Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — Forget the usual last-minute scurrying for holiday merchandise that has marked past spring markets. With few exceptions, buyers working the showrooms during last week’s accessories market were clearly focused on spring.
Maybe it was the dazzling array of colors that were prevalent in every price point that ignited the strong response from stores.
The new color themes — ranging from citrus brights to soft pastels to makeup tinted neutrals — were high on everyone’s spring buying list, crossing classifications from handbags, small leather goods and belts to scarves, hats, hair accessories and jewelry.
Buyers also seized on other themes they hope will lure customers into stores:
Feminine, romantic motifs for soft goods, often trimmed with beading, embroidery, lace or fringe.
Wood, stone, crystal or tortoise for jewelry, in looks ranging from retro to tribal to modern.
“Evita”-inspired jewelry.
Animal prints, strong for several seasons, will be evolved yet again, this time paired with safari-inspired looks. For those stores already planning for next fall, animal prints should mix well with expected demand for plush fabrics in several categories.
“While there are a lot of things going on for spring, key is the return to femininity and softness, away from the structured and tailored,” said Vicki Haupt, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Bergdorf Goodman. “Romance is back in clothing for day and night and color remains an important trend affecting every category of accessories”.
In the same vein, Haupt said scarves for day or evening will take on many of the same fabrics seen in apparel — sheer or floral chiffons, often trimmed with embroideries, fringe or beadwork. Evening handbags will also take on a feminine feel in small sizes with decorative touches, but go larger and softer for daywear in hobo and shoulder-bag shapes.
Haupt said jewelry is important, but it’s not trend-driven as much as it is about a personal choice — “whether a woman chooses to wear bold cuffs, delicate evening looks or a lot of gold.”
Handbags will be a top area for spring, and jewelry is expected to be on the rise at Dayton’s, Hudson’s and Marshall Field’s, according to Linda Krelitz, accessories trend manager.
“It’s the newness and softening of silhouettes and variety of fabrics and color that will drive the handbag area,” Krelitz said.
The stores will offer bright tones and softer shades, she said, depending on the market segment.
“We carry everything from Chanel to Liz Claiborne, so our assortment will go with citrus brights for the volume areas and softer, sherbet or atmosphere colors for better, bridge and designer,” said Krelitz, adding that neutral colors like bone, white and metallics will also be important for bags, belts and footwear.
Krelitz described spring jewelry as having “world traveler” looks in intricate, manipulated silhouettes with beads, tortoise, wood or stone, in scaled-up sizes.
At the Florida division of Jacobson Stores, accessories buyer Gail Brail said she was looking for spring merchandise in naturals, like wood and tortoise and color.
“I’m pulling together everything I can of that sort,” she said of the naturals category. Brail also said larger silhouettes are coming back in jewelry.
Large-scale looks are the hook for the “Evita” looks — which Brail is banking on as a key trend. “I wish ‘Evita’ was breaking earlier, like November,” she said. The much-touted film, starring Madonna as Eva Peron, opens Christmas Day.
“Like Jackie O, it’s going to drive the customer and give her some direction to buy something new,” Brail said.
Brail said the recent Jacqueline Onassis-inspired pearl trend had pointed the market toward something other than the Y-necklace, which “Evita” might also do, but with a different market.
“With ‘Evita,’ it may attract a younger customer than Jackie O did,” Brail said.
Her optimism was fed by a sales increase in accessories of 8 to 10 percent since November of last year. Brail noted that scarf sales have been a major factor, with an increase of about 200 percent since last year.
At Federated Merchandising, merchandise manager Kerry Irish said a lot of the chain’s accessories business — up by high single digits against a year ago — has been driven by three categories: belts, scarves and sunglasses.
She said the trend in all three categories during the week was the fresh colors. While the bulk of sales remain in black, brown and cognac, fabric belts were becoming a fresh and inexpensive way to introduce color to both the selling floor and a woman’s wardrobe.
“Every major vendor, from Jones New York and Liz Claiborne to CK and Ralph Lauren is showing color in fabric,” Irish said.
The other big trend in belts, she said, is the variety of buckle treatments, with silver fronts and ornamental buckles “like the Gucci-style bit for all the easy knit dressing.”
For scarves, Irish said bright color is the number-one trend. The most important palette is blue and green, followed by citrus tones.
“Blue and green are important in ready-to-wear,” Irish said. The new colors are a good reason to buy scarves, she added, because they can update a wardrobe.
Joan Goldstein, accessory buyer at Cohoes, said her open-to-buy was about the same as last year’s, but she could stretch it if she saw something really great.
Among the strongest trends were citrus bright colors in several classifications.
“There was so much black and brown this fall, the color really looks good,” Goldstein said, adding that while brightly colored leather bags were too expensive for her stores, nylon versions from David Dart were alternatives.
She pointed to Maxx, Ganson and Le Sac as other strong lines, with shopper totes and hoboes key silhouettes.
Goldstein expressed some disappointment with jewelry presentations, saying there was too much repetition of what she currently has on the selling floor and not enough strong direction.
However, she did find some retro-inspired looks at Allyn & Co. and some bolder looks from a variety of resources. She added that while she had seen some “Evita”-inspired looks, she wasn’t sure how much it would mean to her customer, especially if it wasn’t presented in some sort of mini-shop environment, for which she has no plans.
At the 12-unit Canadian specialty chain, Holt Renfrew, Helen Collinge, assistant buyer for jewelry, said she felt strongly about colored beads — in tones from clear to cobalt — and tortoise for spring.
She said “Evita”-inspired looks might prompt Canadians to buy jewelry, adding that she expects flower pins and status styles to account for a large part of that trend.
Modern silhouettes have been a draw for Collinge’s customers. “I think people are looking for cleaner and more sculptural looks that they can wear again and again,” she said.
“I’m excited about spring because there’s so much color in so many classifications, from belts to bags to jewelry,” said Dana Farinacci, an accessories buyer who covers about 90 better-to-designer specialty stores for Gregor Simmons Ltd., a buying office here.
“It’s fresh-looking and especially good for many of my Southern stores.”
Jewelry has been one of the slower segments, Farinacci said, but added that the injection of color and bolder styles will help.
“Luckily there are new jewelry looks with color — like Gerard Yosca’s — plus the increasing demand for chunkier and more substantial looks,” she said. “We’re finally getting away from tiny.”