BELTIN’ IT OUT

Byline: AMANDA MEADUS

NEW YORK — For a brief period in fashion history, when grungy and natural and soft and flowing were all the rage, the waistline was all but forgotten, and belt companies found themselves in very grim circumstances.
Yet now, just about a year after the de- and unconstructed trends hit their peaks, the belted waist has roared back onto the scene with a vengeance, shaping up as the top silhouette for spring. On both European and U.S. runways, one designer after another featured defined waists accentuated, in many cases, by thin, elegant belts.
Belt makers, of course, couldn’t be happier about such a reversal of fortune. Just about everyone said this coming spring’s belt orders are much improved over a year ago.
“This spring will definitely be a better season,” said Sharon Romero, vice president of sales for Duo Fashions, a belt firm here. “The presence of the skinny belts in the recent runway presentations, for instance, is bound to help all styles of belts for spring, just because it helps remind women that belts do exist for a reason.”
Romero said that so far, retailers’ spring orders have been focused primarily on 1/2-inch widths, with 3/4-inch widths also coming into play, though to a lesser extent. As far as colors and fabrications go, she said both bright and pastel hues have been popular, and patent leather has been the leading material of choice.
Metallics and other novelty looks have also been key for spring, she added.
“Even if a women doesn’t like or need the skinny belt, there are plenty of other things for her to choose from,” Romero said. “Again, the main point is that she knows belts exist.”
Other makers agreed with this point, noting that just about any style of belt is capable of working with spring ready-to-wear.
“With the overall emphasis on the waistline, I think we’ll also be seeing action in wide, hip-slung styles and corset-style, cinched-waist belts,” said Harriet Turchin, vice president of sales for The Leather Shop here.
“In fact,” Turchin noted, “I think we’ll see enough interest in a variety of styles to help propel the whole industry.”
She noted that, so far, her firm has been selling mainly patent leather, metallic and woven cord belts for spring.
“Our basic leather business has been decent, too, though our casual business has been softening up a bit,” Turchin added. At Dame, the belt division of Honey Fashions, everything from metal chain to clear vinyl “jelly” material has been hot.
“Novelty is coming back,” said Heidi Soellner, Dame’s vice president of sales. “Casual leather belts seem to have reached their peak, and there are a lot of really fun looks such as metallics and jelly belts with coin and animal motifs that are taking off.
“Metal chain business is outstanding, but then again, it never really slowed down,” Soellner noted.
Daniel Friedman, president of leather goods company Crown Pacific, said he is targeting belts as the turnaround classification of the season.
“There are so many great trends that can be interpreted into belts, and consequently belts are going to be a real fashion area,” Friedman said. “Patents, bright colors, metallics and glitters are all translating beautifully.”
But while everyone seems ready to build up belts as the big success story of spring, a few also added cautionary asides.
“I feel optimistic about spring, but at the same time, I hesitate to say that because I’ve said such things before and have ended up being disappointed,” said Pearl Degenshein, owner of the belt company Accessories by Pearl here. “In all of my years in business, this past one was one of the toughest I can remember.
“The fitted look has returned to apparel, and that should definitely help,” Degenshein said. “I just hope that women understand the idea that the belts are meant to be worn over jackets and sweaters.”
She said that, so far, the all-important narrow belt trend is performing well for her, and she added that python belts have also been bringing in some good orders.
“At this point, many stores seem to be planning a flat spring for belts, in light of what they’ve been experiencing recently,” said Cheryl Willner, senior vice president of Omega Fashions here.
“I think, though, that they will end up being surprised by some nice gains if they take advantage of all the things that are happening in terms of trends,” Willner noted. “Yes, the thin belt will be important, but it’s not the whole thrust of the trend, and the worst thing the market could do would be to overreact and load up on them to the exclusion of everything else.”
Willner stressed that, in the last few years, “Belt business has become more assortment-driven. Now we offer everything from casual jeans belts to fancy chain styles every season, and this season is the time when having that selection will be crucial for stores that want to capitalize on the belt boom.”

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