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LAS VEGAS — Retailers said they were looking for fresh styles at the MAGIC trade show, but found vendors offering many standbys such as bohemian looks and embellished denim in an effort to minimize risk in an unpredictable economy.

To be sure, some new styles trickled down from the runways to MAGIC, which ended Friday, and ancillary shows. Baci showed fur-trimmed tapestry booties, Evil Kitty offered bad-girl vinyl skirts, and E.C. Star and Sugar Lips favored good-girl touches such as Peter Pan collars and polkadots.

As for denim, the big change was that many companies moved away from the wider flares of past seasons to introduce straight and skinny legs. Still, many jean makers didn’t retire rhinestones.

“Anything with embellishments on it sells,” said Rachael Barnard, chief operating officer of Los Angeles’ Seven7. “We sell it right down to the last piece.”

The pool of buyers at WWDMAGIC solidified the show’s reputation as a marketplace that lures small retailers in droves, while a handful of the industry’s big guns, including Dillard’s, Federated Department Stores and Belk, swooped in for meetings at the show’s start on Feb. 21 and left by the end of the second day, vendors said.

Buyers from Hot Topic and its plus-size chain, Torrid, ordered from the Gothic-tinged young contemporary brand Emily the Strange and the punk-inspired streetwear label Adeline, respectively. And Scrapbook of Westminster, Calif., said it met with Federated.

While specialty retailers such as Sondra Tudor of Articulations in Santa Fe, N.M., filled orders for outerwear with vendors like Canada’s Robert Kitchen, many larger retailers left without making promises.

“Not a lot of paper is left behind at this show,” said Scott Manson, senior vice president of apparel and general merchandise manager of Gottschalks, the Fresno, Calif., department store chain that operates 63 stores from Alaska to San Diego. “It’s more about meeting with management.”

One pressing concern among retailers was gasoline prices that crimped their customers’ budgets. “People are really watching what they spend,” said Lisa Zagha, owner of a women’s shop called Lisa Z in Redondo Beach, Calif. As a result, Zagha played it safe, preferring to purchase items instead of entire lines.

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For some established brands, WWDMAGIC and the tandem MAGIC men’s wear show are more about launching lines and establishing their brand than order-writing, which is relegated to private offices or showrooms, said Michael Silver, president of Silver Jeans in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Silver Jeans jumped from WWDMAGIC to MAGIC for the first time and launched a line of women’s knit tops, including a sporty sweatshirt with a pocket-within-a-pocket built for an iPod audio player and a grommet hole to facilitate earphones. “This year, for us, it was about making a statement about being a dual jeaner [for men and women],” he said.

New York’s Heatherette didn’t even need a booth at the shows to attract buyers, including Jaime Teruya of Body and Soul in Waikiki, Hawaii. Teruya said the streetwear label unveiled hoodies, peacoats and fur-trimmed bomber jackets from its lower-priced line, launching in July for fall, in a suite at the Bellagio hotel. “That was really, really cute,” she said.

Project Global Tradeshows at Sands Expo & Convention Center, also owned by MAGIC’s parent company, Advanstar Communications, stole some thunder from MAGIC’s Platform pavilion, located in the premium and contemporary section — to the dismay of exhibitors who showed at Platform. “I need an incentive to stay here because all my buyers are telling me Project is on fire,” said Kim Watterson, national sales manager for James Jeans, Vernon, Calif.

Ernae Mothershed, a spokeswoman for MAGIC in Woodland Hills, Calif., said the trade show will keep Platform and acknowledged that manufacturers and buyers always have options like Project.

Still, Operations, based in New York, helped kick off its first year as a wholesaler at Platform. Targeting no more than 30 retail accounts, designer Matteo Gottardi launched the men’s and women’s military-inspired sportswear line as he and his partners opened a store in lower Manhattan last March.

Within the large pool of first-time vendors, a handful of standout foreign companies set up booths with hopes of breaking into the U.S.

One of the most charming was Odd Molly, a young contemporary brand started four years ago in Stockholm by designer Karin Jimfelt-Ghatan and brand director Per Holknekt. They had a slow but steady stream of buyer traffic for sweaters inspired by vintage pot holders and for other knitwear. “This is our first little toe into the U.S. market,” said Holknekt, who put net earnings for 2005 at “around $1 million” from primarily European and Japanese accounts.

Adeline, the streetwear label created by punk rocker Billie Joe Armstrong and his wife, Adrienne, expanded the women’s line after its launch last holiday. Downplaying its skull logo, Adeline emphasized stand-alone designs, including a black cotton slipdress that is trimmed with polkadot lace and is the costliest piece with a $44 wholesale price. “What’s important is that it’s affordable,” said Armstrong, the lead singer of Green Day.

Denim remained a constant for fall as sales continue to be strong.

“It’s still good for us,” said Jennifer Martin, juniors buyer for a two-door department store called Martin’s in Hope, Ark.

Companies also offered alternatives to blue jeans, such as five-pocket pants in corduroy, and black and tan denim. Paul Frank Industries plans to test the denim market with a skinny-leg black jean for holiday. Adrienne Armstrong said Adeline plans to introduce women’s jeans in the fall. House of Deréon offered a pair of jeans in tan with oversize contrast stitching and piping in mocha.

“There’s so much blue denim,” said Tina Knowles, who started House of Deréon with her daughter, Beyoncé, who didn’t make it to Las Vegas. “We wanted to do something different.”

POOL

The Pool Trade Show kicked off its 10th edition Feb. 20-22 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to steady traffic, with buyers anxious to view offerings from emerging lines such as Anzevino and Florence and XGLA by X-Girl.

After its acquisition last year by Advanstar Communications, Pool increased the number of vendors by 25 percent to 500 from August. Major trends included dresses made of T-shirt fabric in earth tones and eco-conscious styles such as accessories assembled from recycled skateboards by New York’s Beck(y). Fashion newcomers such as rapper DMC and performance troupe Cirque du Soleil launched collections and regaled show visitors with evening performances.

Jenna Field and Robin Fulsom, shopping for Las Vegas boutique Talulah G, scouted fresh product with a rocker edge. “We see more fashion-forward brands and unexpected streetwear lines here,” Field said.

Born Uniqorn’s Tara Jane and actress Taryn Manning went back to the drawing board to streamline their offering from a sprawling mix of casualwear into more sophisticated contemporary clothing. Paul Maisano, general sales manager for the Los Angeles company, attributed revisions partly to buyers’ concerns about the U.S. economy. “People are less free to shop spontaneously,” he said. “We pay attention to that fact.”

Manning, who is best known for her roles in indie films such as “Hustle & Flow,” said, “We have narrowed product options way down, which makes it easier for the buyers.”

PROJECT

Project Global Tradeshows asserted its brand identity as the go-to venue for premium denim and edgy streetwear by holding a VIP day for press and top buyers the day before its official opening on Feb. 21, and expanding its roster of women’s lines. “It was important for us to create an opportunity for the Bloomingdale’s, Nordstroms, and Lisa Klines of the world to get to know these vendors [on VIP day],” said show founder Sam Ben-Avraham. He estimated that 1,200 buyers showed up on that day.

Project added 70 strictly women’s lines, ranging from Rhus Ovata’s sleek, muted neutrals in jersey to Soya’s romantic, girly-girl looks. “It makes sense because we see our clothes as denim-related,” Rhus Ovata co-designer Hadas Zucker said of the Israeli-based company’s inclusion in Project. Other women’s labels felt a little out of place. “This show is focused on a very specific trend of streetwear for men,” said Natalie Mense, vice president of sales for Joyann by Joyce Azria, sitting in front of exaggerated deep V-neck cashmere sweaters and other luxe items. “However, there is a huge international presence that represents a chance for us to get into stores that would otherwise be difficult to reach.”

Celebrities also took a stroll down Project’s aisles. Actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler and R&B singer Usher scored jeans from Stronghold and 575 Denim, respectively. Justin Timberlake, whose label, William Rast, exhibited its second season of denim and casualwear at Project, was a no-show. Among the 500 vendors, standout lines fulfilled specialty retailers’ desires for less embellished looks. Featuring dark slim denim, the booth for New York-based Raven Denim was consistently packed with buyers, including Melody Mahsoul, of Beverly Hills’ Harmony. “I like the simple lines and classic fits,” she said.

ACCESSORIESTHESHOW

Three ballrooms at the Venetian hotel housed almost 450 brands displaying jewelry, handbags, belts, hats and luggage at AccessoriesTheShow, which ran Feb. 21-23. The show received a comparative trickle of foot traffic from more than 3,000 buyers, a 5 percent increase from the first installment in August. The edited selection of merchandise was at best uneven.

Still, the show displayed a burst of candy colors. Vanessa Constanti, designer and owner of Bijoux Luck in Portland, Ore., presented an eclectic mix of earrings and bracelets in primary colors and the shapes of sea horses and crocodiles, as well as romantic, resin styles in Mediterranean tints. Buyers from Tiara at Fred Segal in Santa Monica scooped up her wares. “Having a lot of color in your collection is a sign of higher quality,” Constanti said. “It also helps women differentiate their look or accentuate their best features.”

Mixing categories and price points through the show provided visual interest for buyers. Priscilla Markham, owner of Priscilla’s on the Plaza in Prescott, Ariz., searched for inexpensive, glitzier bags and chunky, semiprecious stone jewelry. “A lot of this stuff jumps out at you and is easy to look at,” she said.

Yet, being placed near to lower-priced lines proved frustrating to Chicago-based jewelry designer Sherzada Ornelas, who sought to double sales from August’s show. She vowed to request better placement at the next show for her line that features shells, mother-of-pearl and bright stones. “This time there are more things from China and Korea,” she said.

“Placement is done very carefully in order to drive traffic, and for a few [vendors], the grass is always greener on the other side,” show organizer Sharon Enright said.

SOURCING AT MAGIC AND ASAP GLOBAL SOURCING

At the two sourcing shows, run separately by MAGIC and ASAP Global Sourcing, manufacturers from Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Kenya and other countries jockeyed to increase business with U.S. designers and retailers that create clothing under private label.

Jordan dispatched its minister of industry and trade, Sharif Ali Zu’bi, to Las Vegas to give a presentation and meet with apparel executives and journalists. Jordan’s apparel industry constitutes one-third of total exports and operates 150 factories in a nation with a 14 percent unemployment rate, Zu’bi said. In January, the government introduced an on-the-job training program that pays salaries for as long as six months for Jordanians who want to acquire skills to work in the apparel business. Zu’bi said the kingdom aims to almost triple its apparel exports to between $3 billion and $3.5 billion in 2010 from $1.2 billion last year. “It’s a major industry that’s being developed,” he said in an interview at the Jordanian Pavilion in MAGIC’s Sourcing section at Las Vegas Convention Center.

Jyotindra Shah, president of Seven Seas Enterprises in Mumbai, India, came to Sourcing for the first time with hopes of adding U.S. companies to his customer base spread throughout Australia, Europe, Russia and Canada. Shah said he had never considered securing a foothold in the U.S. until World Trade Organization quotas expired last year. “This is the first time we’re taking the [U.S.] market seriously,” he said, adding that trade safeguard measures against China provided some breathing room.

Ashrafur Rahman, managing director of Nipun (Pte) Ltd. in Dhaka, Bangladesh, also hoped to diversify into the U.S. market with a debut in the ASAP Global Sourcing show in the Sands Expo & Convention Center. “This is a bigger market than Europe,” he said.

Overseas production is the only way to manufacture on a mass scale at low cost, said retailer David Smith, who owns urbanwear store 3Dvision in Philadelphia. Browsing MAGIC’s Sourcing section in search of contractors in China and India, he plans to begin wholesaling nationally a private label clothing line in the next 18 months. Still, the biggest challenge for him is retaining copyrights so that “no one steals the design and bootlegs it,” he said.

WWIN

Fashion and fit were the prevailing trends at the WomensWear in Nevada trade show Feb. 20-23 at the Rio Hotel Convention Center.

Vendors such as Los Angeles’ PK Maks that combined both fared well with buyers. Phyllis Maks designed all her palazzo pants, deconstructed skirts and tunics to include a lining made of wicking fabric that essentially acts as a girdle. Wholesaling from $20 to $50, the line will begin offering plus sizes this fall. “I have so many people asking for them,” Maks said, adding that her company tallied $3 million in wholesale sales last year.

Indeed, signs declaring “plus sizes available” were a welcome sight for retailers including Shirley Singhal, owner of India Clothing in West Yarmouth, Mass., who was on the lookout for ponchos, caftans and other loose-fitting clothes. “We lose a lot of sales if we don’t have plus sizes,” Singhal said.

Steve Thompson, a sales manager for Herrin, Ill.-based Keren Hart, said plus sizes make up 15 percent of the line that specializes in novelty jackets, and that contemporary styles constitute 5 percent of plus-size offerings. But he noted that overall retail buyers paid attention to quality and price. One top seller, a denim blazer adorned with copper sequins on the top lapel and front pockets, wholesaled for less than $29.

OFF-PRICE

If anyone felt the pinch of high gas prices, it was the retail buyer and exhibitor at the Feb. 19-23 run of the Off Price Specialist Show at Sands Expo & Convention Center.

Focusing on garments that are overstock and cost about half of the original wholesale price, exhibitors at Off Price complained that retailers tried to shave more off margins that are already thin.

Moreover, gas prices bumped apparel as a priority for consumers, said Robert Isagholian, owner of Los Angeles’ Off-Price Connection Inc. “It puts a big pressure on us as a garment industry,” Isagholian said. “We become secondary.”

Economic pressures forced June Heilman to sell two of her four stores in Mackinaw City, Mich., in the last two years. Based 300 miles north of Detroit, Heilman came to the Off Price show for the first time to shop for jeans, denim jackets, shoes, T-shirts and other items.

“We’re looking for some good buys,” Heilman said. “We’re just tired of paying top dollar for everything.”

MAGIC TRENDS:

  • Blue Note: Teal to peacock, vibrant blues color outerwear to evening. In solids and prints, often teamed with brown.

    Armed Service: Peacoats, flight jackets and cargo pants made a strong military statement in camouflage and shades of khaki, navy, olive and sand. Brass buttons and epaulets adorned tailored jackets, vests and rolled shorts.

    Gray Day: Superslim silhouettes in cloudy gray and an overdyed black wash, often cropped at capri length.

    Short Cuts: Shorts continued to make a play in walking and rolled lengths, with cargo details or cinched paper-bag style at the waist.

    Layer Cake: Eighties flashback items such as cotton leggings trimmed in lace and superlong T-shirts and hoodies, often layered with denim minis and shorts.

    Vest Dressed: Vests in all styles from dressed-up fur-trimmed denim to sleek satin with tuxedo lapels and gold buttons.

With contributions from Martine Bury

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