Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — Southeast buyers, with budgets up significantly, put their money on wearable clothes, good color and innovative fabrics at the Atlanta Apparel Mart’s fall market.
Buoyed by strong spring business, buyers shopped with budgets that were up 10 to 40 percent. Rather than reacting to any specific trend, retailers responded to manufacturers’ efforts to meet the needs of specialty stores, in everything from novelty looks to off-price incentives and low minimums.
Moreover, buyers were often unusually complimentary about vendors’ offerings for the season.
“Manufacturers are listening, and offering more wearable clothes for women, not just young girls, with more updated classics and a return to glamour,” said Kim Jones, president of Binns, a Williamsburg, Va., specialty store, in a typical comment.
Attendance at the five-day show, which ran through April 14, was up 5 percent over last year, according to mart management.
“The show was the best date we’ve had in a long time,” said Peg Canter, vice president and general manager of the mart, who also commented on the ordering action. “Our traffic increase doesn’t really reflect the amount of business that was done.”
Fabric interest was a key element. Chenille, boucle, matte jersey and burn-out velvet were popular choices for day and evening. Buyers increased their dollars for knits, which have been strong in the Southeast. Fake suede, leather, patent leather, high tech fabrics and snakeskin prints were big novelty looks. To compete with department stores and discounters, buyers searched for special items rather than basics.
Although April traditionally is not a big accessories market, buyers showed more interest, and spent more dollars on jewelry, scarves, belts and neckerchiefs.
Sales representatives reported good traffic and increases over last year.
For Arnold Helman, owner of Arnold Helman, a multiline dress and sportswear firm, sales increased 30 percent over last April. “Last April was not a good market,” he said. “We’re still in a recovery mode after the Olympics.” Helman, like many other sales representatives, said traffic decreased before and after July’s summer Olympics.
Stretch fabrics, knits and novelty looks were the focus for Tami Stogner, owner of Tamary’s, a women’s better and bridge specialty store with units on St. Simons Island, Ga., and in Greenville, S.C.
Shopping with a budget that was up 10 percent over last year, Stogner added items to fall basics bought earlier in New York, and shopped for lines not turning up in department stores.
She bought novelty looks, such as engineered ribbed striped and fake fur-collar tops and snake print stretch twill sportswear. Other items on her list were slim pants with body-conscious knit tops and fitted jackets.
Her orders included structured looks from Renfrew; long, flowing dresses from Tessuto; jumpsuits by Seattle Gear; Tencel separates from Votre Nom, and burn-out velvet blouses from Ishyu.
K.T. Nourse, dress buyer for Mark, Fore and Strike, a Boca Raton-based better chain with 12 stores in Florida and the Northeast, liked the good color, intriguing fabrics and attention to fit of fall offerings.
With a budget up 10 percent, she bought novelty prints, bordered skirts and faux suede from such resources as Maggie Boutique, Nina Charles for Kasper ASL, Hannah Hardy, Carol Anerson and Donna Ricco.
“Manufacturers are more in tune, giving us things that fit and work for an older customer without being dowdy,” she said. She bought two-piece dresses that include jackets for more versatility.
Nourse also hiked her budget for jewelry, scarves and neckerchiefs.
Kim Jones of Binns, Williamsburg, Va., shopped with a bigger budget, up 15 percent for fall, reflecting improved spring business in the store, including a March gain of 26 percent over last year. Jones attributed increases to consumer optimism and on-target manufacturers. Vendors, she added, were more interested in specialty stores’ feedback, and were offering off-price merchandise.
Jones said customers were bored with minimalist looks, and wanted more novelty and tasteful embellishment, such as fur trim. She bought put-together casual looks from Ballinger Gold and Finity, and structured suiting from Louben, Albert Nipon, Herbert Grossman and Bicci.
Sales of knits are growing at Binns, in dressier looks from vendors such as Antonella Preve and Wellmore, and in more casual sportswear from Andrea Jovine. Jones bought dramatic, long eveningwear from Victor Costa and Rimini, and mother-of-the-bride dresses by Karen Lawrence and Daymor.
She applauded an increase in better and bridge lines at Atlanta, but still noted voids in blouses and day dresses.
Business was also up at C.W. Holt, a moderate-to-better women’s store in Martinsville, Va. Georgia Lee, owner (not related to this reporter), attributed improved sales to better employment in the local economy and more focused buying.
With a budget up 30 percent over last year, she bought versatile, day-into-evening looks from David Warren, Reggio, Wellmore, Castleberry Knits and Chetta B, and casual knits by Andrea Jovine and Joan Vaas.
She also went for illusion, velvet and stretch fabrics in lime green and browns, and reversible animal-print fake fur jackets by Harve Benard. In moderate areas, her selections included novelty looks by City Girl and Marisa Christina.
Marigail Mathis, owner of Marigail Mathis, a women’s better and bridge specialty operation with four stores in Alabama and Tennessee, shopped with a budget that was up between 30 and 40 percent.
“Business has been great,” she said. “Manufacturers and reps are responsive to us, and the clothes are pretty. There is more elegance now, from beautiful scarves to camel coats.”
Mathis bought outdoor looks from Woolrich and Fitiques, dressy sportswear by Elliot Lauren and ribbed doubleknit separates by Body Action Design. She found newness in hip-grazing jackets; stovepipe, boot-leg and cigarette pants as options to skirts, and velvet for day and evening.
“Vendors and retailers are closer together now,” she said. “Designers are no longer on some heavenly cloud, and many of the marginal people have been weeded out. Those that are left are professionals.”

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