Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — The continuing influx of color after several seasons of neutrals, along with texture, new prints, varied skirt lengths and a return to more fitted clothes, had buyers in a bright mood at the Atlanta Apparel Mart’s spring market here last week.
The reemergence of color was a welcome factor for buyers at the early spring market here in August, and it only made them even happier this time around as they shopped for spring, traditionally a strong season in this area.
Fredi Verdesca, owner of Jami’s, a Naples, Fla.-based better-to-bridge women’s specialty store with four South Florida locations, and J.C.C., a casual sportswear store with two locations, appeared to sum up the buyer reaction: “There’s excitement here — with lots of variety, good fabrics and strong color that we haven’t seen in a while.”
Although mart management reported attendance at the six-day market, which ended Tuesday, was down 5.2 percent from last year, the pace was lively.
“We’re amazed at those figures,” said Peg Canter, general manager. “The activity and positive attitude in the building did not reflect a decrease in attendance.”
Canter said that new store attendance was up 20 percent and that fashion shows and seminars had drawn capacity crowds. A Friday night fashion show drew close to 1,000, while a Saturday night’s show, held in the mart’s grand atrium, drew approximately 3,000.
Sales representatives said that business was helped by new and out-of-territory stores, and reported flat to slight increases in sales over last year.
“Plenty of retailers are still having problems,” said better-to-bridge multiline rep Don Overcast, principal of Don Overcast & Associates. “But most people are seeing improvements and, with new stores that have come in, everything balances out.”
Overcast estimated traffic at even with last year, with a gain in the dollar amount of the average order.
Alan Davidson, a multiline bridal, pageant and prom rep, reported steady traffic and a slight increase in sales, based in part on new store business brought in by the mart’s Southern Bridal Show, a niche market that ran simultaneously and included seminars, parties and promotions.
“All the things the Mart is doing to promote our industry have paid off,” he said.
Buyers shopped with budgets ranging from flat to somewhat up for casual spring sportswear and day-into-evening dresses. Flowing looks continued, but lines appeared cleaner and more fitted than recent seasons, with a wide choice of skirt lengths and pants silhouettes adding to buyer appeal.
Joan Leslie, director of catalog merchandise for Boston Proper, a better contemporary mail order operation based in Boca Raton, noted she shops Atlanta twice a year to supplement New York buying trips.
“Atlanta has a good representation of traditional lines and major New York vendors,” she said. “We’d like to see more California resources for our better contemporary customer.”
With an increased open-to-buy based on larger circulation, Leslie bought summer and early transition merchandise in garment washed pastels and brights as well as a core representation of black and neutrals. She bought day and evening dresses from Laundry, Cynthia Rowley, Kenar, Donna Morgan and Dennis Goldsmith.
In sportswear, Leslie concentrated on texture and pattern, in batik and watercolor prints, plaids and stripes and chenille fabrics.
“We can’t get too complicated with mail order,” she said. “We look for things that will make strong visual impact. In general, we’re buying more fitted, body-conscious clothes with cleaner lines than in recent seasons.”
One-of-a-kind and special “boutique” merchandise was the primary concern of Sandy Goforth, owner of Sweet Inspirations, a moderate-to-better women’s shop in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“I’m shopping with specific customers in mind,” she said. “Shoppers come to specialty stores rather than malls, for personal attention.”
With an open-to-buy up 10 percent, Goforth applauded the return to color and bought sherbet colors in fabrics, such as rayon silk and sueded rayon from Platinum, mixed fabrics and textures from Joseph Ribcoff, printed jeans from Opal and novelty prints from Sharon Young and Marisa Christina.
Goforth also bought items such as novelty sweaters from Vintage Clothiers and handpainted wooden handbags.
Novelty looks were also important to Ellen Aland, owner of Village Sportswear, a women’s specialty store in Mountain Brook, Ala. With a budget even with last year, Aland bought chenille and argyle sweaters and handpainted cotton sportswear by Blue Fish and mixed textures in separates by Donna Jessica. For more sophisticated customers, she bought Antonella Preve knit dresses in color combinations, and for younger customers she bought crop tops by B.
Mary Annecelli, owner of Shop of the Ragpicker, a better women’s shop in Winston-Salem, N.C., shopped for newness in both color and texture with a slightly increased budget.
“I’m buying jump-off-the-rack clothes, mixing lines and searching for great items,” she said. “And color is easier to find than it has been.”
Annecelli bought comfortable, lifestyle dressing from Joan Vaas, Russ Brown and Gene Ewing Bis, and walking shorts mixed with sweaters and silk T-shirts by Corbin.
“Spring market is easy for casual clothing, but harder for career and occasion dressing,” she said. “New York manufacturers still don’t understand that women want restaurant dresses for mother-of-the-bride, rather than more traditional looks.” In dresses, Annecelli bought YL, Teri Jon, Chetta B and Magali Evening, which are lines that can cross over into mother-of-the-bride category, she said.

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