Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS — Business was unusually brisk in orders for spring and summer goods at the five-day market, typically aimed at fall merchandise, which ended March 26 at the International Apparel Mart here.
Since retailers were buying closer to season to get a better handle on hot trends, some showrooms found all their bookings were for immediate spring goods. They stocked up on printed capri pants, novelty tops and lightweight sweaters.
Fall merchandise saw some action, but many retailers refused to place orders for deliveries beyond June 30, preferring to wait to get a better feel for economic conditions and key trends.
Still, leather and suede fashions got lots of attention, including suede-front pants with stretch backs, leather jackets with fur trim, suede shirts and skirts, and real and fake shearling coats. Buyers also showed renewed interest in tailored jackets and skirts, and sweater coats. Solid hues began to make a comeback after so much emphasis on prints in recent seasons.
Camouflage looks sold well in accessories and junior clothing, but many buyers deemed military looks a little too masculine in the South, where women tend to prefer pretty, feminine clothes to androgyny.
Leslie Diers, president of Lester Melnick’s three better-to-bridge stores in the Dallas Metroplex, filled in for spring and summer by ordering easy summer outfits, novelty knit tops and items. The chain’s business is slightly ahead so far this year, though bleak weather in March has crimped sales of spring fashions.
“I closed my eyes to fall,” Diers said. “I didn’t look at any of it. When these manufacturers open lines in Dallas, a lot of it will get edited out, so I wait and go to New York after Easter and buy it then.”
Michelle Dozier, who owns and operates Inge’s in Irving, Tex., which carries bridge and designer labels, said, “I’m buying a lot of great items, but not a whole lot of anything. I carry a lot of collection lines, but I wish we had more that looked great. In the old days they were our bread and butter, but now we have to really search to find things that are special.”
Last year was the store’s best ever, she enthused, and spring sales are tracking ahead. She was shopping with Nancy Diebolt, owner of Turtletique in Dallas. The pair carry many of the same lines and often trade merchandise between their stores. They both liked a black leather and stretch wool jacket by Zion, elegant fabrics and styling at Lafayette 148 and a claret waxed-leather jacket from Dana Buchman.
Karen Darnell, owner of Karen’s Kloset in Houston, was ordering printed capri pants by Signe for immediate deliveries.
“Our sales are ahead of last year and we always do increase our buy a little bit,” Darnell noted.
She was investing in brown, black and other solid colors and said, “I’m avoiding prints. I want a cleaner look. Jackets are back at every length.”
Darnell favored a red shirt jacket by Vertigo, brown and black washable suede-front pants by Equestrian Designs, pinstriped suits by Fabrizio Gianni, and Renfrew sportswear.
“I’m having a hard time buying the wider pants for Houston,” she remarked. “It takes a while to trickle down to us. I’m buying more skirts — some are slit up the front and back — but no fuller or A-line skirts.”
Mike Webb, owner of The Webb Clothing Co., which carries young contemporary styles in its Oklahoma City shop, said spring got off to a slow start, but has picked up lately.
“What scares me is when it hits we won’t have enough merchandise because there will be no time for reorders,” Webb said. “We have no feel for what is selling and we will need immediate goods. We will be more conservative for fall and do more trunk shows and pre-selling. Right now, I want to buy only April, May and June deliveries.”
As he reviewed BSL, a division of Signe, Webb liked black suede pants with a self-belt and matching shirt. He also praised the fit and price of Signe pants, noting he planned to buy the label’s russet suede pants with a stretch back. Webb noted he does “tons of business with ABS” and planned to order prom dresses, special occasion and sportswear from the line.
His wife, Jane, reported achieving a 10 percent gain in March at her store, C/K & Co., which specializes in bridge lines such as Lafayette 148, Tahari and Vivienne Tam. Located across the street from Webb Clothing Co., C/K & Co. is aiming for a 20 percent gain this fall.
Jane Webb picked up solid and striped knit spring T-shirts from a new Portuguese resource called Marsh, but mainly she shopped for luxurious fall styles.
“Lafayette 148 looked the best it has since its inception,” she said. “It was more directional than it has been. They had a beautiful blue cashmere shawl, with matching rabbit fur on the edges, that could go day to evening with a matching beaded sweater and pants.”