SAN FRANCISCO — Retailers turned up in a fairly good buying mood at the holiday and resort market at the Fashion Center here and generally said they were finding what they wanted — from eco-friendly casualwear to holiday novelties and eveningwear.

Budgets were reported ranging from even with a year ago to more than 20 percent ahead. Cautious attitudes still were evident, though, as some retailers noted that despite sales gains in the stores, they were avoiding hikes in open-to-buys.

Fashion Center management put traffic at about even with a year ago for the four-day market, which ran through Aug. 30. Among the highlights was a Saturday evening runway fashion show in the center’s atrium, featuring looks from 45 Bay Area designers and a welcome by San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan. The show was followed by a cocktail reception at the new Hotel Milano several miles away.

As buyers shopped the market, they talked about such matters as the problems in finding certain looks for full-figured women, a welcome move by some resources to lower minimum order requirements and the growing acceptance of casual styles for wearing to work.

Despite the growing presence of color in the market after the long-term prevalence of neutrals and natural tones, many retailers said they were still gravitating to a muted palette.

“I love natural colors, but not everybody does,” said Pam Hanke, buyer for The New Carriage House, a misses’ boutique in Redding, Calif. “I’m buying them now, but going forward, I will add some soft pastels.”

Shopping fall, holiday and resort deliveries, she ordered goods in such neutral shades as taupe. On her shopping list were many basic separates, including vests, jackets, sweaters, broomstick skirts and palazzo pants averaging $30 wholesale.

She also was enthusiastic about better knit goods at Martha Abraham and ordered items from that line in cream and buttercup yellow.

Although Hanke enjoyed strong sales in August — thanks to some in-store promotions — she slightly lowered her open-to-buy.

“Because of the uncertainty of the economy, I have to be careful,” she said.

On the more confident side were Deanne Westen and Danelle Wilson, owners of Panache, a women’s boutique in San Jose, Calif. The pair noted that year-to-date sales in their store were up about 23 percent and their budget was increased to match. They looked for novelty suits and layering pieces in velvet and rayon blends at $35 to $110 wholesale. They also continued going for neutral tones, including khaki, taupe and cream, plus black. Among their market picks were crocheted tunics and matching skirts by Maria Rodriguez, long velvet dresses by Celia Tejada and striped ensembles by Tamar Aznavour.

“Because a lot of lines have reduced their minimum order requirements, we can now carry fewer items of more lines,” Westen further noted.

Wilson added that the two are also finding better value in their price points at market.

“We are more particular these days,” she further commented. “We will only carry certain lines if they promise us exclusivity in our city.”

Elaine and Roger Berke, owners of Eco Goods, an environmentally conscious boutique in Capitola, Calif., shopped for men’s, women’s and children’s casualwear in organic cotton. In business for six months, they kept their price points below $70 wholesale.

Because the Fashion Center directory does not feature a separate category for eco-friendly offerings, the two relied heavily on showroom window displays and stumbled upon two infants’ wear lines — E Cotton and Sarah’s Prints — as well as casual men’s and women’s sportswear by O Wear. In addition, the pair were excited to find expanded collections by two women’s resources they already used: Earth Goddess and Mañana.

As for the palette in such goods, Elaine Berke noted: “Usually, because they use only natural dyes, their colors are muted.”

Gayle St. John, owner of Collections, a 20-year-old women’s boutique in Makawao, Hawaii, also liked the environmental message, as she stocked up on all-cotton merchandise at $25 to $50 wholesale.

“I ordered sweaters by Joma that are made with yarn spun from recycled trims,” she said. “I love the idea of that.”

The retailer also ordered sweaters by Redford, embroidered cotton knit sportswear by Pacific Cotton and faded flannel plaid patchwork shirts, jumpers and slipdresses by Citron. She preferred soft, muted colors, including Southwestern shades.

Although her 1994 sales are up 10 percent from a year ago, thanks in part to customer traffic generated by a housewares store she just opened two doors down, St. John played it safe and kept open-to-buy even with a year ago.

Melissa Davis, owner of The Cherry Tree, two contemporary women’s boutiques in Big Fork and Kalispell, Mont., looked for novelty holiday apparel at $35 to $175 wholesale.

“For that time of the year, the merchandise should be items appropriate for gift giving, items that induce impulse buying,” she said. For her, these included printed vests by Painted Pony and retro-style rayon dresses by Romeo Romeo. Her holiday palette consisted of black and neutral colors, as well as eggplant, forest green and cranberry.

“Business has been so fabulous,”she said.”Californians are moving into our area by the droves. They are tired of being in city smog.”

Dora Cornelius, owner of Bernardo’s Fashions in Sacramento, Calif., also reported healthy sales. A purveyor of dressy attire for church-going ladies, she reported a buying budget up between 15 and 20 percent.

“I’m easing my customers into better merchandise at higher price points by lowering my markups,” she said, adding that her markups are nearly 50 percent less than the usual doubling of wholesale.

The buyer added that she had a tough time finding items for full-figured women in up to size 36, but did manage to order some — beaded and embroidered wool jersey and wool gabardine suits by Baronesa.

Shopping wholesale price points of $100 to $200 wholesale, she also favored eveningwear by Daymore.

Valerie Ramirez, owner of Quail Patch, a women’s boutique in Kelseyville, Calif., was another fan of neutrals, shopping for earth-tone sportswear at $25 to $75 wholesale in cotton, gauze and sandwashed silks. Her favorite resource at market was Woolrich, from whom she ordered cotton twill and cotton blend straight skirts, shirts, shorts and fishing vests. The retailer also liked flowing rayon separates, including long vests and shells, palazzo pants and feminine blouses by Lucia.

She also was one of those cautious with budgets. With sales 5 percent ahead of this time a year ago, Ramirez kept her buying budget flat.

Still, she expressed optimism. “We are on the upswing,” she said. “And 5 percent up is better than 5 percent below. A lot more casual, relaxed and even outdoor looks are gaining acceptance in the workplace, and we carry these looks.”

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