BUYERS SEE UPTICK IN DENIM, DRESSES

Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — Retailers scouting WWDMagic are on the hunt for all the key trends: color, knits, short-shorts and embroidery, with extra emphasis on the two “D’s” — denim and dresses.
Denim, which has been a key staple for years, has gotten new energy from pants in such silhouettes as hip-huggers and boot-legs.
Dresses, a somewhat difficult classification last year, have been on the rebound for many retailers, and buyers hope to see plenty of innovation in the category at WWDMagic.
“We look for new fabrics and colors,” said Lawa Caine, vice president of women’s apparel and intimate apparel at Sears. “We also look for a difference in silhouettes.”
Caine said Sears has strategic meetings planned with Walt Disney Co., Levi’s and Lee and will be looking for innovations in logo apparel, like new technologies in screening and photography.
Based on Sears’ success with dresses, the company is bullish on the category.
“Traditional early Easter spring goods are checking at an unbelievable rate,” Caine said. “There is a definite change in color direction. It’s brighter.
“Denim is being driven by new silhouettes, such as hip-huggers, wide-leg, flairs, boot-legs and short-shorts,” she added. “We’re checking corduroy in everything, including shorts, skirts, jumpers and overalls.”
Caine and her team will have their eyes on key items that can be developed in corduroy.
Sears’ customer is “very young and very directional,” about 13 to 19 years old, Caine said. “Items are very important, and, thank God, items are selling.
“The good news is that we’re seeing some woven business resurfacing in tops,” Caine said. “Everybody’s had a soft woven business. We’ve found some interesting woven cotton and Lycra spandex goods that have been adding some impetus to sales. Satin also continues to sell.
“We’re already reordering,” she added. “To say that on the first of February makes me feel good. It’s all newness. Our checkouts at regular price are 50 percent above last year, so we’re getting a great indication going into spring.”
At Jake’s Department Store in Thibodaux, La., spring goods are just starting to roll in.
“It really hasn’t opened up for us yet,” said Claire Grubbs, vice president and buyer. “We’re still trying to move our fall/winter sale goods.”
Nonetheless, Grubbs has her mind on summer, with challis print dresses, dressy knits and crepes stirring her imagination.
“We’re a more traditional store,” she said. “In pants, we don’t sell anything flared or too exaggerated. I’m hoping to find some new resources at Magic and items. I’m open to all categories.
“Our store does not have a real hip junior customer, like a Gadzook’s,” she added. “We’re more mainstream. We’re located in a blue-collar area, so our prices are low to moderate.”
Buyers from SteinMart in Jacksonville, Fla., are looking for summer merchandise that builds on spring themes.
“We have been doing particularly well with linen, and we look for that to continue,” said Mike Remsen, general merchandise manager of women’s, juniors and kids at SteinMart. “We also need some younger career looks and styles that are a little more updated for a customer 20 to 35 years old.”
According to Remsen, slim-leg pants are still going strong for spring, but dresses have been a “very tough” category.
“We’re trying to swing our assortments back to casual dresses from career dresses,” he said. “Hopefully, we will see more casual dresses in the market. Part of the difficulty with last fall’s dress business was that the merchandise was too career-looking for juniors.”
As for items, vests are down, but fine-gauge sweaters are still selling well, Remsen added.
Ross Stores, an off-pricer based in Newark, Calif., will be combing WWDMagic for surf takes on junior and misses’ sportswear.
“We’re finding it’s been very key, especially in juniors, to do surf-influenced looks — items liked striped T’s, board shorts, with activewear and streetwear touches,” said Elissa Kramer, a vice president in Ross’s Los Angeles office.
“We’re even starting to see the influence on color and silhouette in misses’ weekend wear,” Kramer continued. Ross will also be shopping for fashion denims.

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