Byline: Elaine Glusac

CHICAGO — The appeal of the new seasonal lines lifted buyer spirits as they shopped the fall market at the Chicago Apparel Center.
Excited by the wearability of fall looks and better-than-expected spring results, many buyers increased their budgets, up to as much as 25 percent.
Novelty goods that stretch the consumer’s existing wardrobe were in demand. Textured knits, long skirts and autumnal brown, green and orange hues caught the attention of buyers at the five-day market, which ran through April 15.
Concurrent with the women’s market, the four-day National Bridal Show, closing April 15 as well, also served mostly upbeat buyers, who reported the trend to larger weddings was boosting their business. Clean silhouettes in tank- or halter-topped gowns led orders.
Despite an anticipated falloff of buyers from the flood-ravaged upper Midwest, traffic at both markets was even with last year, said an Apparel Center spokeswoman.
Exhibitors at the general fall market reported healthy sales. Orders were up 25 percent at Manzano Sales, a multiline sportswear representative, according to owner Frank Manzano. Among the key sellers were knits, novelty jackets and long skirts.
Color was crucial in rep Karin Berger’s multiline showroom. “A lot of clothing is so minimal that color brings a touch of distinctiveness,” she said, noting the popularity of purples and garnets.
“Our number one request is for items,” added Berger whose orders were up 10 percent. “[An item] perks up what they have and keeps customers coming back to the specialty stores.”
Novelty items were the talk of the market among buyers, too.
“Shoppers are looking for special outfits to spark the things they already own,” said Barb Salvato, co-owner of Crittenden’s in Sister Bay, Wis.
She and sister Pamela Thana recently bought the existing contemporary sportswear store in Wisconsin’s heavily touristed Door County and were stocking it with immediate goods and fall sweaters. “Color has grown on us,” said Salvato. “But we’ll buy brights in accessories and basics, not outfits.”
The duo ordered scarves and gloves from Nick and Nora, thermal T-shirts from Head Over Heels and sweaters from Relais and 525 Made in America.
For embattled businesses, item buying was a survival strategy. “It’s not like the Eighties when [customers] bought whole wardrobes. Now they shop for things to spruce up a dress,” said Anne Sallaz, co-owner of Hayes-St. Clair, a moderate-to-better shop in St. Clair, Mich.
She liked novelty jackets by Canvasbacks and knits by Crystal Handwovens, but the buyer said business was slow and downsized her budget 5 percent.
Wearable color and interesting texture in fall goods excited Shari Weakman, women’s buyer for Dean’s Clothing, a better apparel store in Naperville, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
“The looks are better. I feel more confident about fall than spring’s crop tops and ladies-who-lunch looks. Those weren’t versatile enough,” she said.
With an open-to-buy up 15 percent, Weakman considered several lines, including August Silk, Joseph A and Mixxim.
Some buyers predicted the decline of casual silhouettes in favor of tailoring.
“A more structured look is coming back, but in a fun way. That’s where you see the zippers on jackets and shorter jackets,” said Faye Hirt, owner of Faye’s Ltd., a traditional shop, and Mira, a bridge shop, both in Holland, Mich.
Hirt sought skirts, favored over pants, and color was also on her mind. “There’s a lot of brown. I’m looking for colors to pop the brown. Blue and lime look good,” she said. With a flat open-to-buy, Hirt left paper with Canvasbacks, Jax and David Dart.
Color and newness earned orders from Valerie Chittick, owner of Domby, a bridge shop in Iowa City.
“One new silhouette is the to-the-knee-length coat either as outerwear or as a jacket,” she said. Claiming a good spring, Chittick said her open-to-buy was up 25 percent, and she wrote orders with such lines as Votre Nom and Due Per Due.
As for color, Chittick said, “Green is still strong and works well with brown or black. Black is still big, but we know that customers have 10 pairs of blacks pants, so we’ll sell them brown.”
In the bridal market, buyers were buoyed by what they saw as the move to larger and more formal weddings.
“Business is great. Brides are using more flower girls. Bridal parties are getting bigger and more elaborate,” said Theresa Cochran, co-owner of Three Wishes in Michigan City, Ind.
She also called demand for pageant dresses “a growing business” and, with a flat open-to-buy, booked orders with Mon Cheri and Eden Princess.
“Weddings are getting more formal. That helps our business,” agreed Bobbie Crabtree, owner of the Bridal Warehouse, a three-store chain based in Elizabethtown, Ky., calling spring her best season in 18 years of business.
Style at a price drove her orders. Ruffles and halters and, in bridesmaid gowns, soft lilacs and grays topped her shopping list. Increasing her open-to-buy 4 percent, Crabtree left paper with Mori Lee and Forever Yours.
Melanie Narin, owner of Melanie Bride’s Boutique in Ricely, Ind., said she was stretching her budget to satisfy all tastes.
“It’s been hard to judge the girls,” she said. “They go for plain, simple, elegant looks to real fussy. You have to carry it all. It’s a gamble all the time.”
Narin upped her budget 10 percent, ordering styles from Alfred Angelo and Bonny.
Despite the optimism of buyers, bridal reps noted that many were especially careful before placing orders. “Every dress is an investment. Buyers will sit through two or three shows before they write an order,” said Mon Cheri rep Steve Lang.
Popular looks “were split between ornate and clean,” said Lang. Though he doesn’t track show orders, Lang said they met his expectations despite a drop in buyers from the upper Midwest.
Simple styles including halter, tank and flared styles were the leading looks at Alfred Angelo, according to Midwest sales rep Bill Stryker.
Though he also said traffic seemed slightly down, orders were up, with greens, grapes and navy leading the bridesmaid colors and blush pink getting some renewed interest in bridal.

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