Byline: Georgia Lee

MIAMI — Many attendees at Preview ’97, last week’s swimwear trade show here, walked away wondering how important the season was, judging from the lack of new preview collections.
Unlike previous years, only a handful of manufacturers offered preview collections at the show. Some of the 100 exhibitors said it is no longer cost-effective to produce preview lines that aren’t always carried forward.
As an alternative to preview, which is shipped to stores in March, some manufacturers launched new groups such as spring editions, early cruise and transition with staggered delivery shipments in April, May and June. Others offered virtually nothing new, selling immediate goods, this year’s cruise offerings and off-price merchandise.
The show, held Feb. 26-29 at the Miami International Merchandise Mart, was slated a week later than last year’s. Officials of the Swimwear Association of Florida, which sponsored the show along with BASF, said the association is considering an even later date next year to accommodate the changing nature of preview and to give manufacturers more time to prepare early cruise lines.
Attendance was 17 percent less than last year’s figures. Shopping with budgets mostly smaller or even with last year’s, retailers — particularly those in south Florida — said the preview season doesn’t meet their needs. In addition, the abundance of swimwear specialty stores, the current retail climate and this winter’s inclement weather have taken their toll on business.
“Preview is a misnomer and has been for a long time now,” said Jack Blum, principal of a Miami sales firm carrying Michael Kors, Pilpel and Cobra Beach Towels. “The direction now is to offer early cruise collections that can be absorbed into cruise lines, rather than preview, which is often a one-shot deal.”
In terms of fashion, new cruise collections included an infusion of bright colors, along with black and white groups. Retro influences, such as zippers, small floral prints, piping and other details, were prevalent in the junior market and filtered into the misses’ market as well.
Many companies offered two-piece styles in separate top and bottom sizes for the first time. Bust interest continued, but in more natural bras, rather than the heavily constructed underwire bras and their ilk of previous seasons. Coverups, skirted looks and HotPants were also popular among buyers. Texture continues to be important, but more as an accent rather than an allover effect.
While some retailers ordered some preview, they said they planned to shift some of their show budgets for early cruise orders in the months ahead.
“Preview benefits stores in the North, but it doesn’t make sense for Florida,” said Coni Sutter, owner of The Beach House of Naples, a specialty swimwear store with two locations in Naples and one in Miami. “It’s designed to bring in newness in April and May, and that’s just when our season is ending.”
With a budget down 30 percent, Sutter said she was saving additional dollars for early cruise collections. At the show, she bought preview merchandise from Calvin Klein, Anne Klein, Karla Coletto and Shan in matte and shine fabrics, tonal rose patterns and textures, as well as striped and checked groups.
Mark Sidle, owner of Swim ‘N Sport, a Miami-based swimwear specialty chain with 14 Florida locations, bought preview from Anne Klein, Beach Patrol and Jantzen with a budget down 15 percent, reserving dollars for early cruise.
He described the market — and the swimwear industry in general — as “in trouble” due to the lack of newness and softness at retail. “Most manufacturers are knockoff artists,” he said. “They need to stop playing it so safe, because the consumer has no reason to buy.”
The lack of newness and confusion about preview kept one retailer who usually attends the show at home. “The show is not important enough for me to attend,” said Pat Schaefer, owner of Atlanta Beach, a swimwear specialty store with two Atlanta units. “It’s not worth it to go just for a few lines.”
Terri Tennille, owner of Heron’s Swim & Sport, a specialty swimwear chain based on Amelia Island, Fla., with five locations in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, was also disappointed with the lack of newness. However, unlike other retailers, she described preview as important to her store.
“In north Florida, our season is just beginning now,” she said. “Our customers like to see some new ’97 suits this time of year.” Tennille shopped with an open-to-buy up 10 percent from last year’s as a result of strong sales and expanding business. She bought zippered suits from La Blanca and suits with lower legs from several resources such as Beach Patrol.
“My misses’ customer may be older, but she’s not dead,” she said. “The days of the misses’ customer looking for a skirted style are over; they want fashion.”

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