Byline: Kim-Van Dang

SAN FRANCISCO — With their business dampened by January’s heavy rains, northern California retailers were out to find deals as they shopped the summer market at the Fashion Center here.
A prime target was immediate goods under $50 at wholesale.
The four-day market, which ran through Jan. 31, enjoyed healthy buyer traffic, even though it competed for attention with the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. The market’s two weekend fashion shows were packed.
Compared to a year ago, however, registration was off 4 percent, according to Fashion Center general manager Jerry Sorensen.
“You have to remember that our market last year took place after the [Northridge] earthquake,” he said. “The L.A. market was interrupted, and we benefited. Traffic this time would have been higher, too, if the 49ers weren’t playing.”
Those who came were in search of such looks as retro-inspired dresses and pantsuits, at prices attractive to rain-beleaguered customers.
Gloria Halt, owner of New Options — a misses’ and juniors boutique in Lakeport, Calif., north of the wine country — noted: “Business is quiet. We’ve had 20 some days of rain.”
Despite a slightly increased open-to-buy, she kept her price points in the $12 to $45 range. Items that caught her eye included Caribe pantsuits and skirt suits, belted dresses by Nina Piccalino and Grand Finale, and Jumping Joy junior sportswear.
“People are showing pastels instead of going straight into summer brights,” she said. “It’s a nice transition. They’re not cramming brights down your throat.”
Halt’s only complaint was the lack of newness in silhouettes. “Everything is still so flowy,” she said. “I’m tired of that style, and it’s getting harder to sell.”
Karen Storey and Maryann Luckenbill, owners of Lobelia, two women’s boutiques in Berkeley, Calif., were also out for a bargain, keeping their shopping list under $50 wholesale.
“Business is slow with the rain,” Storey said, adding that their open-to-buy was even with a year ago. The two did stumble upon a deal: rayon and crinkle rayon dresses from an exhibit hall contractor for half the price quoted elsewhere.
Upstairs, the pair found Thirties-style bias-cut dresses in conversational prints by Urban Outfitters, Shok and NC-17.
“The other option was Jackie O-style dresses,” said Luckenbill. “My mom was into that when I was growing up, but it looks funny to me. Maybe I gravitate to the Thirties because I’m not old enough to remember it.”
The duo also looked for basic items — tailored slacks and straight skirts in steel blue, sage, butter, cream and rust — to pair with fashion accessories. “We used to fill in with accessories,” Storey said. “This time, we’re devoting a whole day to accessories shopping.”
Anne Cowell, buyer for Adrienne’s, a women’s boutique in Los Gatos, shopped for immediate goods: T-shirts, plus long and short dresses at $48 to $100 wholesale.
“The hot things are dresses,” she said, adding that she found Peter Pan-collar styles by Nordic Collection, bias-cut ones by Mica and A-line T-shirt numbers by NC-17 and Danielle.
“We’re trying to get into pastels but we like neutrals better,” she said. “Pastels are too bubble-gummy for us.”
Molly Gordon, owner of Ovation, a women’s boutique with locations in San Francisco, Berkeley and Walnut Creek, was an exception among the tight-fisted ranks of buyers, as she sought offerings for May delivery at up to $150 wholesale. However, she reported, many vendors were still showing goods for March shipment.
“I’ve already put March orders to bed. It just goes to show how close [other] people are buying.”
Gordon was also disappointed by color selections as she looked for washed brights. “All I see is dusty pastels,” she said. “We’ve been on that soft-color bandwagon for two years. I want clean colors: cherry red, iris purple and bright green.”
Going outside her usual resource list, Gordon noted that she did manage to uncover some fresh talent. She was taken by local designer Martha Egan’s retro-inspired dresses with Bakelite buttons and Peter-Pan collars. “It was as if she pulled them out of grandma’s closet,” Gordon said.
The retailer also unearthed Broadway Vintage Collection’s fitted jackets with three-quarter sleeves and french cuffs. Her other buys included bouclé Jackie O-style dresses by MAC, silk shantung capris and gingham shirtwaist dresses by Celia Tejada and cardigan twin sets from Jacqueline West and French Connection.