Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — Special events, upbeat buyers and increased hype infused the August women’s and children’s market at AmericasMart here with the sort of excitement that invoked the good old days of more than a decade ago.
The five-day event ran through Aug. 30, and buyer attendance increased 15 percent over last year, according to mart management.
Buyers, buoyed by strong early fall sales despite a stretch of relentless summer heat, sought a wide range of product, from fall fill-ins to holiday eveningwear and early spring. Millennium talk, so pervasive last market, died down somewhat, as buyers who had completed holiday shopped for fall fill-ins or spring previews. However, there was still plenty of interest in eveningwear.
“People kept saying it reminded them of the Eighties,” said Peg Canter, general manager of AmericasMart Apparel, describing exhibitors’ enthusiastic response to the action. She credited “Brighton on the Road,” an opening-day event, for jump-starting the show.
The event, including a product seminar, fashion show and luncheon, was staged by Los Angeles-based Leegin Creative Leathers to promote its Brighton brand accessories. It drew 250 buyers, including some who came specifically for the event, but stayed to shop the mart, said Canter. A ninth floor “grand opening” of relocated showrooms, special occasion fashion shows, extended hours and designer appearances also added spark, said Canter.
“The Brighton event energized the building, and it kept going through the weekend,” she said. “It was as good a market as we’ve had in 10 years.”
Indeed, exhibitors, for the most part, reported good traffic and increased sales. “We were busy Saturday night until 10:30, and sales overall were up 10 percent,” said Pepper Berkowitz, principal, Pepper’s Collection, a multiline sportswear and dress sales firm. Rather than basics, buyers sought novelty, she said.
Mark Garland, owner of a multiline better-bridge sportswear showroom bearing his name, had a 10 percent sales increase, based on new accounts and quality orders, despite a slight traffic decrease. “New accounts and buyers’ positive attitudes made our numbers,” he said.
Fresh spring color — orange, lime and a range of pinks — excited buyers, although eveningwear palettes were more subdued, with silver, gray and olive variations. Buyers focused on soft dressing, updated looks and key items. Trends included sheer overlays and organza shirts over embroidered or beaded pants in a range of lengths. Sweaters, with novelty yarns, texture and embroidery, moved into spring buys as jacket alternatives. While traditional suitings still work for some stores, most buyers wanted more relaxed, contemporary looks.
Sportswear ranged from clean sophisticated shapes in luxurious fabrics to romantic draping and ruching details. Eveningwear manufacturers pulled out all the stops for a big holiday season, serving up dramatic looks with satin and stretch velvets, glitzy details and fur trims, or cashmere sweaters over ballskirts.
Trent Whitten, owner, Whitten’s Town & Country Clothes, a men’s and women’s bridge specialty shop in Albertville, Ala., finished fall and holiday and previewed spring.
For holiday, he bought lavish eveningwear from Victoria Royal, Kay Unger and Victor Costa. “For once, our customer wants a dress so special she can’t wear it again,” said Whitten. He also bought holiday gift items, such as sweaters for both women and their dogs by Michael Simon.
Hoping for cold weather that was practically nonexistent last year, Whitten bought cashmere sweaters by White & Warren and Balinger Gold, with fur trims.
He bought fashion-forward looks from Cynthia Rowley and BCBG, and dresses by Diane Von Furstenberg. He bought a Carpe Diem knit group by Joan Vaas; Garfield & Marks separates and suitings, and copies of designer looks from Trio.
To compete with a huge outlet mall in Boaz, Ala., Whitten sought more special, upscale lines, such as Geiger of Austria, that do specialty store trunk shows.
To accessorize simple knitwear, Whitten bought silver jewelry by Maya.
With a budget up 15 percent, due to a strong year, Mary Ann Corte, owner, Uptown, a 3,000-square-foot Fairhope, Ala., specialty store, bought primarily spring, with holiday fill-ins.
With a big social occasion focus, she bought updated eveningwear from Victoria Royal and Kay Unger, including sweater sets and taffeta skirts. Shopping for versatile looks to dress up or down by changing accessories, Corte bought organza shirts and stretch bottoms by Kasada, a new sportswear resource for her, and casual looks from Co & Eddy.
“We have no career customers and no need for structured suitings,” she said. Rather than suits, she bought updated separates from lines like Zelda.
Distinctive romantic clothing and accessories were the focus for Julie McKnight, owner, Isabella’s, a special occasion store, and Mirabella’s, a more casual store, both in Melbourne, Fla.
With a budget up over 10 percent for holiday, she bought organza, embroidery, and metallic looks by Sue Wong, Tadashi, Sterling, JS Collections and Panopoly.
She also bought bias-cut skirts and tops by Tiar Bellomo.
For the casual store, she bought sportswear by Flax, Click and Cut Loose.
McKnight bought hats from Louise Green, Eric Javits, Helen Kaminsky and Chapeau Creations.
Alicia Greene-Moody, owner, Sisters Boutique & Shoes, a Lumbertown, N.C., store that opened in June, shopped for special occasion dresses, contemporary sportswear and plus sizes, which account for 20 percent of sales.
The 12,000-square-foot store sold $264,000 in the first two months, she said.
Planning a big millennium party season, Greene-Moody bought glitzy eveningwear from Teri Jon and Kay Unger. For spring, she bought sweaters by Easel and Krazy Larry’s pants in all lengths paired with cotton tie-front shirts.
For plus sizes, she bought sheer shirts and sportswear, from resources including Peter Popovitch, Maggy London and Perelli Designs.
For petites, also a growing category, she bought Donna Morgan and YL Petites. For day dresses and suitings, she bought Teri Jon, Chetta B, Bigio Collection and Windridge.
And as always, even though there is a trend to more contemporary dressing in the South, buyers cited a great void in good day dresses for Southern women to wear to church and other occasions.
On the other end of the spectrum, Nancy Lerner, owner, Nancy’s, a better women’s boutique in Charleston, S.C., lamented the lack of more forward, cutting-edge trends.
“I’m way over twinsets and shrugs,” she said.
“We want the next thing. We want to see more risk-taking in the market. For example, I couldn’t find a knock-off of Dolce & Gabbana’s 17-inch miniskirt.”
Without a strict budget, Lerner shopped for impulse buys. Although she bought more understated eveningwear, she sought cut-out T-shirts, skirts with drawstring backs and sportswear with puckered fabrics and ruching. She bought peasant blouses and printed pants by ABS.
“Our customers want to make a statement that demands a reaction, good or bad,” she said. “Buying mainstream is easy, but boring, while buying fashion forward is much more difficult.”