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WWDStyle issue 02/16/2011

NEW YORK — Despite signs of recovery, fashion designers and labels aren’t quite ready to exhale.

This story first appeared in the February 16, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

These are still tough times, they say, and many are pulling out all the stops to make sure they can face any challenges that may come their way.

Heading into the Fashion Coterie show, which begins a three-day run on Sunday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and Pier 94 here, exhibitors noted their woes range from the severe winter weather’s impact on traffic in stores to the high price of cotton impacting the bottom line as retailers are demanding lower price points. But executives also said customers are willing to spend more on items with a perceived value, and many firms are adding details and more luxurious fabrics to their collections where possible.

At New York-based label Lilla P., key trends include a focus on comfort with cotton and cashmere sweaters, easy knit dresses and items in French terry.

“We continue to develop our sweater collections, adding heavier gauges and novelty in addition to the core pieces,” said co-owner and creative director Pauline Nakios. “Dresses continue to be strong, so we also added more fall dresses to the line. The size of the line has increased by 30 percent over last fall.”

Next month, Lilla P. is opening a store in the Meatpacking District at 420 West 14th Street, near Diane von Furstenberg, Scoop, Jeffrey New York, Stella McCartney and Apple. Nakios said the company is looking forward to having “direct interaction with our end user — the feedback will be invaluable and will enable us to continue to make the line better and better.”

“The strongest headwind we face is surging commodity prices, particularly cotton, which just hit a 140-year record high,” co-owner Thomas Nakios added. “Combine this with a weak U.S. dollar and inflation in many developing countries, and clothing prices are set to rise at a time when consumers are still cautious with their discretionary spending.”

Mi Jong Lee, founder and designer of the New York-based Emmelle label, said, “For me, there is a new consumer reality. They are more focused. It’s not the disposable clothing mentality anymore. There is still impulse buying, but there is a strong focus on value. It’s investment pieces.”

Lee will offer a “neutral palette with just a pop of color” and origami details, vintage fabrics such as jacquard damask, colorblocking and faux Persian lamb. For fall, Emmelle, which is known for its suits and special occasion dresses, also is expanding with more casual lifestyle pieces such as cashmere coats.

“I am thinking of it as more of a lifestyle collection,” Lee said. “It’s another way to meet the challenges of what is going on today, by giving women reasons to cater to all [their] needs.”

Los Angeles-based Nation Ltd. is introducing wovens for fall, after featuring a light denim chambray fabric in the summer collection. Nation also is offering rayon voile button-down tops, tunics and dresses, and skirts will play a key role this season, according to Jen Menchaca, founder and designer.

“I just love this new trend of pairing maxiskirts with Ts, sweatshirts and sweaters, which is not limited to just evenings out on the town,” she said. “You’ll see it at the grocery store, movies, farmer’s market and evening dinners. The other great trends for the season are within texture and color, especially with the gorgeous navys and reds we’ve been seeing all over the runway and red carpet. I included these colors in my fall 2011 collection — midnight navy is in every fabric grouping and I have included just a pop of red in the wovens.”

Several vendors noted stores are delaying their orders and looking to write them as close to delivery as possible.

“This creates extra pressure on us, as we cut to order but at the same time refuse to sacrifice quality in the name of speed,” Menchaca said. “Also, the current increase in cotton prices is another big challenge for everyone as the end market is still very price sensitive.”

This Coterie, Kasil, a premium denim brand based in Los Angeles, will be taking on new directions, spotlighting wool blends and new wash techniques to give the collection a “rough-around-the-edge” look, according to designer David Lim.

“There are good and bad parts to our business now,” Lim said. “We still deal with the credit issues and have seen numerous businesses fold over the past year. Times are still tough, but we are fortunate to still be around. It’s about time for some good things to happen and we’re not about sitting around for it to happen.”

New York-based Haute Hippie’s mix will include everything from T-shirts to ballgowns, as well as accessories such as jewelry, clutches and belts.

“We will also be showing our HHN haute hippie nude collection, which are great basics that are created as a layering concept — T-shirts, leggings and sweaters — clothes that you can wear when you drop your child at school, brunch in or travel in,” said Trish Wescoat Pound, the head of Haute Hippie. “Our customers are shopping for emotional pieces and for great luxurious basics. They are buying must-have items and things they love. But there is also the idea that wardrobes are not as seasonal as they used to be and this is a major trend…in consumer shopping behavior. That’s why we believe in layering. Buy now, wear now and layer.”

Monrow, a Los Angeles-based contemporary label, will be introducing new fleece basics, and novelty fleece pieces that are mixed with suede and shearling.

“We’ve added some great textures using washes and dye techniques, new custom prints including cable knit, tweed and plaid-inspired prints,” said Megan George, who co-founded Monrow with Michelle Wenke. “Our inspiration this season was an English seaside fishermen’s village with an added feeling of luxe and coziness. Details include zip-off features, chunky knit-inspired prints and colorblocking with silk, rugby stripes. [There are] feminine silk blouses with mixed color details; Ultrasuede and leather piping with clean finish details, [and] long, lean and clean silhouettes. And last but not least, animal prints, which are always a classic trend for fall.”

New York contemporary designer Yoana Baraschi will be showing a “heightened, intensified color, the faux real world of virtual enhancement, macro-textures and animal skins. The 3-D effect of megastripes and colorblocking, very modern simple shapes with a nod to the Seventies and Nineties excess heroines.”

“We are expanding our accessories offerings from our scarf line,” Baraschi added. “We will be offering for the first time a capsule collection of shoes and bags.”

Designer David Lerner said to succeed in today’s economy, it is crucial to take a multifaceted approach.

“I speak to my stores across the country everyday,” said Lerner, who will be bringing his main contemporary line, as well as his new sport and maternity collections, to Coterie. “I think all retailers that have a 360 [-degree] approach using the Internet, media and traditional retail can do very well in 2011.”

Whatever the challenges of the times, the show’s organizer, Elyse Kroll, chairman and chief creative officer of ENK International, remains optimistic.

“So far this year, ENK has produced three shows — Accessorie Circuit/Intermezzo, Children’s Club and ENKNYC — and we witnessed the same enthusiasm from retailers at all three,” Kroll said. “In fact, we had a tremendous rise in retailer attendance at Accessorie Circuit/Intermezzo. Exhibitors reported strong buying from retailers across the board and an overall sense of confidence they have not seen in past seasons. So, with that in mind, we are very confident that we will see that same retailer confidence at Coterie combined with strong attendance by retailers.”

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