SLIGHTLY DOWNSIZED ATTENDANCE DID NOTHING TO DIM THE SPIRIT AT THE 2001 DIVA AWARDS.

Though smaller than seasons past, the DIVA (Design, Impact, Vision, Atlanta) Awards ceremony, held in November at downtown’s Hyatt Regency, was as festive as ever, thanks to this year’s Bacchanalian theme. Event organizers said they intentionally cut the guest list down from the usual 900 to just 700 this year. “The event was so big, groups of people started having their own party,” explained one mart official. Adding even more excitement to the evening, for the first time ever, design winners were kept secret until the ceremony took place. Scantily clad “angels” distributing neon halos and toga-wearing revelers heckling the crowd kept spirits high.

Following dinner, the awards were distributed to designers, retailers and Vogue editor at large Andre Leon Tally. A new design category, “Hot Item of the Year,” was awarded to C’est Duo for a T-shirt design. Capping off the evening, a gospel choir singing patriotic songs brought the crowd to its feet. Here, a look at the winners.

BETTER

Margaret M

Stateside sales have grown to 70 percent of total volume for Margaret M, a Montreal manufacturer which began selling in the U.S. six years ago. The company now has 800 American accounts, including such stores as Neiman Marcus and Jacobson’s.

Claude Fredj, chief executive officer, said Margaret M built its U.S. reputation with comfortable, machine washable cotton and Lycra spandex blend pants that retailers renamed the “miracle pants.” Fredj described the Margaret M sportswear line as fashion forward, very feminine and detailed with a European flair.

“We’re right on the trend during the season, not after,” he said.

Designer Margaret Medalsy and her team produce two collections a year, spring and fall. Six to eight groups of between eight and 20 pieces are based on two solid colors and a print that can be mixed and matched with pants, skirts, blouses, jackets and dresses. The collection also includes single items, such as novelty pants. The line is sized 2-16 with wholesale prices of $70 to $160.

Future plans for Margaret M include expanding the jeanswear line and entering the European market by fall 2002.

BETTER CLASSICS

Susan Bristol

The signature look for Susan Bristol, a 31-year-old Boston-based company, is feminine and colorful, with particular attention to details. “What separates us is our use of color,” said Rene Kramer, president of Susan Bristol. “We also try to take classic sportswear and spin it a little to represent trends.”

Designers, while staying current on trends, also find inspiration in art, history and nature.

Susan Bristol’s target customer is a woman, 35 or older, who likes classics with an updated twist. Bestsellers continue to be capri and cropped pants, in addition to updated classic tops with feminine details like small floral embroideries.

Items wholesale from $18.50 to $79. The spring 2002 collection features 170 pieces, with 65 items for summer transition, including casual, sportswear and knitwear divisions.

PROM/PAGENT

Precious Formals

Known for pure, bright colors and contemporary styling, Texas-based Precious Formals offers customers youthful, cutting-edge designs. The 279-piece spring 2002 prom collection includes ballgowns and mermaid silhouettes. Two-piece styles, though more conservative than last season, are still popular.

Designer Ruby Ashraf uses layered looks in several styles, including combinations of colors and fabrics. One ballgown layers turquoise and lime, while another combines tulle with crushed metallic organza. Spring 2002 prom fashions, including the plus-sized division, wholesale from $69 to $169. Spring bridesmaid dresses, in 24 styles, wholesale from $69 to $109 and can cross over into prom.

FASHION ACCESSORIES

Retta Wolff

The eight-year-old Dallas-based accessories line is “all about color and quality,” said founder and president Retta Wolff. Her handbag line features more than 168 hand-embossed and -dyed styles, in colors like cotton-candy pink, red or pumpkin and materials such as leather, ligator (crocodile and leather) and linen. Wholesale prices range from $120 to $400 for handbags and $10 to $150 for items like belts and wallets. New for spring: a bag made from a combination of woven horsehair and ligator.

Reorders constitute 50 percent of Wolff’s business, as customers often buy a bag they like in several different colors. Annual sales are around $1 million.

SPECIAL OCCASION

Victoria Royal

Printed iridescent, hand-beaded chiffon gowns are a Victoria Royal signature.

Since 1955, “very dressy evening clothes” have been the New York-based company’s core business, said ceo and owner Alan Sealove. Expanding in recent years from gowns and cocktail dresses to evening separates such as silk crepe jackets, sweaters and sportswear pieces has helped growth. Evening separates are now about 40 percent of total sales.

First Ladies Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush have worn Victoria Royal, which can be found at stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

Wholesale price points are $169-$369 for gowns. Evening separates are $59 to $170. Though he declined to reveal annual sales figures for the company, Sealove said Victoria Royal is one of the top three evening resources in its price category.

FASHION JEWELRY

Judith Jack

New York jewelry manufacturer Judith Jack offers a broad spectrum of products. With 1,500 stockkeeping units, the line offers looks from business casual to bridal, wholesaling from $15 to $500.

Though Judith Jack is best known for its sterling silver and marcasite designer line, its offerings are nothing if not expansive. The Savoy Collection, with novelty items and contemporary products in reflective sterling, targets a younger market. The Heirloom Collection, launched fall 2001, includes stones made with ashes from Mount St. Helens, garnets and cubic zirconia. For Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, Judith Jack will introduce heart-themed jewelry, while early spring will see the debut of animal pins with semiprecious stones.

The 28-year-old company targets women over 25 that “enjoy reading fashion magazines, traveling and dining out,” said Michael Horowitz, president. Judith Jack is carried in better specialty stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor.

Horowitz projects “double-digit growth” for 2002 through aggressive marketing, new lines and staying current in fashion trends. The company will focus on international markets, entering Asia and expanding European distribution this year.

YOUNG CONTEMPORARY/JUNIOR

Hard Tail

Hard Tail is “not just an item, it’s a concept,” said Richard Cantrell, owner, who added that the concept of allowing retailers to special-order fabrics, colors and silhouettes has kept the company running strong for almost 10 years.

Cantrell launched his private manufacturing firm in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1991, with the design of a screen-printed T-shirt with a “tattoo” on each arm and one on the back. Other designs featuring Hard Tail’s signature star shapes followed, attracting celebrity wearers such as Janet Jackson and Cher.

Hard Tail’s practice of letting retailers custom-order allows “up to 20 million possible combinations,” said Cantrell. They can choose from 500 bodies, 30 fabrics, 60 solid colors and 100 tie-dyes. The line, originally activewear-focused, has expanded to include sportswear, jeans and casual dresses, as well as a men’s and children’s line. Wholesale prices range from $8 to $45.

Hard Tail activewear and sportswear is carried by specialty stores such as Fred Segal and Nordstrom. The company’s Web site, hardtailforever.com, launched in May, with an e-tailing component about to debut. Cantrell’s future plans? To “rock on,” he said.

INTIMATE APPAREL/SLEEPWEAR

Diamond Tea

Privately owned sleepwear companies have survived by diversifying lines, partnering with global retailers and constantly focusing on innovation. Diamond Tea, a 70-year-old Montreal, Canada-based robe and sleepwear manufacturer, is a case in point.

Today, the company distributes to the U.S., Canada, Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Such major players as Jacobson’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus carry the line, with specialty stores representing 65 percent of Diamond Tea’s business.

The line is known for fabric variations, including brushed and cotton velour, and velvet. Key items include front zip-front robes, spa wraps and coordinating robes and sleepwear items. Wholesale prices range from $50 to $200 for sleepwear and $95 to $300 for robes.

BRIDGE

Nanette Lepore

New York-based Nanette Lepore originally made its name in dresses. Though its sportswear, knits and jackets are equally celebrated today, the six-year-old brand remains synonymous with femininity.

Exclusive prints are a signature of designer Nanette Lepore. For spring, she looked to Cuba for inspiration, resulting in a print adapted from a vintage apron and a skirt with an embroidered fan detail.

Key fabrics are cotton sateen, silk georgette and silk crepe de chine. Wholesale prices range from $40 for a jersey top to $180 for a coat. The line is carried in over 500 stores in the U.S., including Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. There is also a freestanding store named for Lepore in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, and 10 stores under a licensed agreement in Japan. Sales for 2001 totaled approximately $10 million.

CONTEMPORARY

Revue

Color drives New York-based Revue’s business, said owner and president Jay Shlansky. This spring, the line features both twills and suedes in 12 to 14 colors. Fun prints, especially stripes, enhance the colorful collections.

The company prides itself on a line that enables a wide range of customers to wear the latest trends, thanks to its comfortable misses’ fit. Wholesale prices range from $17-$69 for knits to $74-$225 for leather jackets and pants.

Established in 1991, Revue currently has over 1,800 specialty store accounts. Sales for 2001 totaled nearly $20 million. Future plans include expansion into petite and women’s divisions.

BRIDAL

Mary’s Bridal

In 1983, former elementary school teacher Mary Chang founded Mary’s Bridal in Houston, Tex. Today, her company has grown to include bridesmaid, flower girl, prom and social occasion dress collections, with wholesale sales of $15 million in 2001.

Bridal gowns cost $219 to $400 wholesale. Sales manager Lisa Chang said the company’s trends to watch include colored embellishment, such as pink or blue crystals and pearls; halter styles; satin, and rhinestone or crystal headpieces.

Sizes are 4 to 16 for prom and 4 to 30 for bridal. The company’s next move will be to expand its flower girl, prom and social occasion collections.

ITEM OF THE YEAR

The C’est Duo T-Shirt

A New York-based sportswear company since 1992, C’est Duo focuses on novelty T-shirts, from pleated to beaded to printed. In 2001, the line added a novelty denim division. But T-shirts, according to chief financial officer Rodger Cohen, continue to drive business, which totaled nearly $10 million last year.

“The wonder T, our pleated style, really opened the market for the underpinning business,” he said. Printed and solid Ts are priced between $40 and $70 wholesale.

For spring, a collection of limited-edition T-shirts designed by California artists will make its debut. “Their uniqueness will blow everyone away,” said Cohen, adding that beading and hand-stitched embroidery will also spark interest.

The line is carried in 1,000 specialty stores nationwide, including Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.

CONTEMPORARY LIFESTYLE

Cut Loose

British-born Caroline Phillips, president/owner of Cut Loose, moved to San Francisco in the early Seventies with little capital, but a strong desire to produce a clothing line. Not wanting to incur the high cost of retail space, she started out as a street vendor.

Today, Cut Loose is a global company with $12 million in annual revenue and 65 employees that still manufactures and garment-dyes in San Francisco.

Cut Loose offers customers a comfortable, flattering fit, with sizes ranging from XS to XL. Cut Loose has about 1,600 specialty-store accounts and a loyal following, drawn by the line’s forgiving fit and color selection.

“The bias-cut dresses, skirts and tops are top sellers and flatter a broad range of figure types,” said Lia Whaley, manager of specialty store Ropa Etcetera in Wilmington, N.C. “A woman who wears a size 14 puts on a bias-cut dress and looks and feels great in it.”

Linen, Tencel, crinkled rayon, satins and velvets are key fabrics. Wholesale prices range from $35 to $45 for dresses; jackets and T-shirts start at $29 and $11, respectively.

SWIM & RESORT

Red Point USA

Red Point is a 30-year-old, family-owned line, designed and manufactured outside Barcelona. It’s sold in prestige resort hotels and in better boutiques, catalogs and department stores.

The line is made to order, with sizes ranging from 6 to 16. Wholesale prices run from $20 to $60, and all suits can be paired with a matching pareo.

Designer Gema Torrent Suarez, whose mother was the line’s original designer, specializes in geometric patterns and details such as shells, stones and other unusual trims. Popular silhouettes include tankinis, mesh bikinis and a tank with a double strap.

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