L.A. MART BUYERS SURE ABOUT FALL

Byline: Kristi Ellis

LOS ANGELES — Specialty stores and chains turning out for the California Mart’s fall I market appeared confident about the season and left paper for it.
Many showrooms reported solid business during the five-day event, which closed April 7. Mart management reported registration was up 15 percent against the year-ago turnout.
For the first time, the show incorporated Look — The International Sportswear Show, the contemporary-oriented event whose two initial sessions took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center last year. Mart officials announced in January that the twice-yearly show would be moved to the Mart as a segment of the Mart’s major markets.
The mart’s temporary showroom space on the mezzanine was filled with 80 previous Look exhibitors, and perhaps the market’s only dim notes were the frequent complaints about traffic there voiced by those exhibitors.
For example, David Squires, national sales manager of Studio XTC, a Look exhibitor, griped, “We are only seeing our repeat customers, and we don’t need to do a show to see them.”
Answering such complaints, a Mart spokeswoman said, “The California Mart had a full team of telemarketers calling buyers. We told exhibitors that this was an appointment show, and we made a buyer list available to them. The California Mart can only market to a certain point; then it’s up to the exhibitors to make appointments and expose their own lines.”
Elsewhere throughout the Mart, however, the mood was upbeat.
“Buyers are optimistic, and everyone is leaving paper,” said Jana Rangel, a partner in the L’Atelier showroom, which features designer secondary and better contemporary collections. She said her regular accounts all left paper, while about half of the new accounts that stopped in the showroom placed orders.
Her bestsellers, she said, included Gaultier novelty jackets, Todd Oldham’s new denim collection, Pierre le Snob dresses and George Houston’s activewear and streetwear collection.
Said Wendy Yang, West Coast regional sales manager of Platinum Clothing Co., “Buyers are coming off of a tough fall, but they are coming into a good spring, and there is more of an up attitude.”
Yang noted that 90 percent of her business out of the Los Angeles showroom is from West Coast retailers.
Among the top items booking for fall in the firm’s Silver Connection contemporary line are novelty burnout prints of perfume bottles and combs in a camp shirt, bomber jacket and big shirt. The best-selling group in Platinum is a lavender and smoke hand-blocked Japanese print in bias-cut dresses and soft drawstring pants with tunic tops.
Also noting that stores were booking, Christopher Lapolice, vice president of sales for Laundry by Shelli Segal, estimated the company’s four divisions would work with 250 to 300 accounts at the market. The business has been driven by sweaters and stretch fabrics, he said.
Lapolice also noted that burnout velvets have been a top seller in social occasion dressing as well as all-silk dresses. Flame stitch sweaters have booked well, too.
Buyers, as usual, said they were hunting the market for new resources and one-of-a-kind items.
“We are looking at smaller lines with an edge, those that are a little more eccentric,” said Susan Hill, owner of Molly B., with two units in Berkeley, Calif. Hill said she planned to place orders with Flax, Angel Heart and Patina. She said she particularly liked the Chinese stylings of Patina.
“Our stores do soft dressing, and nothing is structured,” Hill said. Her budget was up because of the second store, which opened last year, she said.
Shopping wholesale prices ranging from $25 to $200, Hill said she was interested in textures and such colors as apple and kiwi green.
Diana Payton, an owner of P. Puffin & Co. in Corvallis, Ore., said she was looking for casual and exotic clothing in natural fibers.
Her wholesale price range was $20 to $80. Payton recently moved from a 700-square-foot store to one 1,600-square-foot space. Catering to professional women and college students, she said her volume is around $95,000, and she expects her customer base to increase along with sales in the new location.
It was her first trip to the Los Angeles market, and she said she was finding a lot of new lines, taking notes and planning to follow up with orders later.
Payton liked Angel Heart’s dresses: “The bodies are loose-fitting and they use flowing fabric with a retro feel.”
She also planned to place an order with CP Shades. Another line that caught her eye was People United, showing in the nearby New Mart. The indigenous South American line featured heavy gauge linen bottoms and hand-knit tops.
Linda Vela, owner of Linda & Co. in Waco, Tex., stopped in the L’Atelier showroom after a Gaultier dress on display caught her eye. She said she was looking for casualwear and anything that wasn’t shown in the Dallas Mart. Taking notes on several items, Vela said business has been good at her store, which has a volume of $300,000 to $400,000.
Among the Mart’s program of special events, the designer/contemporary fashion show on Friday night drew about 900 people. The Mart also staged a well-attended “Fast Forward Look” party and fashion show in the lobby on Friday night, featuring young contemporary designers. A Mart spokeswoman estimated that 1,200 people attended the Look party, which also had live music by The Paladins.
In addition, the New Mart — the showroom building across the street from the California Mart — celebrated its 10th anniversary and the restoration of the building’s original 1928 facade during fall I market week. At a Sunday ribbon-cutting ceremony, Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer, president of the New Mart, joined Los Angeles councilwoman Rita Walters and Marianne Giblin, executive director of the Downtown Property Owners Association, along with hundreds of guests to celebrate the occasion.
The New Mart’s original solid-bronze, Renaissance-revival marquee, which was removed from the building in the Fifties has been replicated and replaced above the main entrance. The 12-floor building is also undergoing a $5 million renovation, which has begun with the complete remodeling of the 11th floor. The three-phase renovation is being directed by Los Angeles-based architect Ruben S. Ojeda.
The 350,000 square-foot building, which was the first high-rise built in Los Angeles, houses 57 permanent contemporary showrooms and 15 temporary showrooms.

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