Byline: Teena Hammond

LOS ANGELES — Coming to the California Collections Preview Spring shows is a bonus for retailers. Not only do they get direct information from the fashion shows themselves, but they glean inspiration from the trendy Southern California environment as well.
For Wendy Red, fashion director for the Up Against The Wall and Commander Salamander retail chains, the opportunity to traipse out and explore the area is as important as the California Mart fashion shows.
“When I come to L.A., I like to shop the stores, find new restaurants, go to new furniture stores. You know why? Because the fabrics in furniture and those looks I see when I’m out relate back to retail,” Red said.
Visiting an of-the-moment restaurant such as Fred’s 62 or Indochine provides Red with plenty of fashion fodder.
“I’ll never forget that cold-shoulder shirt,” Red said. During a visit a few years ago to Los Angeles, “I saw that and I thought it was kind of cool, and I was in on it first.
The cold-shoulder top, which has cutouts that leave each shoulder bare, was popularized in the designer market by Donna Karan, who made waves in the late Eighties with her cold-shoulder dress.
With a little prodding, Red admits to looking forward to finding stretch pedal-pushers and capri pants.
“I tested them last year and did great with them, so I have a real good feel for them. I think I’m looking for them in stretch denim and colors,” she said.
And the top colors? It’s like revisiting the Eighties — fuchsia and turquoise are Red’s picks. “They haven’t been popular for a while, and I keep getting inklings about them. They go together.”
Laurie Lisk Wilson, fashion and promotions manager for Mercantile Stores Co., also checks out the local scene for trends.
“I like to get that West Coast perspective because it’s really a lifestyle feeling, and it really works for the contemporary woman. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s different and there’s always something fun and new to see,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that she spends time at retailers to see “what’s going on from an events perspective, looking at what’s smart in retail entertainment. That’s a great sense of inspiration for us.”
As far as the actual Mart shows, Red said she hasn’t formed a wish list.
“I sort of view it as a blind date,” she said. “I’m not going to expect anything and have any anticipation about what I’m looking for until I see it.”
While at the Mart, Wilson will be seeking West Coast trends, finding out how designers are interpreting the season, she said.
“I’ll be looking for what the great news is in color and dresses and sportswear,” Wilson said.
When Gary Gladding, general merchandise manager for Gottschalks, dives into the Mart, he’ll be looking mostly for swimwear.
“Boy legs was a strong junior trend for us this year, and the question is: ‘How does that translate into missy?”‘ he said.
Another key item will be sweaters.
“Traditionally, we don’t do much spring sweater business, but we tested it last fall and holiday into spring and it was good,” Gladding said. The increase in sweater sales was especially interesting for Gottschalks, he noted, because most of its stores are in the central valley region of California. Spring temperatures in the region often soar over 80 degrees by April.
Silk is another big growth area for Gottschalks, and Gladding will be looking for blouses and related pieces at the Mart.
Meanwhile, Wet Seal/Contempo Casuals/Limbo Lounge likes to keep its plans for spring under wraps, said Alex Bajrech, vice president and fashion director for the Irvine, Calif.-based retailer.
Competitors are always visiting his stores, trying to emulate the chain’s success in junior clothing, so he’s hesitant to talk about key items he’ll be looking for at the Mart, he said.
“If we’re looking for anything, it’s newness,” Bajrech said. “We’re looking for things that are different. It’s a difficult delivery because it’s a transition.”
Mervyn’s depends upon the California Mart for junior and active trends, said Lisa Black Myers, women’s trend manager for the store.
Myers expects spring to be “more of a verification of the trends that we’ve been working on.”
“We believe very strongly in the romantic trend. We have a lot of soft suitings and soft florals in our career area and in casual, she said. “We believe that kind of romance can be energized through watercolor prints and using such fabrics as voile to update that casual look. We also believe in color. We start out with strength in the blues and greens, a fresh, lively palette.”
Late spring will bring in hotter, brighter shades such as red, yellow and orange, Myers added.

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