ON THE ROAD A LOT
Byline: Holly Haber
DALLAS — Designers have hit the road en masse this season to bring their spring collections directly to stores and shoppers.
The push is so strong that some firms doubled or tripled their trunk show schedules to make up for business lost by retailers cutting their budgets or skipping buying trips to New York.
Executives say they’re surprised at how successful the shows have been, with many meeting or exceeding bookings from previous years.
“We’re finding when we go out and do shows that women are spending like normal,” said sportswear designer Douglas Hannant, who racked up $400,000 during a November appearance at Bergdorf Goodman. “We didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been a good season.”
Hannant made only one appearance at Bergdorf’s this season, but his company is staging about 10 more trunk shows for a total of 30 to 35, he said. The best-selling look has been a tweed camp shirt over low-slung tweed pants.
“They’re all doing well and it’s amazing,” Hannant said.
Carolina Herrera made an impromptu visit to Stanley Korshak last month to meet with clients and show her spring collection.
“I offered to go to some cities to be in the stores just to get people together,” Herrera said during her visit. “We are going through a lot and it is important to show people that we are there. We are trying our best because life goes on. Fashion is the number two industry in New York after Wall Street and we have a responsibility to make it work.”
Unusual pieces such as a beaded caramel leather skirt and an embroidered and printed organza skirt are selling best, she said.
“People are buying special clothing,” she observed. “It’s not like before. They are more careful. I think you have to do very special things from now on because it’s going to be more difficult to sell.”
Fine jewelry designer Erica Courtney layered five trunk shows on top of her usual five this season.
“I think we are all working harder and doing more advertising or publicity,” she said during a weeklong trunk show last month at Stanley Korshak in Dallas. “I think we are in charge and if people aren’t shopping then we should be out there painting our stores and sending out postcards. We can’t catch up but we can recover.”
Courtney, who is known for elegant diamond, South Sea pearl and platinum jewelry, did $200,000 in sales at Korshak. It wasn’t a record, but it was certainly healthy.
“I’m kind of shocked at how the trunk shows have gone, period,” said Courtney, who is based in Los Angeles. “My first was in Waco [Texas] the week the bombing started in Afghanistan and the show was great — my best ever at Linda & Co. I couldn’t believe it.”
David Rodriguez added about 10 spring trunk shows to his schedule, spanning from the end of October to the first week in February. It was not easy to squeeze them all in, he said, and travelling is more difficult with the increased airport security.
“You look like the most suspicious character when you are one person traveling with all this luggage,” he mused. “It’s a new twist to the trunk show world.”
Trunk shows have been Rodriguez’s key connection with clients since he launched his business four years ago, he said, and they are more important now than ever.
“The trunk shows have been great this season,” he enthused. “We rely heavily on trunk shows to increase our business and this season, we have to rely on it because a lot of buyers did not come to New York. It’s not the most efficient way to do business, but when you are small like us, you have to get out there.”
Nicole Miller embarked on a two-week tour to boost morale at eight of her stores last month.
“It’s almost like a wartime mentality, like the old Bob Hope shows where we are going out to the troops,” said Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of the company. “The response has been incredible. We had 250 people at the opening party of our Plano store. We also raised money for the Twin Towers fund.”
Dresses and special-occasion looks priced between $200 and $300 have been most appealing to customers, he said.
“The top end has been very dodgy — people look at a price tag over $300 for a long time — but $200 to $300 is just as good as ever, maybe better,” he said. “We had an off-the-shoulder dress for $300 that sold 475 dresses in two weeks at Neiman Marcus Direct.”
Miller also hosted a big cocktail party Dec. 6 at the SoHo store that was part of a neighborhood event with other stores and galleries to try to bring business back to the area.
Neiman Marcus has hosted dozens more events at its stores this season, such as luncheons and small fashion shows featuring collections such as Escada, Louis Feraud, Rena Lange and Akris, plus jewelry wardrobing consultations with representatives from David Yurman. Neiman’s also has stepped up special events with Henry Dunay, Cynthia Bach, Baccarat and St. John, among others.
“It’s that one-on-one outreach that the customer is responding to,” said Ken Downing, vice president of the retailer. “That is how we do business all the time, but we are just doing a lot more of it. It is almost an entertainment level at this point.”