Byline: Miles Socha / Rosemary Feitelberg / Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — Embellishment, color and fresh silhouettes gave retailers a lift as they made the rounds of the women’s apparel trade shows here this week.
While the merchants agree that their customers are becoming increasingly casual in their dress, they also point out that the women don’t want it plain. And vendors seemed to be giving the stores what they want to keep a generally brisk momentum going into spring.
Reports from several of the shows follow.

Fashion Coterie
“I heard there’s a worldwide shortage of black beads,” Janice Levin-Krok, president of Los Angeles-based contemporary firm Poleci, declared this week at the Fashion Coterie.
“It makes sense if you think about it. In every single market, from shoes to bags to clothes, it’s all about color, beads and embroideries.”
That anecdote just about summed up the fashion focus of this lively show, which ended its three-day run Wednesday at Piers 92 and 94 here. Organizers estimated about 8,500 buyers attended. There were 630 exhibitors, up from 575 a year ago.
Embellishment was the word on everyone’s lips. Stores were on the lookout for it, for immediate, resort and spring delivery. Many said they would increase their budgets by up to 20 percent next season based on strong consumer demand for colorful, decorative feminine looks.
“I can’t say enough about prints: ombres, tie-dyes, paisleys, florals,” said Ann E. Watson, senior fashion editor at Neiman Marcus, interviewed at the Theory booth. She said the store is already getting good reaction this season to embellished denim and printed tops by Custo Barcelona.
For next season, Watson said, she was looking for details like frayed edges and new fabric treatments. In terms of silhouettes, the emphasis is “sexy tops,” including halter, apron and bare-back styles, plunging V-necks and “sexy peasant looks,” she said.
Other retailers were on a similar wavelength, seeking colorful sportswear items with novelty features to excite consumers.
“We’re seeing a lot of color, ornamentation and a lot of beads and suede,” said Carol Herman, an owner of Ron Herman/Fred Segal in Los Angeles. “The show’s great. I like the direction it’s taking. We’re really item-driven.”
Interviewed at the Garfield & Marks booth, Irene Cooperman, owner of Epitome, a 5,000-square-foot boutique in Edina, Minn., was leaving orders for flood- and ankle-length pants, denim looks and sweaters. She said she planned to emphasize clothes that are “fun” rather than serious, since she has noticed most of her customers now dress down almost every day of the week.
“The colors are great,” she said. “For spring, we’re seeing a lot of citrus colors. And the sweaters are wonderful: sleeveless mock necks and short-sleeve Ts. For day, people are wearing more sportswear separates. Orange is a big color for spring. It’s really pretty with the khakis and the whites.”
Nancy Brock, a buyer from Holiday Inc., a 4,000-square-foot boutique in Mobile, Ala., said she was focusing on early spring deliveries in time for Mardi Gras and the debutante season. She said she wrote orders for long dresses, sweaters and skirts with embellishments and feminine looks in organza.
Several retailers noted a convergence of designer and contemporary trends at Fashion Coterie. They also said customers feel more confident buying a mix of the two price points rather than head-to-toe one label.
For example, Watson at Neiman Marcus noted a preponderance of denim looks in both designer and contemporary collections for spring 2000.
Marissa Harrington, owner of the 8,000-square-foot Marissa Collections in Old Naples, Fla., said she is adding more items from the contemporary-young designer category, noticing that her customers are freely mixing top European names with lesser-known domestic resources.
“I’m mixing as much as I can this year,” she said. “I encourage people to buy a wonderful Dolce & Gabbana ponyskin jacket and mix it with a little Guntex stretch pant. That’s the creativity that’s coming back to fashion.”
She said the Coterie had a wealth of items, including patent pastel handbags, novelty skirts and pants and ponyskin jackets. She also noted there were lots of newsworthy colors, especially lilac, yellow and a range of greens.
Ed Mandelbaum, owner of Aubrey Co., exhibiting such lines as Rozae Nichols, Stephen DiGeronimo, M Collection, Aquah and Lluis Genero, saw a new zone developing that he called “better contemporary young designer.”
“It’s the look that people are after,” he said. “It can be an opening price point at a Joyce [Boutique] or a top price point in a contemporary store. To me that’s where the color, the excitement and the real creativity is in the market right now. Take Barneys New York — clearly the hottest area is Co-op.”
Hot lines at the show mentioned by buyers included Ghost, Trilogy Collections, Maxfield Parrish, Liberty of London, Anna Sui, Rebecca Taylor, Theory, Laundry by Shelli Segal, Rona’s Heart and Womyn.
There was a strong sense at the show that domestic resources are gaining on a global level. At the bustling Three Dots booth were buying contingents from Tokyo retail chain United Arrows and Hong Kong-based Joyce Boutique Ltd.
“We are definitely exploring the U.S. potential,” said Joyce buyer Kathryn Kwok. “There’s just so much more excitement going on here. And the price points are more reasonable.”
Kwok said she wrote orders at several other T-shirt vendors, as well as at Catherine/Catherine Malandrino, Sold Apparel and Antik Batik. “Globally, even in Asia, people are dressing down,” she said. “That’s why we like to come here.”
A few vendors noted the absence of several top specialty stores, which they attributed to the fact that the Coterie overlapped the Milan runway shows.
“But there’s been a tremendous outpouring of contemporary stores,” said Karen Erickson, a partner in Showroom Seven, which exhibited several lines, including Ghost, Petro Zillia, Frou, Whistles and Coup-de-Pied. “We exceeded last year’s Coterie on the first day.”
Monica Belag Forman, president of Mag, the bridge sportswear division of Magaschoni Apparel Group, said orders were split between fourth quarter and spring. For immediates, top items included cashmere sweaters, turtlenecks, chunky sweaters and colorful knitwear. For spring, she noted strong interest in bottoms.
“You have so much design detail, from ruffles to layering to drawstrings, all kinds of details, that it gives a customer a lot of reasons to buy,” she said.
Bestsellers at Poleci included feather-trimmed skirts, embroidered silk shantung pants and crinkled gauze tops with beaded fringe.
“They’re responding to everything with color, ruffles, embellishment — everything with a twist,” Levin-Krok said. “The lines are all very item driven. It’s definitely turned a page from everything clean to everything with something.”

Style Industrie
Flood pants, funky T-shirts, long skirts, colorful sweaters and jeans with special trims were among the key looks buyers shopped for at Style Industrie.
On display were 750 lines, including 104 international ones making their U.S. debut. The three-day show closed Monday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. About 5,300 buyers turned up for the event, according to a spokeswoman for Advanstar Communications/MAGIC International, the show’s organizer.
For the first time, the show featured Pret America, a special area to house the international exhibitors. The aim is to build that base to help attract 2,000 lines in total, according to Michael Press, general manager of women’s fashion business for Advanstar/MAGIC. Meanwhile, buyers at the show reiterated a familiar mission — to find unusual items that aren’t widespread in the market.
Patti Weinstein, owner of three Colorado stores called Roxy, said she was shopping for flood pants, long skirts, sweaters and dresses for spring. Fifi and Blue Dragon were two of her favorite resources at the show.
“I want something you won’t find in every single showroom. Last market there were three items — jeans with fabric trim, pashminas and ballgown skirts. Every showroom had them, and it was a matter of finding the best prices,” she said.
Reflecting the upbeat mood of many retailers showing up for the trade shows this week, Weinstein noted that sales at her stores are 20 percent ahead of last year due in part to the opening of a Denver store and this summer’s strong tourism in Colorado.
Maureen Kenan and her sister, Kate Earley, who bought Easy Street, a 1,000-square-foot store in Macunge, Pa., in March, said they were shopping for long skirts, pants, jackets and scarves. Wash-and-wear items are popular with their shoppers who are “attractive 40-to-50-year-old working women looking for up-to-date sportswear that is not terribly overpriced,” Earley said.
The duo planned to check out the spring lines at Flax, Angelheart, Whispers and Jill Stuart. Easy Street offers a wide range of price points from $30 for a T-shirt to $200 for sweaters.
“If people find a line they like, they will come back for it,” Kenan said. “People want something different that they can’t find in a mall store.”
Judy Berg, senior buyer for Bloomingdale’s mail-order business, said she was looking for skirts, printed capris, T-shirts and sweaters for spring and summer. Not shopping with any “set themes” in mind, she said she was interested in finding “visual stuff” to make the catalogs look lively. Brave New World, Drukchen, Din, Donna Jean and Ruby Tuesday were among her favorite show resources.
Bloomingdale’s rate response is expected to continue to increase. Offering newer product and improving merchandising has heightened interest, Berg said.
Nadine Buch, owner of The Tiger’s Eye, a 900-square-foot store in Lititz, Pa., said she was looking for colorful fill-in items, spring sweaters and linen separates. Cynthia Max, Get, Blue Willis, Treadle, Ahni and Flax were vendors on her checklist.
Until recently, business was running 20 percent ahead of last year, but consumer shopping patterns have been sporadic lately, she said.
“We’ll have a great day one day and then no one will come in another. We always say it’s the weather, but that does seem to be a factor,” Buch said.
To help business pick up in the next few months, the Tiger’s Eye will host fashion shows at local restaurants and will conduct a direct mail campaign.
“Keeping our name out there is a little challenging now,” she said.
Melissa Mendelsohn, buyer for two 1,500-square-foot specialty stores, Currents in Port Washington, N.Y., and Accoda in Great Neck, N.Y., said women need to be unafraid to try new styles. “I think unfortunately that a lot of people have forgotten that they can create an identity instead of getting lost in the mass production of big companies. Everybody wants to look the same,” she said.
Looking for “embellished skirts, denim jeans, funky T-shirts, handbags and fun shoes from new lines that the rest of the world doesn’t have,” she said she liked Blue Dragon’s separates and Jamie Krietman’s sweaters.
“The beauty of what’s out there is you can still find your place in all this,” Mendelsohn said. “When women get to be 45 to 50, they think they’ve crossed a stage in life where they’re too old to dress a certain way. I say, if you have a dynamite body, why not wear it? It’s as if they’ve lost excitement for the future.”
Among the exhibitors, Kelly Newfield, designer for Din, a Los Angeles-based resource, said new accounts comprised 25 percent of her show orders. Many buyers liked the looks of an iridescent skirt at $104 with pull cords, and a longer version at $110.
Lemon Twist, a new firm based in San Francisco, opened about eight accounts at the show, according to Danette Scheib, who designs the line and runs the company with her husband, Eric. A white wax-coated cotton coat with metal clasps, and a belted cotton coat were the most popular items, she said.

Hotel shows
Helping specialty retailers further sate their appetites for distinctive pieces were a quartet of hotel shows that ran late last week and into this week. They included Atelier and Pacific Designer Collection, both at the Flatotel International; Designers at the Essex House, and American International Designers at the Waldorf-Astoria.
Thirty designers showcased their spring lines at the three-day Atelier, according to Susan Summa, show director, who also was displaying her own line of soft separates under her own name. The number of exhibitors was about the same as a year ago, although the numbers tend to run higher when fall lines are being shown.
Summa added that changes were in store for the show, now in its eighth season. She said she wants to add new designers and would like to feature new categories, though she declined to give specifics.
Meanwhile, the mood was upbeat among buyers, who said they were having a strong fall season.
“I am looking for unique artwear,” said Susan Hartly, owner of a Westwood, N.J., store that bears her name. She said she was planning to buy a few pieces from Summa. Also on her list were shrunken sweaters with novelty bottoms, as well as chunky sweaters.
Hartly added that she likes mixing artwear pieces picked up from Atelier with big name designers such as Moschino at her store.
Joan Laney, owner of Lilly’s Gallery in Zionsville, Ind., said that she was looking for versatility in dressing.
“I want to buy dresses that people can wear for [a range of events, from] millennium celebrations to day weddings,” said Laney.
She was interviewed in the Louise Blumberg Design showroom, where she was planning to buy hand-painted silk dresses from the resource. She also bought woven fashions from Candiss Cole, Lynn Yarrington and Leni Holch.
Laney added that business has been strong, particularly the priciest clothes at her store. “I carry 400 different resources, and the high end is doing very well,” she said.
At Pacific Designer, some 17 resources from the West Coast showcased their lines, about the same as the last edition, according to Ann McKenna, show director, who also was showing her signature line.
Expressing a fairly typical point of view, Kim Harris, owner of From the Ruins, a Key West, Fla., boutique, said, “I’m looking to buy clothes that are beautiful. I am not interested in any one trend.”
She was planning to buy pieces from McKenna as well as Carter Smith and Susan Green.
The exhibitor roster at Designers at the Essex House grew to 19, compared with 12 a year ago. To attract a mixed audience of retailers, the show featured sportswear and art-to-wear as well as its usually featured category, ready-to-wear.
“We don’t want to be pegged as a dressy show,” said Brian Winston, sales director of Marisa Minicucci, a Montreal-based exhibitor, who co-chairs the Essex House show.
The Waldorf-Astoria show also counted 19 resources. Linda Ward, a principal of San Carlin, a special occasion resource that organizes the show, noted that the group had recruited new lines from the Miami market and from Paris.