CHICAGO: PRUDENT SPENDING
Byline: Elaine Glusac
CHICAGO — Buyers turning out for the summer-fall preview market at the Chicago Apparel Center last week shopped with sometimes bigger budgets and generally greater selectivity.
Several independent specialty retailers said they were buoyed by better-than-expected Christmas results in their stores and the interest they were seeing in pretty clothes; they said they were encouraged enough to hike their open-to-buys as much as 10 to 20 percent. Some others came to market with decreased funding. But all agreed they were attempting to work their money harder, shopping lines more carefully in the same way that consumers were browsing through their stores’ racks — with greater discrimination.
Linda Scimeca, owner of Sunflower Samplings, a women’s sportswear shop in Crystal Lake, Ill., for example, reported strong holiday sales and noted her budget for the show was up 10 to 15 percent.
“I’m carrying more lines, but within them I’m choosing more carefully,” she said.
The five-day market ran through Jan. 28, and despite snowstorms and the Super Bowl competing for attention, traffic held to an OK pace. “The show [traffic] was even with last year, which was a strong market,” said Juliet Gray, director of marketing for the Apparel Center show. For the second year, the apparel market coincided with the gift show at the neighboring Merchandise Mart, resulting in good crossover traffic.
In terms of fashion, color was the talk of the market — brights for immediate and summer deliveries and muted tones, including a range of browns, for fall.
With the softening of silhouettes, buyers seemed pleased by the feminine flare in the market. Dresses and knits piqued their interest.
“I’m selling color,” said multiline bridge sales representative Karin Berger, who noted lavender was the bestseller in the rainbow. Browns continued to sell well for fall, and Berger predicted, “black just might be relegated to second spot in a woman’s wardrobe.”
Popular looks were generally less constructed, and knits were big in fall orders. Total orders, she said, were up 10 to 14 percent.
In contrast, multiline rep Susann Craig said orders in her moderate-to-better showroom were off less than 10 percent and attributed the decline to a strong October market.
“There isn’t a lot new in the market in terms of looks and silhouettes” since the last market, said Craig, who cited an interest in handknits, unconstructed but body-conscious silhouettes and colorful clothing.
Scimeca of Sunflower Samplings was among the retailers enthusiastic about the color ranges. “There’s a lot of excitement for fall. The colors are great and more muted,” she said.
“Pretty and loose” looks in casual sportswear from Blue Fish and fleece from Dakini earned her orders, she noted.
The clamor for color was joined by Carla Sachi, who owns a bridge-to-designer shop carrying her name in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
“Women are tired of black,” said Sachi, who admired chartreuse hues and pastels for summer. Sachi was in the market for easy summer items such as shifts and two-piece ensembles from Tahari and Caroline Rose. For autumn, she planned to fall back to classics in rich earth tones such as brown, olive, green and gray, which she admired in the Gispa line.
Though holiday sales were level and “business has been good,” Sachi came to market with a budget off 20 percent. “I’m bringing in less. I’m not taking more chances of overstocking. Last year, I went back to New York to fill in and what I bought then is on the sales racks now. I have a new policy: What you don’t see, you don’t miss.”
“I’m being more careful,” concurred Judy Cole, who was in the market to stock a new store she expected to open in two weeks, Gabriella’s in suburban Hubbard Woods, Ill. A buyer for the store formerly in Gabriella’s space, Cole trimmed her open-to-buy for the new store by 10 percent in response to customer shopping patterns. “I think consumers are being more careful about what they’re buying,” she said.
Though she has her doubts about color, Cole is betting consumers will go for a more colorful assortment in spring and summer. “Everyone’s saying they will. I hope they do. I’ll stick with it. I think kiwi is great,” she said, as she perused a casual collection by Votre Nom.
Marilyn Trongeau, owner of Fit For A Queen, a large-size women’s shop in Lake Geneva, Wis., was pleased with the vibrancy in the market, especially in embellished sportswear from City Girl. Her open-to-buy was up 20 percent, and Trongeau applauded the softening of silhouettes, though she found the romantic extremes ridiculous.
“Dresses are getting more feminine,” said Trongeau, who identified Tandy Peterson and Vikki Vi Dresses as potential resources. “But there’s a lot of slinky material, and we can’t wear slinky. It looks like pajamas. We can’t give it away.”