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ATLANTA — Encouraged by improved economic conditions, AmericasMart buyers stayed focused on color and novelty items that worked for spring, while buying fresh fall trends, such as ponchos and bright fur stoles.

This story first appeared in the July 6, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Attendance at the June 10-14 market fell 6 percent from last year, said Lawton Hall, senior vice president of apparel at AmericasMart. Some exhibitors complained about a lack of buyer traffic, but many reported increases coming from sizable orders.

Among the key trends were a muted pink for fall, along with fresh shades of orange and green. Tweed was still a popular choice in suits and versatile jackets. Skirts were also big for late fall in A-line, flared or pleated silhouettes. For holiday, dresses and separates with chiffon overlays or light beading were done in an array of colors. Many vendors offered takes on shrugs, capes and stoles, or casual ponchos with novel trim and details.

Brad Johnson, principal of Ambrosia & Co., a sportswear showroom, said sales increased $300,000, or about 25 percent, compared with last year.

“June is typically the softest market, but combined June and August mart sales usually add up to what we do in a big April or October market,” Johnson said.

Lauren Sheets, owner of the Lauren Pink sales showroom, reported business was up 10 to 15 percent over last June, although traffic was flat.

“I didn’t expect much, but buyers were upbeat and less cautious,” Sheets said.

Kathy Tunks, who owns a sales showroom bearing her name, estimated she saw about half as many buyers as last June.

Susie Buckey, owner of Monkeys, a Richmond, Va., specialty store, sought early deliveries of holiday cocktail and eveningwear, and immediate summer and fall goods. She bought burgundy and red satin tiered skirts; ruffle or lace treatments; neutral bottoms in white, ivory or black to pair with colorful camisoles and jackets, and real and fake fur shrugs with satin ribbon trim from Chetta B and Bigio.

For mother-of-the-bride looks, Buckey sought young-looking styles with good fit from resources including Bigio, Chetta B, Teri Jon and Kay Unger. In cocktail dresses, she picked up shawls, stoles and swing coats from Mary Ann Restivo.

Shopping with a budget 10 percent less than last year, Buckey concentrated on “must-have” items. Buckey purchased tweed suits, jackets, skirts and pants from Louben, Albert Nipon and Elliott Lauren.

Georgette Diaz, owner of Georgette’s, a store in Tampa, Fla., ordered social occasion styles, a category she sells year-round that is 60 percent of inventory. After coming up short on her last year’s buy, Diaz shopped with an increased budget for homecomings and other fall social events.

“There’s finally enough color,” she said. “Color is not just for Florida, but all over, and consumers are demanding it now.”

Diaz bought dresses and separates in reds, burgundys and blues, along with prints and lightly beaded gowns. She also opted for bustiers, tunic tops, skirts and pants from WWW, Jovani and Mike Benet.

“We want ‘wow’ looks, but we can’t overlook that customer who needs a sleeve or a bra,” she said, citing Nicole Bakti as a “flexible, versatile” resource.

Constance Ensner, who owns the Constance Boutique store in Asheville, N.C., shopped with a 10 percent higher budget. For holiday, Ensner bought bias-cut tanks with light sequin embellishment from Laundry and BCBG, and dresses from Diane von Furstenberg, Sue Wong, Max Studio and Bellablu. Ensner sampled lines from the New York Co-op, a collective of contemporary vendors, and bought dresses and sportswear from Tracy Reese.

Jane Saunders and Patti Murphy, owners of Strut, a shop in Westborough, Mass., shopped AmericasMart for the first time.

“We want cleaner looks that aren’t too edgy, but aren’t oversized and boring,” Saunders said. “We want unique, distinctive looks that aren’t elsewhere.”

The owners bought knee-length trenchcoats with tie belts to pair with neutral bottoms from top-resource Equestrian. They bought brightly colored fur vests by Richmar and colored suede separates from Sorbe and Co & Eddie. Canadian lines, such as French Dressing, Kenzie and Mac & Jac, have offered good contemporary looks and sharp prices, Saunders said.

“Our [Baby Boomer] customers don’t want to look like their mothers, but sometimes we offer a line, such as Lilly Pulitzer, which appeals to more than one generation,” Saunders said.