Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Looking for something beyond basics to entice customers, buyers at last week’s Style Industrie trade show checked out eye-catching items such as printed dresses, skimpy tops and stylish skirts.
Elise Decoteau, owner of Bella Bella, with two stores in Baton Rouge, La., seemed to capture the attitude of retailers walking the aisles when she said: “I’m looking for young contemporary designs that are done in a truly unique way. Let’s face it, otherwise customers can go to the mall and get Gaped out with basics.”
The three-day show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which ended Jan. 8, focused on summer merchandise.
Decoteau opened her second location in October, after seeing how customers in their 30s beeline for the junior racks in her other store near Louisiana State University. For the new store, she was on the hunt for young, contemporary skirts, dresses and sportswear separates that go up to sizes 12 and 14, since “a junior large fits like a size 6,” she said.
Customers of all ages are more fashion-conscious, due to the prevalence of fashion news available online and in magazines, Decoteau said. Long Paige and Allen by ABS were two lines she liked at the show.
Tina Hart, owner of Luna, a four-unit operation based in Columbia, S.C., said she was looking for “fun, summer dresses,” day-to-dinner styles and special-occasion outfits. Sky, Melissa M. and Allen by ABS were among her favorite show picks, she said.
Luna, which plans to open another store in Charlotte, N.C., this spring, tries to set itself apart from other retailers by informing shoppers about trends like camouflage as they emerge, Hart said.
Knowing last year’s sales were slightly ahead of 1999 — due to sluggishness in the second half after double-digit percentage gains in the first half — Luna is trying to make fashion more affordable, she said. The retailer has lowered its prices by 20 to 40 percent to spur sales, finding good value at Style Industrie.
Lexanne Hamilton, president of Violetpeace, an e-commerce site for juniors aged 12 to 25, said she was looking for “fun, sexy” tops and dresses, which are easier to sell online than bottoms. Spaghetti straps, apron silhouettes and backless styles are best-selling items, since “anything sexy usually sells well,” she said.
Bright — but not acidic — colors, especially orange and blue, were on her checklist, as well as geometric prints. Sales are expected to quadruple to about $600,000 this year, due partially to interest from overseas shoppers, especially ones from Japan, Indonesia and Eastern Europe.
Connie Fails, who uses part of her store in Little Rock, Ark., for her design studio, said she wanted to find shirts, skirts, tailored pants, bracelets, necklaces, belts and hats that complement her apparel label. Japan Mode’s shirts that stretch from doll-size to life-size were one of her finds at the show.
Having a studio attached to her 1,500-square-foot store allows Fails to respond to trends quickly and customize items for shoppers, she said.
A longtime friend of Hilary Rodham Clinton, Fails designed the blouses she wore with her pantsuits on the campaign trail. She also provides the new senator from New York with loungewear and innerwear.
Jennifer Dailey and Sue Rinke, owners of a resort specialty store in Stone Harbor, N.J., said they planned to check out lightweight dresses from Flax and other exhibitors. They said they were looking for printed styles, especially florals and “a lot of yellow.”
Their customers, who generally range in age from 20 to 40, favor sleeveless dresses or ones with spaghetti straps. With sales running 10 percent ahead of last year, the two said they spent 25 percent more than they did at last year’s show.

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