Byline: Amanda Meadus

NEW YORK — The January accessories market, while not traditionally a brisk buying and selling period, was marked by high levels of activity last week.
Buyers enthusiastically shopped vendor showrooms as well as two major trade shows, the Accessorie Circuit and the Fashion Accessories Expo, both of which ran three days and ended last Tuesday. Among the specifics they targeted were:
l Top Christmas performers, including handbags and belts.
l Jewelry, where retailers are feeling more confident due to a Yule pickup after several slow seasons for the category.
l Merchandise with strong price-value orientation.
l Trend and novelty items.
This last point was one where a number of vendors answered the call by introducing new product lines, a strategy generally reserved for the bigger markets in May and November. (See related stories this page for more details on launches and top trends.)
Many of the buyers in the market were from smaller specialty stores, the bigger merchants having done the bulk of their ordering last November. The majors, however, were present to some extent and in many cases were seeking out the trendier items they needed to liven their spring presentations.
Heidi Keelips, accessories buyer for Talmadge’s, a store in Wilton, Conn., said she was looking for a mix of classic and trend goods.
“Particularly in jewelry, we usually stay within a tailored range,” Keelips said, but added that because jewelry business has been soft recently, she was also seeking out other looks.
“With the right new-and-different items, I think there is definitely potential to build jewelry back up,” she noted.
Keelips said her open-to-buy was slightly ahead of a year ago, owing to a good Christmas and strong movement in handbags and scarves.
A major Midwestern department store buyer, who asked not to be named, said she was ordering such fashion-driven goods as patent-leather belts studded with fake coins and structured, retro-ish hair accessories to work with spring’s well-groomed hairstyles.
“We’re also doing major color statements, pastels for earlier spring and then brights for later,” she said. “I’m really looking for items that will really pop our selections.”
Vendors were upbeat, and in some cases also surprised with the strength of their sales.
“This is the busiest market we’ve had since last May,” said Joel Pinsky, president and chief executive officer of belt and handbag firm Omega Fashions.
“I think a big reason for the activity is the fact that inventories seem to be down and stores have a real need to buy,” Pinsky said.
Omega’s business was up considerably, with metallics and patent leathers proving to be top performers.
Erwin Pearl, owner of the jewelry firm of the same name, pointed to beaded jewelry in both pastels and neutrals, as well as retro-ish pins and pearls, as some of his key sellers.
“Stores are looking for a little of everything,” Pearl said. “They want new and exciting, but they also want the reassurance of the basics.
“At retail, I think jewelry will be somewhat soft for this quarter, but then really pick up after that,” he noted, adding that his volume was up slightly. The outlook was also optimistic at the trade shows. Attendance at the Fashion Accessories Expo, held at Piers 90 and 92, was up 47 percent over a year ago to 7,830 buyers, according to Conference Management Co., which organizes the show.
“We opened a lot of new accounts this time,” said Michelle Giasullo, marketing director for Vintage Creations, a jewelry firm exhibiting at the FAE.
“People only knew us as a print resource, but we’ve introduced evening and bridal bags as well, and it’s made a huge difference,” she said.
At the Accessorie Circuit at the Plaza hotel, attendance was also up to 3,100, although, according to ENK Productions, which produces the show, last January’s figures were unavailable.
Jewelry designer Jay Strongwater, a first-time exhibitor at the Circuit, said he was “thrilled” with the results of the show. He was offering a wide range of colored beads, as well as neutrals and clear crystal pieces.
“I’m particularly pleased with the fact that a lot of the buyers are from smaller specialty stores, an area that I think is going to be one of growth for my business,” Strongwater said.
Strongwater, as well as others both buying and exhibiting at the show, said they feel confident that fashion jewelry is headed for a rebound following an off year in 1994.
“Jewelry started to come back at Christmas, and I think we’re going to keep seeing it creep back up little by little for the next year,” said Elida Olsen, a retail buying consultant who was walking clients through the show. Exhibitors at yet another trade show that took place here last Wednesday through Sunday, the Jewelry Manufacturers Association, said they also felt the momentum picking up in jewelry business. The group of 35 Providence, R.I.-based exhibitors was here at the Rihga Royal Hotel for its annual January show, although for all other markets, the JMA works out of Providence. (See story on this page for more on the United Jewelry Show in Providence.)
“If you look at it as a cyclical business, then what happened last year makes sense,” said Peter Manickas, president of P. Craft Jewelry. “I think we hit the bottom of the trough then, and we’re already seeing major improvements in our business, both here and overseas.”
To make sure the momentum keeps going, the JMA will upgrade its Providence venue later this year, when it moves from the showrooms in the Omni Biltmore hotel to the brand-new Providence Civic Center and the new Westin Hotel that adjoins it.
“We’ll be in the new facility by June and plan on holding a major black-tie gala to celebrate in September,” said Sean Reidy, executive director of the JMA.