Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS — Buyers were on the hunt for color as they shopped at the International Apparel Mart’s Mega Mart here for fall styles and immediate deliveries.
The five-day Mega Market, an annual event at which women’s and children’s wear and men’s and Western offerings are all shown simultaneously, ran through Monday.
On the top of shopping lists were casual but put-together sportswear, styles that moved beyond minimalism to exhibit a bit of detailing, fake fur as an item or trim, leather and pants. Transseasonal fabrics were especially popular, like microfibers and blends of nylon with wool or viscose with cotton.
Attendance was estimated about even with a year ago, but out-of-territory traffic continued to build, noted Robbin Wells, senior vice president of marketing at the Dallas Market Center, parent company of the Mart. To maintain that momentum, the Mart is working cooperatively with a group of bridge companies to pay air and hotel fares for a small group of target retailers to attend the major spring and fall markets, she noted. The group for the most recent market numbered eight stores.
One downside to the market: Sales representatives lamented that an unusually high number of merchants took their orders with them to review, probably because of the early timing of the market.
As retailers buy closer to season, that trend has been growing. So the Mart plans to launch a marketing program this fall to persuade buyers to leave orders in Dallas, Wells said. “There is a window where if we can get paper the entire manufacturing community can work smarter and not put themselves at financial risk,” she said.
A highlight of the market was a fashion show featuring styles by nine young Texas designers presented by the Dallas Design Initiative with financing from Absolut Vodka. A crowd of several hundred cheered the runway show, especially sportswear by Jeffrey Marion Lee, Jacqueline LaRose and Property of the Universe and bridal gowns by Sherry Pence Bryant.
For retailers, spring business has varied. Some buyers were pleased that sales were meeting last year’s figures and, in some cases, exceeding them, but a handful said business had declined. Budgets generally were the same as last year, but a few were up 5 to 15 percent.
“Business is excellent, and a lot of the reason is we have color,” said Herman Heinle, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for sportswear, dresses and fine jewelry at Jacobson’s Florida division, based in Winter Park. “People sat through a couple of years of neutral colors, and now we’re motivating that lady to pick up that credit card.”
Jacobson’s hiked its fall sportswear budget 5 percent and planned to sink it into lines with color, including Votre Nom, and styles with pizazz, like Isabel’s flamboyant sportswear.
Though purple, eggplant, red, lime, moss green and orange were sprinkled through fall lines, some buyers were dismayed that many bridge collections clung to bland hues like charcoal and camel.
“All the bridge lines are still pretty neutral,” observed Inge Manautou, owner of Inge’s in Irving, Tex. “It’s all the same. My customers are tired of it.”
Manautou and her daughter, Michele Dozier, who helps operate the store, said casual sportswear and items were their priorities for fall. They liked stretch pants by Thalian, knitwear from Mary Jane Marcasiano, and sportswear by Dana B. and Karen, Francess & Rita and Peggy Martin.
Nancy Diebolt, owner of Turtletique in Dallas, sought items and casual-but-upscale sportswear for her professional customers. Her customers, she noted, still favor clean, understated styling.
“A novelty vest under a plain jacket makes it a little bit more interesting than a just a black suit,” she observed. “Pants are important, but I still need above-the-knee skirts for the corporate customer.”
Working with a flat budget, she planned to order sportswear from Zion, Emanuel and Tessuto and was shopping the Studio 2 area for items and contemporary styles, especially slim pants, blouses, sweaters, vests and faux fur.
“The winter was tough, but customers are ready for pretty, fresh clothes that are not all black,” said Phyllis Schahet, who owns Collection 94 in Indianapolis with her partner, Sharon Wallack. “Our customers want to be comfortable and casual, but they want to be dressed.”
Fitting the bill was a soft knit brown sweater set with tweed pants from Citi by Yansi Fugel, leather and layering knit pieces from Gruppo Americano and jackets with subtle detailing by Zelda.
Schahet and Wallack said they felt clothing had become so unembellished in the Nineties that it had become dull and repetitive. “Designers are missing the boat because customers are all saying ‘I already have that,’ ” said Schahet. “Clothes have to be more casual but with interest.”
At the same time, they asserted, the wild spring prints by Gucci, Prada and Versace that are splashed across fashion magazines have frightened off baby boomers. “They won’t go shopping if they think that’s what’s in the stores,” Schahet noted.
Victoria Jackson, an owner of Byzantine, a contemporary store in Dallas, was investing in plaids and sportswear and sweaters trimmed in fake fur or accented with animal prints because that had done well last fall. Among her picks: Jeffrey Halper and Karen Kane sportswear and NCNY sweaters.
“We never buy basics,” Jackson noted. “We carry fun, special things that give people an excuse to buy.”

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