Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — Citing “a real hunger for fashion,” accessories vendors were aglow Friday after a market week that was strong, active and exceptionally optimistic.
Across the board, showrooms were crowded with store executives out to do summer and fall business. Many of them showed up as early as two weeks ago. Some were frantically searching for reorder merchandise for deliveries as soon as the end of this month.
The source of all the confidence stems from the way spring accessories have continued to outperform other fashion areas. Jewelry has been one of the strongest classifications, thanks largely to the influences of a variety of TV programs.
Retailers reported their budgets have been adjusted upward based on strong early spring selling; open-to-buys are up about 30 percent. They pointed to Y necklaces in jewelry and an infusion of color in most other segments as driving forces behind the strong results to date.
“We’ve already received reorders on white and hot-colored bags, in spite of the fact that there hasn’t been much real spring weather so far,” said Joanne Hart, co-owner of the handbag showroom Hart & Kean. “The stores that were hesitant about showing nylon last year have really gotten comfortable with it now and are ordering it in force.”
Hart said bookings were up against a year ago, adding, “There is a real hunger for fashion now. Stores have realized that the customer doesn’t need or want basics anymore.”
While many of Hart’s buyers were still filling in for summer, even those focused on fall continued to express interest in white, brights and pale shades, in addition to the more traditional fall colors: brown, camel, green and burgundy.
“I’m really happy with what I’ve seen in the market,” said Cheryl Watkins, buyer at Joseph’s, Memphis, who focused on upscale fall merchandise. “All the color and the new takes on animal prints will really give our customers a reason to buy.”
Alan Krantzler, vice president and general manager for Mark Cross, said the week had garnered an “excellent buyer response overall,” particularly because of newness in color and shape and hot new nickel hardware, as well as a strong spring at retail.
“Our two collections that feature nickel hardware did especially well this spring, so buyers were interested in expanding on those offerings,” said Krantzler. “We got strong positive response to our new taupe and camel colors, which stores said would work well with fall apparel.”
Also key were short shoulder-strap styles, some with novel skinny double straps, and interpretations of structured shapes in softer silhouettes.
He said the firm’s business is much stronger than it was a year ago, pointing out that the number of doors has increased significantly.
“Part of the increased interest comes from buyers continuing to focus on the need to offer real value, even at higher prices. We’ve been able to meet those needs in a variety of ways — like moving to all-leather linings this year, which many buyers felt would increase the perceived value of our handbags,” Krantzler said.
Ed Miccinati, president and chief executive officer of Ganson, also characterized the last two weeks as unusually strong.
“Many stores were flat for the year, and they now seem ready to make some real changes in their assortments and take on some different names,” said Miccinati, projecting a 30 percent gain over last year.
Most in demand were quality leathers in smooth and textured looks, triple-weave lambskin and new colors, including burgundy and browns from oxblood to saddle tones.
Dayne DuVall, designer for his namesake jewelry line and a partner at the accessories showroom Notanonymous, also benefited from early traffic.
“We saw a lot of new stores that were in town shopping the Coterie and other trade shows, plus we ran an ad recently that has boosted our walk-in traffic,” DuVall said. “Many of the stores we saw this week were clothing stores that also sell accessories. They were homing in on small chain and bead looks, mostly in sterling silver. Color is definitely back. We did well with jewelry featuring lime green or Montana stones that everyone wanted shipped immediately.”
Peggy Bookhout, an accessories buyer for Home Shopping Network, said that after some initial difficulties selling costume jewelry, the company has decided to focus on pieces and collections that offer potential as collectibles. She said R.J. Graziano and Trifari are among the lines that have been most successful for the network; based on their strong sales, she was expecting a 30 percent increase over last year.
Bookhout was looking at transitional merchandise and was making her first try with Y necklaces, which she planned to sell in sets with matching earrings. Jewelry sales account for about 30 percent of accessories business for HSN.
She said she was looking for casual, unstructured looks in handbags — such as hobo styles — in leather, metallics and animal prints.
“Our customer is still pretty casual,” Bookhout said. “The structured, ladylike looks just don’t work for us.”
“On average, our jewelry and watch business is trending up about 25 to 30 percent compared to last year,” said Julie Young, product development for the attractions merchandising division of The Walt Disney Co., which buys products that are sold in the company’s hotels in its theme parks. Young said business in the shops has increased partly because park attendance has been up this spring.
She said rings, watches and sterling silver jewelry have been the strongest accessories, and she was looking to add to her assortments as soon as possible.
Evelyn Garcia, vice president of sales and marketing for Robert Rose, said roughly 90 percent of the buyers she saw in the last two weeks were interested only in merchandise they could get in the next two months.
“They all want to know what they can get right now that’s new,” said Garcia.
She said the firm spent a lot of time and effort creating evolutions of Y necklaces so stores could continue to prime their pipelines with new merchandise.
“We did longer versions of the Y necklaces, lariat-type styles and some pieces that look like two necklaces, but are really one interconnected piece,” said Garcia.
She said, in light of last year’s poor performance, the firm had only planned a small increase, but had already exceeded that plan. As reported, Robert Rose’s parent, Jewelry Fashions, filed for Chapter 11 protection last October.
Mary Leigh, buyer for bridge and trend jewelry at Bon Marche, was among those still focused on spring and summer.
“It’s been an exciting season so far, so much so that we’ve upgraded our plan to double that of last year,” Leigh said.
Leigh said Y necklaces and other small-scale looks have dominated jewelry sales at the store, and she planned to add some more sophisticated styles, such as layered looks and some that were just slightly larger in scale.

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