PLAYING IT SAFE
RETAILERS ARE RESPONDING TO TREND FATIGUE BY STICKING, FOR THE MOST PART, WITH THE TRIED-AND-TRUE.
Byline: Rebecca Kleinman
Retailers are quick to note that fashion is all about cyclical change, yet many seem hesitant about diving into the next round of trends. Whether it’s in response to too many choices in the market or the cumulative effects of trend fatigue, some retailers are opting for classic looks, while others straddle the fence by clinging to the old and dabbling timidly in the new.
Though they’re lukewarm on the latest in apparel, retailers’ attention has turned toward accessories, which are still powered by the Eighties resurgence. Belts are growing ever wider, though super-skinny styles and chain or rhinestone-embellished versions are still gaining. For fall, watch for wide, hip-slung looks encrusted with jewels, studs and more rhinestones. All mesh perfectly with novelty denim and the trend toward belted shirts, sweaters, jackets and dresses.
Retailers are also homing in on the hosiery revival, with an eye to more updated, sophisticated looks. Patterned tights and colored fishnets carry over into more markets than last year.
Jewelry heads in the direction of bigger, chunkier pieces with lots of beads, mesh and geometric shapes, though retailers refuse to give up feminine, romantic lines.
With the Eighties look still exhibiting staying power, all in all, the “anything goes” attitude toward apparel remains. Retailers will write some minis, but stick with around-the-knee skirt lengths, too; some pleated, but primarily flat-front pants; some dolman and off-the-shoulder styles, but more classics like turtlenecks, cowlnecks and V-necks; and some oversize or chunky knits, with cashmere in the latest contemporary bodies thrown in for good measure.
New denim treatments and embellishment receive the same lukewarm response. Retailers are more apt to stay with shine, color, studs and rhinestones than move forward with fresher looks like graffiti or splash-painted, ripped, bleached and tie-dyed. Most agree that dark and dirty denims are over, replaced by distressed or faded looks.
Prints cause equal confusion. Some retailers plan to buy tweeds, stripes, camouflage or geometrics, whereas others believe consumers will tire of them by fall.
Despite the shaky market and the specter of widespread layoffs, retailers go to market with equivalent or increased open-to-buys.
Penny Vaigneur, owner, Copper Penny, Charleston and Mount Pleasant, S.C.:
“I’ll look mostly for fall and some items to fill in for summer. The climate is so hot here that I’ll need transitional, lightweight fabrics in fall colors. But since this winter was so cold, I’ll probably buy more jackets and sweaters than last year. I’ll also keep a close eye out for new lines, in accessories and jewelry.
“I’ve been buying a lot of belts, which had slowed down in the past few years. Chain and rhinestone looks did well. This spring, I ordered army brat belts, which are army fabric with rhinestone buckles.
“In denim, I’ll do colored, funky treatments and washes, and embellishment like studs and rhinestones. I’m not sure yet about painted or ripped looks.
“I just returned from market where I bought a lot of minis and short shorts. But I’ll buy all skirt lengths including mini, knee and long lengths.
“Since they can wear cropped pants until November, I can buy all pants lengths too. Every length and style is in now. I’ll buy mostly flat-front with a touch of pleated pants.
“I see a lot of one-shoulder looks, but don’t know if it will move forward. I’ll write cashmere in the hottest silhouettes. Chunky that isn’t too heavy sells well.
“Right now I have a store full of prints in bright colors. I doubt they’ll be as popular for fall, but I’ve seen tweeds and plaids with leather detail, stripes, color blocking and geometrics.
“Dainty accessories have been around for a while, so I would love to see something new. This spring I’ll have the crystal mesh and leather golf bracelets in bright colors that were in In Style. I’m very excited to have found them and hope to be the first one to have them here.
“Some lines are Diane Von Furstenberg, Sharagano and Tocca. Plus, I do a big business with Michael Stars.
“My open-to-buy is up 10 percent from last March because January sales were 20 percent higher. I anticipate a good year. Hopefully the presidency and stock market problems are over.’
Hud Hudson, vice president, Jamie, Nashville, Tenn.:
“I’ll write fall and accessories. I think belts are strong, especially with rhinestone buckles. They’ll continue, and low-slung ones will come in too. I also like safari jackets, camouflage, bulky sweaters, denim, leather and suede.
“Even though bulky sweaters are new, they’re a hard sell because anyone with a fabulous body usually wants everyone to know. My customer is very body-conscious.
“She likes sexy, yet sophisticated clothes. In knits, I’ll do fitted cashmere, off-the-shoulder, all types of turtlenecks, belted or military-like sweaters and dolmans which are new and fresh. Change is good.
“Skirts can be worn at any length now. By the time I get through a market, I’ve seen just about everything. The ladylike length is always in, especially when a woman has to do business. You can’t wear a mini all the time, unless you’re going to a party every night. I’ll do some minis, though, for spring.
“In fall, my customer prefers pants for their practicality and warmth. I’ll stick to flat-front for a while because unless you’re a larger size, it’s more flattering. Pleats will make a huge comeback, but I’m not ready yet. Cropped are big for spring and I imagine they’ll continue for a few more seasons. I’ll do some for pre-fall. They come in about five different lengths now.
“Tweeds are too heavy. Today’s woman likes seasonless fabrics so she can wear a piece for the whole year and be done with it. Tweeds are more for conservative stores.
In prints, I did some multicolored, striped sweaters. I may move forward with geometrics and florals but I think by the time fall hits, we’ll be printed out.
“I do all types of dresses — mother-of-the-bride, cocktail and black-tie, since we get a lot of Grammy or music business customers. We do more dresses than evening separates.
“There will be a huge amount of denim. Dark denim’s been around for a while and so has dirty, which is too grungy-looking for me and my customer. I prefer it with a little shine or glitz. It will translate into evening wear too.
“We sell millions of T-shirts by Three Dots, Easel and Ralph Lauren. For hosiery, Donna Karan and Wolford do well. I think fishnets and patterned stockings will be great.
“This may be a season where I don’t pick up a lot. I’m going to market with a tight belt. It’s not that I think the economy is bad, I just want to stick to my numbers. You can always buy more later. My open-to-buy is up 12 percent.’
Elizabeth Ivey, buyer, The Earl of Orange, Dothan, Ala.:
“We’ll concentrate on late summer/early fall and accessories. We really need new jewelry lines and didn’t have any luck last market. Since we’re a small boutique in a small town, it’s frustrating that minimum orders are so high.
“Everybody socializes together here, so we have to be really careful that they don’t see the same thing all over the place. We don’t order four of each size, but maybe one or two, and try not to buy too many trends.
“We look for things that can fit three scenarios — work, going out to dinner and church. A good example is a Parallel pantsuit that’s not too trendy, but updated with a twist. We also write BCBG, To The Max, Poleci, Easel, Trina Turk and Michael Stars.
“Buffalo Jeans were very successful too. They just flew out the door. It will be interesting to see if they do well again. Even though a lot of companies are coming out with lightweight denims, we didn’t write much last market and won’t for this market because it gets so hot here. Denim is just too thick and heavy. Dirty is not as popular as dark, sparkled or colored.
“We won’t buy cashmere this market either. Instead, we’ll look at T-shirts mainly from Michael Stars and then try to find a little, newer company that does all the novelty things, too.
“We’ll do a mix of skirts since our customer base is so wide; more flat-front pants with some pleated, cropped and other styles too; belted dresses, and evening separates from our sportswear lines.
“Our open-to-buy is the same.”