Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio / Kristi Ellis

LAS VEGAS — Flare-leg jeans, Adidas-inspired striped pants and short, side-slit skirts were the hottest items at last week’s WWDMagic, where generally upbeat retailers searched for more fashion-forward items to energize their holiday and early spring buys.
The show ended its four-day run Thursday, drawing an international mix of buyers shopping 1,650 booths, an increase of 161 booths over February’s WWDMagic, according to Joe Loggia, president and chief executive officer at Magic International.
“The retail environment is definitely improving,” said Abbey Doneger, president of the Doneger Buying Group, who came with 15 associates. “There’s a lot of opportunity to be distinctive now that we’ve been in a fashion cycle for the past six months. And I think people are feeling they are much more in control of their businesses.” Doneger noted that pockets of opportunity continue to be in the contemporary and junior areas, and this was reflected at the show.
Aside from the flared jeans and ever-climbing skirts, there were plenty of gothic looks, such as velvet long dresses with embroidered daggers and capes from such names as Eternal Love, Shrine and Jeannie Notri, as well as a cobweb collection from Lip Service of Los Angeles. And one new resource — Undergirl — received a lot of attention for underwear that’s packaged in double-CD jewel cases. The firm, whose line breaks for spring retail, picked up such new accounts as Delia’s, Up Against the Wall and Pleasure Swell, according to David Cohen, president.
There was also a strong showing of more established brands, such as Steve Madden, Lola Inc. — which markets powerhouse brand XOXO — Hush Puppies, Bisou-Bisou by Michelle Bohbot, Jou Jou Inc. and Misty Harbor. All were on a brand-building mission, showcasing families of licensed products.
One of the most visible firms was Lola, which took over 22 booths to display its 10 licensed products under the XOXO brand. Most of these licensed lines were launched over the last two years and included watches, a sterling silver collection, belts, footwear and jeans. Lola used the event to sign up one more licensed venture — an outerwear pact with Biscayne Apparel.
The outerwear line, which will wholesale from $50 to $150, will be in stores in May. It is expected to post a wholesale volume of $4 million to $5 million in its first year, Gregg Fiene, president, said.
“Consumers want brands,” said Fiene. “That’s why it is important for us to aggressively expand into other categories.”
New to the show was an ethnic area, which offered Indian and African-inspired prints from such names as Nefertiti Collections, Pegasus Collections and Afriwear Co. of Los Angeles.
Making the rounds were buyers from such department stores as Macy’s West and Elder-Beerman as well as J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck, along with smaller regional chains, specialty stores and independents. Most of the big-store buying was focused on holiday, though many were checking out trends for spring.
Regional department store executives said their spirits were buoyed by an improved economy.
“We expect high single digits for fall,” said Conrad Szymanski, president of Bealls Department Stores, the Bradenton, Fla.-based chain with 58 locations. “We’ve done a lot to improve our assortment of product…The economic environment has also improved. Minimum wages have increased, and unemployment is lower that it was a few years ago.”
Szymanksi added that his buyers were looking to place orders in resort sportswear for October and November deliveries.
Joe Flannery, president of Weaver’s, an independent department store, in Lawrence, Kan., also had a positive outlook about business. “Two years ago, the unemployment was closer to 5 percent; now it is below 4 percent,” he said.
While the mood was encouraging, industry executives were quick to point out some major challenges they’re facing. For one, there’s increased pressure among firms and stores to unearth the right fashion item, as consumers appear to be snubbing the basics.
“The basic five-pocket jeans aren’t selling. We’re in a fashion cycle, and we are looking at all the forward resources that we can use,” said Cathy Miller, vice president of women’s and junior apparel for J.C. Penney. She was roaming the aisles of the junior pavilion with five other buyers. “When the basics are sitting, you’ve got to move quickly on the fashion side.”
Miller said that she was shopping the show for spring trends and to scout out new resources.
“I’m picking up business cards,” she said, adding that such resources as Space Girl-z grabbed her attention. Some of the trends she’ll buy into for spring include sheer slipdresses, pants with Adidas-inspired stripes, cargo pants and crocheted sweaters.
“Novelty is selling more than basics,” said Wendy Red, the women’s wear buyer at Up Against the Wall, a Washington-based junior chain with 17 locations. She ordered underwear from Undergirls, knee-length skirts and denim jeans with glitter stripes from XOXO, and paisley blue skirts in brown lace from De Soi.
Red said she’s “a little worried” about pants, which she and other apparel executives say have been replaced by skirts as the new fashion item.
“I am trying to find bottoms that are more interesting,” she said. “There are just too many black polyester bottoms, but I do feel strongly about skirts.”
Fashion guesswork is getting to be a far more challenging game due to an increasingly complex consumer, several executives grumbled.
“She’s almost psycho,” said one junior buyer from a major Midwest department store chain, who was on the hunt for wide-leg jeans and some activewear styles. “One day, she wakes up and wants to look streetwear. Then the next day she wants to look dressy.”
Macky J. McDonald, president and ceo at VF Corp., said he started noticing a changing consumer attitude last fall, and that’s why he said he’s been aggressively developing a micro-marketing strategy.
“The consumer is not moving in one direction, and that is placing a great deal of pressure on the manufacturer,” said McDonald, who was showcasing various men’s and women’s product lines, such as Lee Riveted, Pipes and Dungarees by Lee, launched over the past year.
“Product trends don’t cover the whole market. The consumer market has become so differentiated,” he continued. “She is wearing apparel that reflects what she does.”
While McDonald noted that it can create logistical problems, he pointed out that it also presents opportunities for apparel firms, such as VF. He noted that last year, 20 percent of VF’s mix was in new products, but this year that figure is up to 35 percent.
In the moderate area, apparel executives lamented the price pressures they continue to experience, citing the importance of pushing novelty to boost sales.
“We’ve increased our business by 25 percent because we upgraded our fabrics,” said Marty Goldstein, a vice president of Confetti, who attributed that success mostly to its introduction of denim this year.
Goldstein said the firm should post a wholesale volume of $2.5 million this year.
“The customer is getting harder to sell,” said Susan Kelly, owner of Kelly’s, in Forest Lake, Minn., who was looking for cotton knits and denim for holiday. “She’s price sensitive and wants only easy-care fabrics.”
She added that there was too much black in the market over the last year, and now she’s on the hunt for color.
Many exhibitors interviewed said they met their sales projections at the four-day show.
“Clearly, we’ll do about a million dollars of business,” said Fiene of Lola, noting that embroidered jeans, suede jackets and tie-dyed shirts from XOXO booked well. In Lola, the winners included beaded slipdresses and matte jersey dresses, as well as Tactel nylon knit sweaters.
Marc Bohbot, an owner of Bisou-Bisou by Michelle Bohbot, noted he received one order worth $250,000 from a Taiwanese retail account called Fugen Enterprises.
“The show will be an easy $1 million in sales for us,” he said. Bisou-Bisou was showcasing its new shoe and denim licensed products as well as its new in-house dress collections. One of the most popular styles from Bisou-Bisou was the Gucci-inspired skirt with slits on both sides.
“Skirts are taking over pants,” he said.”Last fall, we offered 10 pants per skirt; this fall, it is the reverse.”
Ocean Pacific Apparel Corp., Irvine, Calif., which markets swimwear and sportswear under the OP label, had booked 47 appointments and had seen at least 80 to 90 accounts, said Jim Wright, regional sales manager. This was the company’s first time showing at WWDMagic.
“About 20 percent of the business at Magic was with new accounts,” said Wright, noting it came from specialty stores from diverse regions of the country.
Some of the more popular styles included 18-wale cord shorts, camisole tank tops, variegated rib and jersey dresses, short-alls and retro cargo pockets in such colors as lime greens and blues.
“All of our pattern bottoms sold like crazy,” said Wright, singling out plaids and florals. The top item was a lace-up denim pants style with piping on the side.
Ocean Pacific also highlighted its active collection, which included board shorts in satin nylon. In swimwear, Wright said that the firm has moved beyond cotton and Lycra blends and into piques, nylon and polyester blends, velvets and doubleknits. Retro ribbed-knit tube tops and bikini bottoms and sweater knit bikinis also had a strong showing.
Nefertiti, a division of Smiles Fashions Inc. that offers African-inspired fashions, picked up $300,000 in orders, according to Lucerne Labiduo, designer.
Some of the popular looks included rayon tunics with black border prints and rayon pants in black and yellow prints, she said.
The company, which launched at retail in January, is expected to post sales of $8 million for the year.
“We’ll do the million dollars we projected,” said Bob Acampora, executive vice president of Jou Jou, which had taken eight booths — at the last show, it had four — to display its licensed swimwear, sunglasses and shoes, all under the Dollhouse name, along with its young contemporary J2 collection. The company’s new line, called Jou Jou Alternative, a forward jeans line, also got attention from buyers, in particular the stretch sateen jeans, merchandised with conversational T-shirts, he said.
Susan Faris Design Ltd. of St. Petersburg, Fla., which was marketing animal-print jewel boxes, lipstick holders and purses, picked up 30 new accounts last week. “I met some new contacts, including some exporters,” said Sharon Begley, national sales manager.
Donewell Accessories, a Miami millinery firm, was out to expand its West Coast accounts. At the show, the firm had picked up a dozen new accounts.
“We have Florida and New York covered, but what we really want is to develop the West Coast,” said Nancy Giese, vice president of sales.
Styles that booked well included two-toned straw designs with rolled brims or underrolls.
Herb Williams, backup center for the New York Knicks, signed autographs at the show while drumming up support for Her Game 2, a line launched in February by his wife, Debora. The athletic-inspired fashions are currently being sold in resort stores and at shops in Madison Square Garden, but Debora Williams said that she wants to also target department stores.
“I want to fill a void in women’s apparel — fashion active looks that you can wear around on the weekends,” she said. “Right now, there are no jogging suits that you can wear with shoes.”
Todd Oldham flew in from New York for a few hours to hawk his licensed men’s and women’s jeans line at the men’s show Tuesday.
Oldham’s jeans line had been launched two years ago, offering trendy styles such as lace-up jeans and styles with holes at the knee, but for fall selling, the collection has been rounded out with basic denim styles, such as classic five-pocket jeans.
“The denim market is quite full, but we believe we are creating something different,” said Oldham, pointing out that his line’s price points are lower than such labels as Replay or Diesel. Todd Oldham Jeans carries an average retail price of $79, while the other names are priced from about $110 to $125.
WWDMagic ran concurrently with the MAGIC International men’s show and MAGIC Kids. The three events pulled over 90,000 attendees, and about 15 percent of the buyers were from overseas, according to Loggia.