Akin to walking a tightrope, retailers making their way to the big tops of WWDMAGIC in Las Vegas said they must strike a delicate balance between being cautious with their buys and taking certain calculated risks to maintain consumer interest.

As for what’s hot in the marketplace, spring’s surge of feminine peasant tops, Mexican-influenced prairie skirts and denim are still the top choices, to the point where some retailers believe saturation in the marketplace is imminent. On the other hand, the modern preppy look is emerging as the next most popular option.

The challenge for many buyers, most of whom are planning to snap up immediates and summer fill-ins at the show, is how these styles will transition into early fall deliveries.

“It’s going to be a big contrast,” predicted Sharon Segal, an owner and buyer at contemporary boutique Fred Segal Santa Monica, noting the light and airy feminine spring styles will give way to an opposite direction during the colder months.

“I think we’re definitely in for a pant fitted and tight at the hip and wider and flowing at the leg and, personally, there’s nothing that can beat a great cashmere sweater.”

In a tight economy, retailers often turn to less-established lines at lower price points to augment their higher-priced inventories.

Atomic Garage, a junior five-store chain in Southern California, has this particular plan in mind. The store has been doing well with Diesel, Frankie B. and Seven jeans, but, said Rie Dukes, the chain’s women’s wear buyer, “Right now, we’re looking for something a little more reasonable, but that still fits the trends.” She said she will look specifically for bottoms in denim twill and new textures.

As for the future look of denim, it will be “a little darker and dirty, but six months from now, it will be lighter,” she remarked.

Julie Zamarov, owner of contemporary store NYSE in Los Angeles, said that on the last day of last year’s show, she found a tiny pool of European designers she snapped up for her trendy boutique. She hopes her luck will hold out this year for another such discovery. But even with a penchant for the avant-garde, Zamarov is exerting a certain amount of restraint.

“I need to fit right in between extremely fashion forward and the rest of 95 percent of customers who just want to look nice,” she said.

Lisa Kline, owner of the contemporary Los Angeles boutique of the same name, is in the process of adding 2,500 square feet of space to her women’s boutique and is using the show to largely merchandise the expansion.

“A year ago, we tried more sophisticated stuff,” she said. “It didn’t work. We’re going back to what we did in the old-school days. I’m buying what’s selling, and that’s casual sweats, T-shirts and great jeans.”

Kline is focusing on higher-end casualwear, settling in at an average price point of about $100 at retail.

Delia’s catalog and 46 stores is sending a team of buyers to WWDMAGIC with the goal of determining how its spring theme of desert rose and Mexican romantic offerings will evolve into fall, said senior vice president and general merchandise manager Ira Goldspeil.

“We actually got in a peasant blouse — a long-sleeve knit — and that has already sold out,” he said, noting Delia’s is betting the style of blouse will not die down for fall.

Delia’s will be keen on washed cords and destroyed denim — “more beaten to death,” as Goldspeil described it. “Different treatments will make things fresh again,” he said.

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