Despite concerns about consumers’ inclination and ability to spend, retailers are looking forward to next week’s Coterie at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here, optimistic in the hunt for the newness their clients crave — and organizers are beefing up assortments and categories to help them find it.
This story first appeared in the September 11, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Tops on specialty stores’ shopping lists are clothes that appeal to a broad audience — perhaps somewhat older in age but not in attitude — casual denim, accessories and lots of dresses.
Sarah Shendow, vice president and ladies’ buyer at Bell’s Fine Clothing in Winchester, Va., uses the Coterie to shop vendors that don’t have showrooms in Manhattan. She’ll be looking for tops, which have outperformed bottoms.
“It’s what catches my eye and what I think is going to appeal to the customer,” Shendow said. “The customer sees a lot of merchandise. I’m looking for something that’s going to stand out, items that are unique in styling, color or fabric.”
Bell’s clients range in age from 30 and up, young in attitude and not matronly. “She wants young-looking apparel, it just needs to fit properly,” Shendow said. “She’s gravitating to more casual looks but wants to look put-together.”
The store’s customers want multiuse, seasonless items. “I’m very conscious of the weight of the fabrics and how far into the season they can go,” Shendow added. “The customer has become pretty savvy about the amount of things she needs in her wardrobe, particularly the customer who’s traveling. She wants to take as few things as possible.”
Shendow said designers are answering the call for only some customers. “There’s not enough emphasis on sizes 12 to 16. That customer wants the same fabric and styles. Vendors have a tendency to all go after the same customer. The little sleeveless dresses are very popular, but they need slightly different specs when you go to other sizes. If they give the store more fabric in a garment, we could always fit it.”
Bell’s clients want good value for their dollar, Shendow stressed. “Even if it’s a T-shirt, they want to know if it’s constructed well,” she said. “I do a lot with natural fibers in my store.” Brands sold at Bell’s include Artico, Gimo’s, White + Warren, Vanilla, Carmen Marc Valvo and Marissa.
Carol Herman buys for the contemporary departments of husband Ron Herman’s four namesake stores in Brentwood, Melrose, Beverly Hills and Malibu, Calif. “I go to Coterie because you can see everything,” she said. “It’s a good show for making comparisons. By the end of the show, I have a pretty good idea of what’s trending and what’s new. It has great denim bags and shoes, belts and sweaters, and everything in between. In the midst of all this, I’ve found people over the years that I’d never heard of. I’m the kind of buyer who’s not afraid to take a chance on someone new.”
Herman can usually count on finding a few new labels. “There’s a definite person who walks through the door and wants inexpensive,” she said. “We do have the volume for that. For our serious customers, if it’s right, they’ll buy it. I’ll buy amazing fur or shearling jackets for $2,000 and we’ll sell them. It’s L.A. and we have tourists, so that helps us. Our market is truly very deep. We’re deep in product. If I’m looking for dresses, there are so many options.”
Tom Nastos, president of ENK International, which operates Coterie, confirmed that there will be more to choose from at the show. “For the first time, we’re doing accessories at Coterie,” he said. “We’re going to have a new designated section [branded] Accessories@Coterie.”
Men’s wear is another first for the trade fair, Nastos said. And the show’s footwear business continues to grow. “Footwear’s hot, and we’ve had more brands coming,” he said. “We also have TMRW [pronounced Tomorrow], a section for new, inspirational designers. Coterie is an international event, drawing independent retailers and department stores from around the world.”
Great Stuff, a specialty retailer with five stores in the New York metro area, has a broad customer base — the proverbial 18-to-80 range. Dina Grossman, buyer and merchandiser and daughter of owner Lori Friedman, looks for universal trends for customers with a casual lifestyle during the day, but who dress at night for social events or dinner.
“Our market’s been a little bit stale,” she observed. “It’s been so commercial.”
Nonetheless, Grossman hopes to find at least two new resources at the Coterie. “Roberta Freeman was a new resource for us last spring,” she said. “Mother Denim is a brand we found at the show last fall, and it’s been very successful. We’re in an oversaturated market right now. It’s always nice to get an exclusive product.”
Grossman hopes to find feminine white blouses, statement necklaces, T-shirts and spring sweaters. “We’re also looking for a shift in the color palette,” she added. “We’re looking forward to seeing softer colors as a contrast to the brights of spring 2012.”
“When we go to the Coterie, we’re always trying to find new vendors,” said Stacey Pecor, owner of Olive and Bette’s. “We also shop the Coterie for immediate fill-ins — dresses for fall. There is some newness in the market. It’s important that color carries forward for fall.
“We’ll look at the categories and classes where we have open dollars, such as dresses and bottoms,” Pecor added. “Our business has been strong because of the novelty in bottoms. Leather and suede is really important this season and we’re selling cashmere. We’re looking for immediate October and November deliveries. We’re definitely buying closer to season, so Coterie is perfect for us.”
Pecor said she discovered Nation T-shirts and Amanda Uprichard at the Coterie, and that both have been strong. Her customers are buying fewer items, but store traffic hasn’t gone down. “Business has been a little up and down,” she said. “Last week was great and this week is starting out a little quiet. Business is being greatly affected by the weather.”
Abby Yates, owner of the Bahama Shop in Virginia Beach, Va., said her customer’s changing tastes have been following her own. “I’m 50-something,” she said. “My customer is getting older. She’s in her mid-30s, but we have college girls, too. We like to think we’re pretty trendy and edgy, and yet we don’t want to get laughed at. I’m not quite as edgy as I used to be. I play it a little more safe. I buy the number-one piece [in a line], which isn’t always the edgiest piece.”
J Brand, Seven for All Mankind, Hudson and Citizens of Humanity are among the denim brands at Bahama. T-shirt lines include Splendid, James Perse and Free People. There’s also Parker; Young, Fabulous and Broke, and Frye boots. “We’ve gotten to be a mini department store,” Yates said. “We don’t want [customers] going somewhere else to buy things, so we carry intimates, jewelry and hosiery.”