RETRO LOOKS, COLORS PUT SNAP INTO SPRING

Byline: Amanda Meadus and Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — The plus figures being posted by accessories this fall should roll right into spring, judging from the mood during last week’s market.
All traces of last spring’s minimalist tendencies seem to have vanished, having been replaced by a spate of lively trends ranging from bright colors to retro-themed looks.
According to buyers, Thirties and Forties motifs in particular are expected to spur sales of handbags, belts and scarves. Hair accessories are also being pegged as an important classification because of the emphasis on groomed and neat coifs that has been showing up on runways in the European and U.S. designer ready-to-wear collections.
Vendors reported gains ran as high as 50 percent over a year ago, and in many cases bookings were driven by specific items such as backpacks and narrow belts. The upbeat reports came in spite of the fact that for many, market appointments with retailers have been spread out over the span of the month rather than being confined to just one week.
This diffusion has been a growing trend for the November market, where focus is split among various seasons — from immediates and fill-ins to late spring and even early fall for some of the big chains. As some industry people seek to cut back on the number of markets throughout the year, the November market is often seen as one that could be eliminated.
Still, buyers shopping the market last week were impressed with what they were seeing in the showrooms.
“We see sales opportunities in spring accessories,” noted Pat Galliers, divisional merchandise manager for accessories at Federated Merchandising, the buying arm for Federated Department Stores.
Particularly strong categories included handbags, belts, scarves and sunglasses, Galliers said, largely due to an influx of newness in materials and shapes.
Color will also play an important role in accessories sales, Galliers said.
“Pastels are very salable, but we need to be sensitive to what’s happening in ready-to-wear and play off that,” she said. She added that the pastel palette will nicely update the neutrals of a year ago, with brights becoming more evident later in the season.
As for the glamour trend, Galliers said that while it will continue in certain elements — as in shiny or satin-finishes — it will be reinterpreted from the glitter of holiday.
“I’ve seen a lot of exciting product in the market,” said Dan Schuster, owner of Regent Accessories, the buying office he started up here this year. Schuster, formerly general merchandise manager for the Icings accessories chain, pointed to the strong trend toward color as one of the most outstanding points among the vendors he had visited.
He noted that this trend was most visible in jewelry, belts and handbags. Stores, he said, will have to determine which color direction to take — pastels or brights — depending on their individual customer bases. He said pastels tend to be more sophisticated and therefore appealing to a smaller market, but added that he could see the palette working in career looks as well as fashion-forward lines, which could help broaden its exposure.
“The best strategy now is for each store to focus on their own niche and customer base,” Schuster added.
Overall, he pointed to Carol Dauplaise jewelry, Gemini hats and Maxx handbags as especially strong collections that “covered all the trends, looked fresh and had good prices.” He targeted belts; oversized, bold tailored jewelry, and sterling silver as segments that represent growth opportunities for the spring season.
A divisional merchandise manager for a major Midwest mass market chain, who asked not to be named, said that while much of his spring buying was complete, he had reserved part of his budget for trend-oriented items.
His firm is projecting single-digit gains in accessories for spring, he said.
“We’re really focusing on fashion now, and have adopted a strategy of going with a few distinct trends and carrying them in a narrow and deep way,” he said.
He noted that his company had just started offering mini-backpacks, already a bestseller at better-price levels and now considered a trendy piece in the mass market, for the back-to-school selling season and is planning to expand the category for spring.
Wallets-on-a-string continue to be key products for the store, he noted, adding that the wide array of new fabrications and silhouettes account for their continued growth with consumers.
Sheila Aimette, fashion director of accessories for Macy’s East, said she believes spring will be an excellent season for accessories.
“We expect a continuation of what we’ve seen for fall, the resurgence of a femininity of days gone by, of a real elegance that we hadn’t been seeing before last fall,” Aimette said.
She pointed out that many of the 7th on Sixth rtw presentations last week featured outfits augmented with items such as jewelry, hair accessories and belts.
“The skinny belt looks like the must-have accessory for spring,” Aimette noted, adding that pearl jewelry and structured patent leather handbags also should be important.
She said the merchandise she had been seeing at market was right in tune with the rtw collections.
“Accessories companies are on top of what’s happening, and it really showed in this market,” Aimette noted. “They realize current trends, such as the ladylike look, are ones they can really capitalize on.”
The movement toward the pretty and feminine proved a definite boon for vendors such as the designers’ representative firm Showroom Seven, where owner Karen Erickson said her market week business was up about 50 percent.
“Now that it’s been decreed that dressing up is the way to go, no one can get enough glamorous things,” Erickson noted. Among those lines at Showroom Seven that benefited from this trend, she added, were Ann Turk, Erickson Beamon and Tally B.
A group of glitter bags designed by Nancy Bacich for Anna Sui are also moving briskly, Erickson noted.
“Anything that sparkles or shines has been hot,” she said. “This has included everything from iridescent fabrics to metallics.”
Norman Elowitz, chairman of Honey Fashions Ltd., said scarves, belts and the company’s latest hair accessory item, Bowrette, were the objects that most interested buyers during the week.
“Scarf business has picked up, especially in oblong styles in soft romantic prints and crinkle fabrics, as have hair goods in chiffon and silk charmeuse,” Elowitz said.
Honey is the distributor for Bowrette, a hair barrette with holes for a scarf to be pulled through, creating a soft bow.
He also noted increased demand for thin belts in metallic wovens and chain styles with medallion or jewelry trimmings.
Honey also benefited from a considerable amount of last-minute winter business that came in last week, Elowitz said. The bulk of the action here was in leather and suede gloves and items from the Mickey & Co. line.
Overall, Elowitz said, his orders were up for this market as well as for the year. “We’re currently running about 64 percent ahead of last year,” he said.
Accessory Network was also dealing with two seasons, both spring and fall of next year, according to Abe Chehebar, chief executive officer of the firm.
“We’re on a sort of double track this market,” Chehebar pointed out. “Retailers here have been focusing on spring deliveries for April through June, and also on knit accessories and back-to-school backpacks for fall 1995.”
For spring, the focus was on segments of the business too early to book during August market, including beach-type totes, white vinyl handbags and straws, twills, crochet and denim looks, according to Chehebar.
For fall 1995, buyers concentrated on chenille, heather, pointelle, shearling and other textured looks.
Another area that saw action, he said, was cartoon-character related merchandise. Specifically, goods featuring “Casper, the Friendly Ghost,” who will appear in a feature film debuting next May, were popular among stores intent on getting merchandise on their selling floors by March, Chehebar said.

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