CHICAGO — Midwestern buyers generally played it safe at the fall StyleMax show here, sticking with best-selling lines and keeping orders conservative.
But the show got high marks for its merchandise offering, with dresses and pants in strong demand, and its vendor mix.
Robin Fisher, owner of Annabelle’s Attic, a specialty shop in Wilmette, Ill., left StyleMax impressed with the market’s international representation.
Fisher, who ran out of time placing the bulk of her orders with vendors in Paris, was pleasantly surprised to find one of the European vendors she missed set up at the Merchandise Mart from March 23 to 26.
“In Paris, it took a lot longer to order because of the language barrier,” she said.
Fisher looked up vendor Descours Paris on the Internet and found out the line was going to be in Chicago. She wound up placing an order for scarves.
Buyer Kara Rayner from Catherine’s in Iowa City said: “We’re ordering a little less than last year to wait and see how the economy goes.”
She mostly ordered from her tried-and-true lines, including Eileen Fisher, Three Dots and BCBG Max Azria. Rayner predicted four key fall trends: denim, from romantic, Edwardian and bohemian looks to fringed belts and body-conscious sportswear, including a cropped T-shirts and track-inspired pants.
“We’ve seen some sexy track suits and velour,” she added.
Although Rayner said she buys denim from lines such as Juicy, Papercloth Denim and Red Engine in New York, she ordered T-shirts at StyleMax from Three Dots, French Connection and BCBG Max Azria.
Connie Champion, an owner of Catherine’s, said she found many trendy silk sweaters, lacy T-shirts and romantic blouses at the show, but she was disappointed in the lack of day dresses.
“We’re constantly looking for dresses and there aren’t any,” she said. “That’s a niche that needs to be filled.”
However, Joanne Dages, a buyer for Young in Heart, a Winnetka, Ill., specialty shop, did order some of the special-occasion gowns from Laundry.
“They’re heavy into black matte jersey, lots of low backs and uneven hemlines,” she said.
Long satin dresses from ABS in black and red also caught her eye. Some of the gowns she ordered were simple, clean strapless styles, some with asymmetrical hemlines.
Dages also applauded fall’s more-forgiving trend in pants.
“The pants are more relaxed, which I like,” she said. “The fabrics in the past have had so much stretch, they’re clingy. These [for fall] are easier to wear.”
In particular, Dages liked pantsuits by Garfield & Marks in seasonless polyester triacetate fabrics and pantsuits by Louben.
“They looked outstanding with pinstripes or herringbone,” she said. “The pants legs are wider with a shorter jacket. It’s a nice silhouette for a small, thin woman.”
She was drawn to the men’s wear detailing, including small herringbones, checks and tweeds, especially when matched with brighter, more feminine colors.
Louben, for example, showed a black-and-white pinstriped pantsuit with a hot pink turtleneck or mixed men’s wear-inspired pants with a raspberry cashmere jacket.
“I thought the pantsuits were stronger than the skirtsuits,” Dages said, “although we will definitely carry both.”
In terms of separates, she ordered twill boot-cut pants from Womyn in black, brown, gray and camel, as well as basic cashmere turtlenecks from various lines in similar colors.
Overall, Dages said she ordered roughly the same amount as last year.
“The store has been here for over 50 years,” she said. “Our business is usually pretty consistent.”
Rikki Kay Swin, owner of Rikei, an upscale boutique on Chicago’s Oak Street, found more fetching accessories than fashions at StyleMax. She ordered Ermo beaded bags in red, black, copper and pinks and several styles of Cynthia Rowley watches. She was planning, however, to order a feminine western-style, three-tiered skirt by Ildi Marshall.
Swin, however, was disappointed by the lack of larger sizes.
“There are a few companies that are getting the message, but most aren’t,” she said. “They really need to make larger sizes.”

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