Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — One look at this year’s cold weather collections confirms that the accessories market’s unceasing desire for unique fabrics, texture and color shows no signs of abating.
Retailers starting to make commitments for their fall/winter assortments of scarves, hats and gloves have been drawn to styles that, at first glance, appear to reside at opposite ends of the spectrum: homey, hand-crafted looks — knits play a leading role here — or the latest in technological innovation.
“Our customers will be looking for fashion as well as function in their cold weather pieces, especially with the amount of novelty available in the market now,” said Linda Krelitz, accessories trend manager for Dayton’s, Hudson’s and Marshall Field’s. “We’re very excited about opportunities for the season.”
She said the approach is to focus on key classifications, with texture an important factor.
“We believe very strongly in what we call plush — anything with a hairy, fuzzy, cozy texture,” Krelitz said, pointing to fake fur, chenille and velvet as key fabrics.
“We’re looking for unique fashion elements — fake fur should be as hairy and outrageous as possible. There are some looks with iridescent cross dyes or dark fur with highlights on top. Velvets have to be panne or iridescent. That’s really where the newness is,” she said.
She said color — which started to be successful at designer and bridge prices last year — will be much more important for the category in general than in the past.
“For the third quarter, we see ranges of purple, chartreuse and orange, which were important this spring, being warmed up for fall. Fourth quarter will have more of an Icelandic glacial palette, including rich blues, lavenders and iridescent whites.”
Echoing sentiments of several stores, Krelitz said, “We’re absolutely willing to trade up for something special.”
“Overall, the feeling is very clean, linear and modern, with beautiful colors and stitching,” said Angela Ahrendts, vice president of Henri Bendel. She said that whatever the item, the store is choosing pieces that are “not necessarily overtly novel, but have a sense of artistic expression with a one-of-a-kind and handmade feeling.”
One factor expected to boost growth is the use of consistent dye lots for its various materials, such as cashmere, chenille and merino wool.
“Because we’ll be using the same colors across the board, we’ll be able to dual-expose merchandise in different departments, and in our windows,” Ahrendts said. The policy will also provide additional opportunities for gift-giving and multiple sales.
As far as items, Ahrendts said Bendel’s is homing in on super-long scarves — that still hang to the knee, even after being wrapped around the neck several times — and soft and sporty caps in patchwork or bicolors. For gloves, the focus is on mixing leather with performance-related materials such as nylon and fleece.
At Tulsa, Okla.-based Miss Jackson’s, gloves are the most important classification, followed by scarves and hats. The strategy for this fall and winter is to maximize opportunities in items and gifts, most of which end by mid-January, according to accessories buyer Terry Marcum.
“Color will go forward. It makes displays pop and gives customers a reason to buy, even though we still sell black, brown and camel 3 to 1.”We focus on less practical, more fun items,” she said.
Key trends are animal or argyle stretch velvet novelty gloves, fake fur hats, gloves, short mufflers and even muffs or small pompon bags. Marcum said some of the freshest animal looks will use giraffe or zebra prints, rather than more traditional leopard.
During the recent fall market week, Saks Fifth Avenue’s merchandise manager, Jake Einhorn, said the cold-weather arena is the season’s most important basic.
“There, all the rich color variations of gray, loden and burgundies and materials like velvet, suede and fake fur are great,” he said. “They are all tactile materials that are most accepted in cold weather and very appealing when that weather hits.”
Like many other accessories classifications this season, the mix is what it’s all about. Original combinations of fabric, texture and color, as well as new interpretations of last year’s best-selling theme — animal motifs — are all in demand, according to a sampling of vendors.
Keeping out the elements are such materials as boucle, chenille, velvet, fake fur and fleece. Some will be mixed with leather, nylon or microfibers, often topped with stretch for a clean fit. Whether high-quality cashmere, mohair, wool, cotton or a blend of several fibers, saturated colors run the gamut from brighter green, orange, gold and red to naturals like gray and taupe to spicy cinnamon, paprika and chocolate.
“The general consensus has been that texture is so important,” said Kristy Plumer, vice president sales and marketing at Shalimar. “Color has definitely come back, and knits are very heavy.”
Shalimar, a designer leather glove resource, now includes traditional chenille and a longer version, called peluche, as well as stretch velvet and boucle knits, in its sophisticated collection.
Roy Chinnici, vice president and national sales manager at V. Fraas, agreed that knits will play a key role for fall.
“Knits are extremely important this fall. They offer more in the way of texture and color,” said Chinnici.
He said melange yarns with a high-low weave effect and gauzy space-dyed weaves in the manner of Missoni have been particularly strong. Also doing well are velvets and a new version of animal prints, where color has been added as a background, such as V. Fraas’s kiwi background for a leopard print.
Portolano is also featuring new versions on animal prints.
“Animal prints have been very strong, and we’re expanding on it,” said Stephanie Wilsker, director of sales. This fall, stretch velvet is the canvas for croco or paw prints.
Animal-print evolutions aside, Wilsker said the company is also focusing on three new products, all trademarked and exclusive to Portolano: Techno Fleece, Ultra Nappa and Suedetex.
Wilsker described Techno Fleece as “a polyester microfiber with spandex that takes color fabulously and has a more feminine fit, yet is still warm.” She said some pieces reverse from fleece to velvet.
Ultra Nappa is a synthetic, water-resistant nappa. Portolano is mixing the fake nappa with Italian nylon, resulting in an inexpensive fashion look. Suedetex is a water-resistant synthetic that takes color like regular suede.
Also fixed on technical development is Grandoe. Mark Paulson, director of product development, said his firm’s focus is primarily centered on two growth areas. The first, called Urbanites, is a collection of fashion-driven, citified casual looks in leather mixed with nylon sateen. They have an added practical element through the use of colorful Polartec fleece linings and novelty accents like zippers, snap details and palm grips.
Icebreakers is a performance group using a variety of outer materials, but the same insulation — Primaloft, a synthetic down that Paulson referred to as “a down comforter for your hand,” that is also waterproof.
“It’s warmer, softer and drier,” Paulson said.

Among the best cold-weather looks for fall:

Watch caps, roll caps and ear-flap styles inspired by “Fargo.”

Brightly colored, short oblong scarves, generally 8 by 45 inches or oversized, 20-by-80-inch wraps.

Wooly mittens, like the kind Grandma made.

Magic gloves.

Missoni-inspired space-dyed patterns or colorblocking.

Graphic, Seventies-inspired patterns flooded with color.

Nubby mixes combining chenille with velvet, mohair, cashmere, even fleece.

Great fakes — fake Mongolian lamb, mink or mouton, fake hair calf in basic black, chocolate or camel, freshest when combined with knits, velvet, nylon or leather.

Fleece, fleece and more fleece, but this year with more novelty treatments.

Fair Isle, snowflake and winter scenery patterns.

The next color wave
Coming in 1998: dark pinks like magenta, shocking pink, hyacinth and lilac.

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