Byline: Mark Tosh

NEW YORK — Retailers and buyers are heading to Las Vegas this week in search of new merchandise they hope will adrenalize the women’s business.
As the inaugural WWD/
MAGIC International show opens today in Las Vegas, the memory of last year’s difficult apparel climate is still fresh. So buyers are revisiting old resources, scouting new ones and hoping to catch a hint of a trend that might shake apparel out of its doldrums.
For fall, retailers and buyers said they’re looking for sportswear, denim, dresses and corporate casual, an emerging category that continues to gain momentum as corporate dress codes come tumbling down.
They expect to see more colors in the fall palette and a move away from outdoors-oriented apparel to more urban looks with glamour and attention to detail. Intimate apparel, which got a boost last year from the success of the Wonderbra, is expected to remain a strong category.
Retailers expect business to remain strong in the Southeast and the economic recovery on the West Coast to continue.
J.C. Penney Co. said its sportswear business last year gained market share, but management is still looking for improvement in 1995.
“It has been good, but there’s a difference between being good and the general sportswear market being healthy, which as you know, it isn’t,” said Jim Hailey, president of the women’s division at Penney’s.
Penney’s saw “nice” sales increases in all sportswear in 1994, including casual and career misses’, women’s sizes, petites and juniors, he said.
“But it comes harder than it should,” Hailey said. “We’re looking for some natural success in sportswear this year. That’s one category we’re looking to build. It’s a natural for sportswear to come back.”
Penney’s is trying to keep its eye on the younger consumer, a strong category for Penney’s, as well as the aging baby boomer.
“You read all the demographic studies of the population getting older, and hopefully we are aware of that,” Hailey said. “I think we’re already reaching that [older] customer well, but we’re always looking for ways to improve business.”
The dilemma, Hailey said, is that the older customer “doesn’t necessarily want to dress older.”
“You have to be careful when you say older customer and make it synonymous with dressing conservatively,” he said. “Older people are younger at heart than the older people used to be.”
At Sears, Roebuck & Co., Lana Cain, a divisional vice president, said denim and dresses are helping to drive the juniors market. She said Sears has a strong long-length denim business that is brand-driven by Lee and Levi’s and an “unbelievably strong” junior dress business.
“I call it the two Ds,” Cain said. “It’s happening in dresses and in denim. The trend has started earlier than normal as far as dressing. It’s a little bit more casual, but that’s also a phenomenon in denim. Of course, we see denim translating into denim shorts and we see dresses certainly going into the Easter time frame and a dress-up situation.”
Cain said she is looking forward to the simultaneous showing of men’s and women’s apparel at WWD/MAGIC this year. Cain will attend WWD/MAGIC with Sears’ juniors apparel group, including national buyers from Chicago and a regional buyer from Los Angeles.
“With the women’s show coming in, it adds another whole dimension to what we do, which is just trying to get a handle on the trends for everybody,” she said.
“Because for the last couple of years there has been a lot of cross-selling,” she said. “The young junior customer has had no qualms about going in to buy a 501 Levi jeans or a flannel shirt or a pair of overalls.”
She said Sears buyers will be open-minded in the junior area.
“Anything old is new and you just don’t know where a trend is going to come from,” she said.
Sales are good for the spring items Sears shipped to its 800 stores nationwide.
“The checkouts have been pretty consistent across the country,” Cain said. “It’s a good indication for a strong spring.”
Jacobson’s Stores, based in Jackson, Mich., this year hopes to seize the opportunity created by the trend to casual dressing in the corporate world, according to James B. Fowler, president. To accomplish this, Jacobson’s wants to build on its reputation as a high-service fashion retailer.
“One of the things that has happened — on both the male and female side of the business — is that casual dressing has created a lot of confusion in terms of what is proper attire for the office,” Fowler said. “We’re trying to establish ourselves as the fashion authority for casualwear and establish what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate.”
He noted that Ford Motor Co., which has headquarters near Jacobson’s, began with a casual dress code on Fridays and has now extended it to five days a week.
Fowler said he is optimistic about spring and the balance of 1995, in part because of the move to color in women’s wear. He said at a recent three-hour presentation for Jacobson’s executives that there was a noticeable move away from black apparel. “We saw a lot of pastels, particularly pink,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of brights in patent leathers and the apparel is following. We all clapped that not one black thing was shown.
“It has either been black or beige and color has just been out of it,” he said.
Jacobson’s expects more strength in sportswear this year and wants to grow that area of its business, he said.
Cathy Paul, fashion director for Certified Fashion Guild, a New York buying office, said she believes there will be a lot of interest in dresses as well as junior sportswear and updated sportswear looks at WWD/
“A lot of our stores are looking for updated sportswear, new looks and excitement,” she said; “not the basics, but something with a little twist or more fashion-forward.”
Paul said she expects to see a lot of exciting knits for fall — a trend CFG has seen in previews of the market in New York — including pattern knits, which are coming back, especially in the junior market.
“It has been so basic and austere,” she said. “Now there are more patterns coming for fall. That’s what we’re going to look for.”
Paul said she believes vendors will focus on city life.
“We’ve seen so much walk-in-the-woods and country kinds of clothes. I think one of the things that’s coming back is much more attention to city life,” she said. “I think the whole interest in glamour, the interest in the return of the shoulder, and tailoring and fit and all of that, relate to a return to city life. All the detailing is very much an urban concept.”