U.S. STORES: HITS & MISSES
FALL IS OFF TO A ROBUST START, AND SO FAR, AMERICAN RETAILERS SAY THEY’RE SEEING MORE HIGHS THAN LOWS.

Byline: Sharon Edelson / With contributions from David Moin, New York / Teena Hammond, Los Angeles

NEW YORK — Perhaps more so than in recent years, this fall is a season of contradictions — from leather suits worn with lace shirts to stiletto heels matched with men’s wear pinstriped suits.
Not surprisingly, reaction to these trends has been just as varied, depending on a retailer’s region and price level.
But from the smorgasbord of new trends that designers have served up this season, a few have emerged as winners, including leather, textured sweaters, velvet and big, bold jewelry.
Less certain is the fate of the stiletto — nice to look at, but hard to wear — and hip-slung, wide-leg jeans, which stormed the runways but had a tepid welcome in some stores.
At Bloomingdale’s, short skirts, leather, looser fits, pinstripes in men’s wear fabrics and stiletto heels have caught fire, said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction.
These looks are selling across the price spectrum, Ruttenstein said.
“The designer business is very strong, and we’re also doing very well in contemporary and juniors,” he said. “Necessary Objects’ exclusive collection called Rock includes most of the trends. We sold 38 percent of our initial order in three days.”
Even bridge, which has been a difficult area, is improving.
“Spring was a tiny bit tough in bridge, but early indications are that we’re going to have a good season,” Ruttenstein said. “I attribute the success to all the new trends.”
Among these, Ruttenstein cited delicate looks like embroidery, “which hasn’t been around for a while.” Clothes that have an individual look, from designers such as Vivienne Tam and Anna Sui, are also striking a chord with customers, he said.
“The Marc Jacobs collection is doing better than ever,” he added. “We had a 15 percent sell-through, and that’s the best he’s ever done in a very short time.”
At Saks Fifth Avenue, pinstripes and tweeds have been strong sellers at all price points, from bridge to designer, said Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director.
“The whole suit issue has been very strong,” she said. “Pants are wide in most cases.”
Knits are another area of strength at Saks, and there the key word is diversity. Fischelis said, “There is lots of texture, and anything with fur trim is hot.”
Leather has become a popular material for suits this season. Saks has been selling suits and separates, including miniskirts and pants in black, deep burgundy and brown.
Velvet appears to be a surefire hit at Saks this season.
“Anything velvet, from jeans to miniskirts, is selling,” Fischelis said. “We anticipate a lot of success in velvet in every area. Also, we are selling lots of Supplex stretch tops, white shirts, lace shirts, all those great underpinning for the suit category.”
The shoe category is hot again, reinvigorated by the style of the moment — the stiletto — while the new bold approach to jewelry has breathed life into that area.
“We’re selling out of stiletto pointed shoes,” Fischelis said. “In designer, we sold out of all the Gucci stilettos. High boots and booties are starting to sell extremely well, as are microfiber stretch boots.”
In handbags, anything with hardware and link chains has been checking, while suede clutches and velvet purses are becoming a big category, Fischelis said.
Unusual designs are sparking many accessories sales. Feathers on handbags and feather-trim scarves are performing well. Chinoiserie, brocade, mesh, sequin and crocheted evening bags are popular. Mongolian lamb hats “are incredible,” Fischelis said.
“Jewelry is much bigger and bolder,” she added. “For example, bracelet cuffs and pieces with Asian and ethnic influences with semiprecious stones. We are selling Ralph Lauren’s silver belts. Big and bold is definitely outperforming the small and dainty pieces of previous seasons.”
Joan Weinstein, owner of Ultimo boutiques in Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas, said, “It’s too soon to tell what the bombs are for fall,” but she has plenty of hits. “We’ve been selling leather like mad, and short skirts. The Prada short skirts in gray and denim blue for $290 and $360 are all gone. We had a short leather skirt — all gone.”
Anything with feathers or fur trim is also selling at Ultimo.
“We’ve completely sold out of fur-like boas that you wrap around your neck, in Chicago, even though it’s not even cold enough to wear them,” she said. “We’ve just put them out in San Francisco, and I expect them to sell out there, too.”
Sweaters are also in demand, with Zoran a top label at Ultimo.
Connie Finnel, vice president and general merchandise manager of Mitchells of Westport, said the store did well on early deliveries, particularly from Calvin Klein’s symmetrical wool suits, which sold out of six pieces at around $1,100; Klein’s structured moss-colored skirt suits, $1,350, with 12 suits sold in July, plus six of the jackets alone.
Finnel also said that luxury fibers, including cashmere sweaters at $215 to $350, and printed scarves at $330 to $680 from Loro Piana, have been selling.
“Suede as a trend is selling well,” she added, noting Lauren’s suede pants for $995.
St. John’s group of green knits sold well, with jackets priced at $700 and bottoms at $280.
“Green is a fashion color of the season,” Finnel said. Other strong fall items include camel-colored wool sweaters from Escada.
“We’re selling luxury, whether its from Loro Piana or Barbera or Armani. Those are the key cashmere people for us,” Finnel said.
Missoni knits, particularly long, colorful knit dresses, priced at $580, are hits, as well.
Linda Dresner, who owns two eponymous stores, on Park Avenue here and in Birmingham, Mich., has had great success with Colette Dinnegan’s collection, selling nine dresses in nine days. The dresses sell for $400 to $2,655.
“The lace dresses were great, and we sold three panne leopard trenchcoats,” Dresner said. “We already put in a reorder. That’s a very rare moment these days.
“We are also having great sell-through with the boots from Costume National,” she said of the elongated, square-toed shoes in dark purple, dark green and black smooth leather, $390. “They seem to be what girls want to wear right now. We’ve sold dozens in the short boots and tall boots with Cuban size heels.”
Dresner has seen a lot of sweater interest from her customers, who are buying “really unique sweaters from Jil Sander. They like any sweater that is a bit interesting, such as a heavy knit that has a bit of interest in the weave. They’re willing to wear sleeveless sweaters that are kind of bulky for fall. That looks really fresh.”
Dresner’s two boutiques are selling long blanket coats in double-faced wool and oversized men’s style coats from Jil Sander. Long, skinny skirts from Jil Sander, Martin Margiela and Yohji Yamamoto are also doing well.
“We’re still working on short,” Dresner said.
Shauna Stein, the owner of two boutiques bearing her name in Los Angeles and the Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas, is still waiting for hip-slung, wide-leg pants — the ones that have gotten so much attention on the catwalks — to catch on.
“It’s getting a slow start,” Stein said. “I thought it would happen much quicker.”
Both Shauna Stein locations carry several different lines that include the new style pant, including Byblos and Richard Tyler.
A semi-miss is stiletto heels. They’re selling, but women are quickly shelving the sexy shoes once they realize the shoes aren’t made for walking or standing.
“They look great, but I can’t stay on my feet more than five minutes,” said Tracey Ross, owner of the Tracey Ross boutique in trendy Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood, Calif.
“Madonna was in the store last week, and we were talking and she said she can’t wear them, either,” Ross said.
One alternative for some of her customers is to stash the killer shoes in a tote bag during the day and pull them out at night.
“They’re great for posing, if you know you won’t be walking,” she said.
At Shauna Stein, “everything that’s fur-trimmed was sucked right out of the store,” Stein said, citing as top items Dolce & Gabbana’s fur-trimmed coats and Blumarine’s fur-trimmed sweaters.
The Beverly Hills Theodore boutique is having luck with sweaters, said owner Herb Fink. The entire Stone Island line and 525 chenille sweaters “have been very, very good,” Fink said.
Mervyn’s is expecting its sweater business to grow “a vast amount” this fall, based on last fall’s “enormous growth.” The top yarn is chenille, with textured and cabled versions available, said Lisa Black Myers, women’s trend manager for Mervyn’s.
At Washington, D.C.-based Up Against The Wall, dragons are on fire.
“Anything with a dragon on it has been unbelievable,” said Wendy Red, fashion director for Up Against The Wall and Commander Salamander. The Chinese look is also big, as are the knee skirts and the 21-inch skirts.”
At Strawberry’s store in the Empire State Building here, bestsellers have included lots of UltraSuede and fake elephant suede, as well as chenille and Adidas-look sweaters with stripes down the sleeves. Wool skirts, pants, blouses and blazers sold well in misses’, while fake fur jackets and skirts were a hit with juniors, said Mark Costanzo, area manager for the chain.
Costanzo said New York’s tax abatement week, where sales tax on apparel was lifted on items priced up to $100, was a boon for the store, but styling also had a lot to do with the strong business.
Dresner, who bought carefully for the season, said her discretion paid off.
“So far, the clothes have really looked beautiful and have enjoyed around-the-store sell-throughs,” Dresner said. “I didn’t buy over-the-top pieces that wouldn’t sell, but they have an edge to them. We’ve had a very good early fall.”

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