AT CHICAGO MART: BUYER SPENDING RUNS LIBERAL, TASTE CONSERVATIVE
Byline: Elaine Glusac
CHICAGO — Midwestern buyers were cautious on fashion trends, but optimistic about the economy, as they shopped the Chicago Apparel Center’s recent spring market.
While many buyers nudged their budgets up close to 10 percent, there was a conservative undertone to the market, with many favoring soft looks in long dresses and wide-leg pants over newer body-conscious options.
Despite some complaints of slow weekend traffic during the five-day market, exhibitors frequently reported orders were up, over 20 percent in several cases. According to mart management, attendance ran about even with a year ago.
“Retailers were upbeat,” said multiline sales representative Karin Berger, whose orders were running ahead 22 percent. “Though their business was slow in September, they’re having great Octobers.”
According to Berger, buyers sought item vests and jackets, silk suiting and loose, casual dresses.
“Even though there’s a return to construction, we’ve been getting orders for long, flowing dresses and short shifts,” she said. “They’re not shapeless, but not close to the body, either.”
“They’re still looking at soft dressing,” agreed another multiline rep, Marshall Stewart, whose orders were ahead 28 percent. “Regardless of what fashion says, we’re not selling the body-conscious look.”
He was selling lots of color, however, and found buyers pairing the bright palette with softer earth tones. “They like the brights because they’re so different from everything they’ve seen.”
Multiline rep Susann Craig noted the same split decision on color. “They’re still buying neutrals because buyers like them, but they also fear their shop has been neutral for so long that they’re ordering brights to look fresh,” she said.
Strong sellers in her showroom included roomy pants and dresses, especially in soft pastels.
Mixing textures and colors was the objective of Allyson Masters, owner of Lasting Impressions, a women’s boutique in Naperville, Ill.
“I’m looking for clothes that are fresh in color,” said Masters. “People are bored with neutrals.”
To make the transition from neutral to color, Masters sought “anything itemy” to pair with last year’s clothes. She chose multicolored blazers with contrasting textures by Reflections of the Heart and Delah McKay.
“We’re still doing well with wide pants,” she said, adding, “Trends seem to arrive here later.”
Masters left paper for softer looks with Surya and Cut Loose. Because she recently relocated her four-year-old shop, she was holding her spring open-to-buy even with last year until customers found the new location.
“Soft, full looks and shorter flippy skirts are what I’m looking for,” said Carol Sell, owner of Fancy Lady, an upscale women’s boutique in LaSalle, Ill. “I’m emphasizing dressy-casual and color. We’ve done neutral until now.”
Sell pushed her budget up 3 percent. She noted that a warm September had kept shoppers from thinking about cool-weather clothing, but she was pleased with the selection at the market and left paper with Pronto for bright separates with black and white accents, Bloom for silk two-piece outfits, The Shirt for denims, Chili Pepper for bright nylon jogging suits and Carlies Court for linen career blouses.
Mother-and-daughter team June Reed and Nancy Stein, owners of June Reed’s in Salem, Ill., emphasized casual looks for their 19-year-old store, which carries both junior and misses’.
“Sales are up for the whole year,” said Stein, noting that her open-to-buy was up 10 percent as a result. For juniors, the pair left paper with Z. Cavaricci for denim shorts. For women, they sought out bright hues.
“Our customers are tired of khakis and blacks,” said Stein, who liked the color in Peter Popovitch Dresses, Joyce Sportswear and Carol Anderson Collection.
Brenda Bagwell was shopping for Lady Hawk, a moderate-to-designer boutique she will open in the spring in Alameda, Calif.
“I’m impressed with the lines of Canadian designers,” said Bagwell, referring to a nine-designer contingent exhibiting at the market. It marked the fourth time the mart had organized such an exhibit of Canadian lines.
Bagwell noted she didn’t plan to leave paper at the market. “I do a lot of homework first,” she said, but added that she planned to place cashmere and gabardine coat orders with Canadians Paula Lishman and Hilary Radley, respectively.
“I’m very excited about the looks that have an incredible mix of textures in the same garment,” she said.