CHICAGO — The Stylemax trade show presented a more contemporary array of brands and saw a strong showing from regional stores staying closer to home.

This story first appeared in the November 16, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Susan McCullough, senior vice president for apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., which produces the show, said buyers reacted positively to a boost in well-known contemporary brands showing at the market, citing the presence of lines such as Citizens of Humanity, Milly, Tibi and Seven For All Mankind.

“It’s about having the right brands,” McCullough said, referring to Stylemax, the largest women’s apparel market in the Midwest, which ran Oct. 24 to 27 at the Merchandise Mart here. “You can’t get the stores without the brands and you can’t get the brands without the stores. We finally got contemporary right.”

Other lines new to Stylemax included L.A.M.B., James Jeans, T-Bags and Trina Turk. There were more than 4,000 resources across the 100,000 square feet of the Mart’s seventh floor.

McCullough said the troubled economy actually may have helped grow Stylemax because many Midwestern buyers, looking to cut costs, shopped closer to home. Vendors, eager for sales, have also been more willing to travel to accommodate buyers.

“We’ve had increases in attendance all year,” said McCullough, citing double-digit gains but declining to release exact figures. “This is an easy-to-shop show. Everything is right here on one floor.”

One buyer who is traveling to New York less frequently and shopping Chicago more often is Polly Brown, owner of her namesake 1,100-square-foot women’s boutique in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Brown prefers attending Stylemax because the sales representatives — she shopped Silver and vfish among other lines — seem to better understand what styles sell best in the Midwest.

Brown bought basic denim from Jag Jeans and also from Silver, reordering strong-selling styles as well as denim capris for spring. She also liked easy-to-wear print dresses from vfish and brightly colored dresses from Analili. And from XCVI, Brown went with some of the less-expensive tops and cargo pants in brown, blue and black.

She said sales were healthy in August and September, “but lately they’ve taken a big dive.”

In turn, Brown bought less, maybe one or two styles from each line rather than four or five looks.

Another retailer who took advantage of the new lines at the market was Stephanie Morrisey, owner of Stephanie’s, a specialty store with locations in St. Paul and Edina, Minn.

Morrisey opted for bright colored and printed silk dresses and tunics from Tibi, as well as boyfriend-cut and striped denim from Citizens of Humanity and Twiggy jeans from James Jeans.

For her store, Morrisey also ordered ripped T-shirts with studs and lace from Urban Behavior, corset dresses from Costa Blanca, sweaters and T-shirts with beaded fringe from Smitten, and structured-shoulder dresses and those with origami-style pleating from Cynthia Steffe.

People aren’t buying as much,” she said, so she has avoided buying more expensive items, scouting instead for “cool less expensive lines that people won’t feel guilty buying.”

Overall, McCullough said the mood at Stylemax was much improved from this time last year.

“Last year, everyone was stunned,” she said. “Now stores know what they have to do to maintain.”


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