LOOKS LIKE A WINNER

Byline: Georgia Lee / Brenda Lloyd

Category: Prom/Pageant
Company: Mike Benet

Mike Benet is in tune with the fickle, emotional whims of today’s teenagers.
Prom dressing is a far cry from the demure ruffles and bows of yesteryear. Although trends come and go, the one constant is that teenagers want a sophisticated, sexy look.
“They take inspiration from pageants, movies and award shows,” said Ann Pevehouse, vice president of marketing and sales for the 40-year-old Pittsburg, Tex., company, who added that prom looks are becoming similar to after-five in sophistication.
Currently, the trend is away from the ornate, heavily beaded looks of recent years in favor of a simpler approach, with luxurious fabrics such as crepe, chiffon and crepe-back satin.
“They want form-fitting dresses that show off curves, and cutouts that show off their pierced bellies,” said Pevehouse. “Our challenge is to provide all that in a tasteful way.”
But for all the bareness, today’s teenager doesn’t want to be too far on the edge, either. “Kids have strong ideas, and there are always trendsetters,” said Pevehouse. “But they don’t want to stand out too far.”
Another change is that today’s teenager often works and has her own money. She either buys or chips in with her mother to buy the dress and is more savvy and value-conscious than ever before.
The simplification of prom lines has opened up more possibilities for junior specialty stores, in addition to bridal stores, which have always carried prom, she added.
For spring, the line features stretch crepes and crepes with velvet texture, in sheaths and flowing skirts, with cutouts and strappy backs. Mesh with rhinestones is another key look. The company, which has an annual volume of $6 million, plans to launch an after-five line next year.
Mike Benet is represented by Davidson-Barr, Suite 10-N-103.

Category: Bridal
Company: Venus Bridal

“Brides are our business,” said Linda Lao, vice president of Lotus Orient Corp., summing up her company, which produces Venus, this year’s winner of the DIVA Award for bridal apparel.
Lotus Orient, which also produces another bridal line, Pallas Athena, has come a long way since its modest beginnings nearly 14 years ago in San Gabriel, Calif. It has grown into an international business with offices in London and Amsterdam.
Owner Eugene Wu started Lotus Orient by selling bridal headpieces imported from Taiwan. Because the headpieces were such a hit, a bridal company suggested he add bridal gowns, according to Lao. He did so, and at first relied on a manufacturer in Taiwan to produce the gowns. That didn’t work out. The gowns were often late and sometimes weren’t made properly. Wu opened his own factory in China six years ago, where he has control over quality and deliveries.
The company has taken off since then. Lotus Orient expanded its distribution into Greece five years ago, then added Australia and Amsterdam, and entered the U.K. last year. It has agents all over the world, and attends shows in Germany, Spain, England and Amsterdam. Volume surpassed $12 million last year, and the privately held company has grown 30 percent over the past two years, Lao said.
Venus is pricier than Pallas Athena, and it’s also more traditional and classically designed. Lotus Orient doesn’t sell Pallas Athena, a more contemporary line of bridal gowns, in the Atlanta Apparel Mart.
Venus uses a wide range of fabrics, including regular, matte and Italian satins, chiffons, taffetas, Shantung silk, silk satin, silk brocade and embroidered organza. Most of the fabrics are imported from Japan, Korea or Taiwan into China, or to contractors in Mexico and the Philippines, but the company also uses some American-made fabrics. Prices for Venus’s formal gowns range from $249 to $799. Informal gowns run from $79 to $299.
Venus gowns are partly custom-made; the bride’s measurements are taken for lengths of hollow to waist, waist to hem and sleeve. Venus also will make an extra long train, if the bride wants it.
“We’re very flexible,” said Lao, “because we have control of our manufacturing.”
She said delivery dates are eight to 12 weeks, depending on the special measurements required, but Lotus Orient will rush gowns when needed. The company also stocks standard bridal gowns, and it guarantees replacement and delivery if there’s a problem with the gown when it arrives.
“We want to make our customer feel secure because we want to make sure the bride gets her gown on time and that the gown fits her,” Lao said. “We’re here to serve the bride.”

Category: Bridge Sportswear
Company: Tamotsu

Tamotsu Toda, winner of the Atlanta Apparel Mart’s DIVA for bridge sportswear, is a serious guy.
“Tamotsu doesn’t understand suburban carpools,” said Ellen Mullman, sales manager for the designer. “With his Japanese mentality, he’s aiming for the sophisticated, urban woman, with what we call ‘no fun’ serious dressing.”
Mullman said the collection primarily uses blends of rayon and acetate, the same kind of Italian fabrics that the designers use, but at bridge prices, wholesaling from $80 to $190.
Tamotsu, a Japanese-born designer, started 20 years ago with a sewing machine in his New York apartment, after working as a patternmaker for Norma Kamali. Although the company today posts around $15 million in annual sales, Tamotsu is not exactly a household word.
“We’ve quietly gone about our business, without calling attention to ourselves,” said Mullman.
The line comprises unstructured pieces, suitable for the career woman or a time-strapped consumer — which today, means everyone, said Mullman.
“People don’t want to fuss, or sit down every morning and think about putting pieces together,” she said. Fundamentals, a group of basic black crepe pieces that can be dressed up or down, continues to be a bestseller from season to season.
With a three-person sales staff, Tamotsu targets specialty stores with an accessible, small-company philosophy.
“We help stores with ads, take back merchandise, make donations, and most importantly, call them back right away,” said Mullman. “In these days of big stores all carrying the same big vendors, it’s important for specialty stores to have someone they know they can count on.”
For spring, the line will include a group of textured rayon/acetate pieces called “wedding cake” — in such colors as pralines and cream, caramel and oyster. Colors are typically dark, serious shades. Mullman said that fit is what separates Tamotsu from other resources.
“The soft draped looks are great to hide women’s problem areas,” she said.
Besides large sizes, Tamotsu just launched a line of petite plus sizes, for shorter large-size women, a group that has been largely neglected in the bridge market, said Mullman.
Tamotsu is carried in the Leib Associates, 11W122.

Category: Contemporary
Sportswear
Company: Russ Berens

ATLANTA — Although Russ Berens is the DIVA contemporary sportswear award winner, sales manager Michael Vultee calls the term “contemporary” a misnomer.
“Contemporary implies more cutting-edge design,” he said. “We’re strictly a misses’ line, targeting a woman who is typically 10 to 15 pounds overweight. She’s style-conscious, but understated.”
Vultee said that three things distinguish Russ Berens — fabric, casual styling and color. Fabrics, which include linen, cotton and Tencel, are chosen for their hand as well as durability and easy-care qualities. Color is essential, with 15 shades per season, from pales to brights. And, although the line has always been casual, the nationwide trend toward casualization has made the look more in demand.
As a Los Angeles resource, the line is in tune with Southeast, which accounts for 65 percent of sales, said Vultee.
“California has always been casual, but the trick is to provide enough color and include dressier options for Southern tastes,” he said, comparing the line to Eileen Fisher in its versatility and options.
Each season includes key related items and fabrics and colors that play off each other. When the line opened in 1986, it targeted department and specialty stores. Today, its entire client list is specialty stores.
“We think you can’t do both,” said Vultee. “With department stores, it’s a numbers game. With specialty stores, we usually deal with owners, and we develop relationships and build loyalty.”
Misses’ sportswear, although a highly competitive category, is one of the strongest in today’s market, said Vultee. As a vertical operation with all domestic manufacturing, Russ Berens can offer quick turnaround and quality control.
“Whereas other categories, such as juniors, change from month to month, the misses’ customer has money, and she tends to stay with a look she likes,” he said. “We know stores could replace us with another line in two seconds, so we have to do everything on time, and do it right.”
Russ Berens is in showroom 11S120.

Category: Men’s Wear
Company: Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger’s consistent top-selling performance in men’s wear over the last few years has earned him his second straight Atlanta Apparel Mart DIVA for the category. But the man behind the label credits the retailers, themselves, for their prosperity with his line, saying, “They’re the ones who sell and push it.”
Still, his fashions, ranging from classic preppy to rock ‘n’ roll looks to updated business attire, and the red, white and blue logo have made him one of the big success stories in men’s wear this decade.
Hilfiger, who hails from Elmira, N.Y., began his retail career in 1969 with $150 and 20 pairs of bell-bottom jeans. His success in that venture led him to open his own stores, People’s Place, throughout upstate New York, and he began designing the clothes that his customers wanted but could not find.
The self-taught designer moved to New York City in 1979 to pursue a career as a fashion designer. His first signature collection was introduced in 1984, supported by a bold ad campaign that declared Hilfiger as the new leader in men’s fashion.
He and his partners, Silas Chou, Lawrence Stroll and Joel Horowitz, took the company public in 1992. Sales for the year ended March 31 were $661.7 million, a 38 percent increase over the previous year’s sales of $478 million.
But Hilfiger has gone far beyond his men’s wear beginnings. The company also has collections for women and children reflecting — as does the men’s collection — classics and the latest fashion designs. Hilfiger launched women’s sportswear and his Tommy Girl fragrance last year, as well as a rock ‘n’ roll-inspired collection for men and women. He also has a complete line of boys’ wear.
The men’s wear collections include sportswear, tailored clothing and dress furnishings, athletic wear, jeans, accessories and the Tommy fragrance. Hilfiger introduced men’s footwear this spring and will introduce women’s footwear for holiday 1998.

Category: Children’s Wear
Company: Flapdoodles

Flapdoodles might be slang for “nonsense,” but the company is all business when it comes to children’s wear.
Southeastern retailers have named this line of fun, mix-and-match pre-shrunk, garment-washed kids’ clothing their favorite children’s resource. Flapdoodles also has won an Ernie Award, given by Earnshaw’s magazine, for boys’ outerwear.
The fabrics are mostly cotton but include Lycra spandex, stretch knits, velours, sherpas and chenilles.
Flapdoodles has an array of apparel that includes leggings, tops, dresses, pants, shorts, outerwear, swimwear, hats and headbands. The company comes out with 23 new colors every season for the solid and print coordinated separates, which can be mixed and matched.
The flexible range of different colors, styles, and patterns allows retailers to create Flapdoodles departments that are tailored to their needs, and lets kids and parents create looks that run the gamut from tame to wildly imaginative, according to the company.
Sizes run from layette to 14.
The firm was started in 1985 by Marc Ham and Carole Bieber, who wanted to create for children comfortable, high-quality clothes that were functional and fun to wear. They sold the company in 1993 to Newark, Del.-based Marisa Christina, which makes women’s dresses and sportswear, and the combined company took the name Marisa Christina-Flapdoodles Inc. Flapdoodles operates independently within the corporate structure.
The company, which had sales last year of $115.5 million, went public in the fall of 1994. Sales growth doubled last year, according to Lori Pennington, Southeast account executive.
Marisa Christina-Flapdoodles also produces apparel under the labels Adrienne Vittadini better dresses and knits, and Mousefeathers children’s dresses.
Flapdoodles’ target customer is fine specialty stores and better department stores.
“We watch our distribution,” she said, explaining that Flapdoodles wants to make sure that the line is merchandised properly. “We sell our line as a shop concept to all accounts,” she continued. “It’s a collection. The whole idea is to mix and match the different prints and colors.”

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