Do not show me a sweat. Do not show me something comfortable. Please show me things that make me happy — not anything insanely baggy or that gives me psychological PTSD that I’m going to be home for another year,” Greenspan said.
Greenspan said as an added incentive for shoppers, she often partners with a charity — Glam4Good is a favorite — and tags the charity on invitations to her pop-up events. In addition to mixing higher-end and more accessible labels, she always seeks out designers that have not been fully discovered. At D&A, she discovered Eka from France and Monoplaza from Spain. Inoui Editions (for scarves and throws) and Carol Workinger were two other show resources Greenspan said she liked.
On Sept. 20, while buyers browsed Soeur Paris, VdeVinster and other vendors, show organizer Ed Mandelbaum extended his smartphone to a few attendees to share the news that travel restrictions for vaccinated U.S.-bound Europeans had been revoked. While that bulletin was welcome, it arrived too late for his purposes. About 40 International brands that had committed to the show had been unable to attend, due to travel restrictions, he said.
The recent three-day show featured 93 companies. “Incredibly encouraged” by the turnout, Mandelbaum said, “It’s very clear that business is vibrant for these stores that deliver an elevated experience to their customers.”
Bridge Boutique owner Mañana Cain was checking out vendors for the relaunch of her store in Atlanta. In 2017 after shuttering her storefront, she continued selling clothes, shoes and chandeliers from an outpost in another business Westside Market. Having seen her business at Westside Market pick up tremendously, Cain decided to focus full-time on retail again and recently started hosting pop-up shops at her home and other locations, selling a good deal of merchandise while reconnecting with customers. As a sign of these still-homebound times, half of the offerings at the new Bridge Boutique will be home goods. In the past, about 20 percent of her merchandise was home decor.
In terms of apparel, dresses are a strong category, due to their ease, Cain said. Throughout the pandemic, her luxury customers continued to shop for casual items, hats, other accessories and home-related items. Luxury consumers kept shopping and “were not that affected by the pandemic,” Cain said.
California-based vendor Minden Chan said he picked up a few new accounts, offering an assortment of dresses made from hard-to-find Japanese cottons that appealed to buyers, he said.
Grateful to not be buying via Zoom, Alan Bilzerian, who has a signature boutique on Boston’s Newbury Street and another one nearby in Newton Centre, planned to place orders with the Italian brand Transit for yarn-dyed knitwear and trousers, as well as items from Moma. Those offerings will be “stepping stones for shoppers to or out of” collections from Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, which the store offers, he said.
From his viewpoint, “It is a very difficult time for people to make the call on what they’re going to wear when the future is not decided. Now we’re seeing people, who are dressing for an occasion. We’re selling suits. And we want to because it’s a style that is so much more productive in the clothing industry…I can’t look at another fleece-lined pair of pants or a jogging suit,” Bilzerian said.
He prefers to buy based on his intuition versus shoppers’ ever-changing interest in trends. “We have a very unusual situation. We buy all of the pieces and we don’t care if they like them or not. We care that we like them,” he said. “The customer is very fickle. That’s why you don’t buy for the consumer. You buy on your intuition because they can come back and say, ‘Nah, I’m not into that anymore.’ Then you’re stuck. That’s why I’ve never gone after the young college students in Boston even though 250,000 students come here every season…if they want to buy something really beautiful and unusual, you have to be on our level.”
With an on-site atelier in the multifloor store that offers custom design, tailoring and repairs, new merchandise is brought downstairs to be sold at least once or twice a week. Women’s tuxedo shirts were recently added and have done well, Bilzerian said. The store is a destination for actors and musicians, having sold items to The Rolling Stones and other notables in the past.
In search of spring clothing, accessories and footwear for her Columbus, Ohio, boutique Ladybird, Allison Jayjack said she liked Il Bisonte’s handbags, and noted that people are shopping more now that they have places to go to and they are able to do so. Trying to get product in is the greatest challenge, due to shipping delays and the logistics of dealing with them, she said. Online sales account for 20 percent of the retailer’s overall sales. With a loyal clientele, she has been focused on keeping up those relationships and adjusting to changing needs by offering curbside pick-ups, dropping purchases off at shoppers’ homes or providing by-appointment shopping.
Liz Sliclen, owner of Our Own Projects in Huntington, N.Y., was on the lookout for “uplifting gifts” or “bold statements.” Accessories were at the top of her list with Maelu being one of the vendors she planned to check out, as well as new ones. Most shoppers spend between $48 and $98 at her store, she said. “Pretty optimistic” about how things are evolving, Sliclen noted “we have to remain cautious but strengthen the things that make people feel good.”