Byline: Rusty Williamson

Buyers plan to search the International Apparel Mart’s showrooms for a medley of fall silhouettes, from lightweight casual styles for easy weekends to sexy eveningwear for sizzling autumn soirees. With early spring checking well and optimistic outlooks for summer, stores aren’t the least reticent about spending more money at market than a year ago. Here, a look at what’s motivating some top stores as they plan for third and fourth quarter.

Sherri Joseff, owner
Sherri’s in West Bloomfield, Mich.:
“We’re primarily social occasion, and I’m looking for clean gowns with straight lines, romantic ballgowns and evening separates. I cater to a diverse range of women, and I’m addressing an array of body styles, from long and lean to shorter and heavier — and nearly everything in between.
“The straight, columnar or slipdress is sexy and young, especially with a shawl. Strapless looks good on women with fabulous shoulders. Otherwise, I like the tank-style column, which is good for hiding bra straps. Rex Lester is a stellar resource for sexy, body-conscious eveningwear. And I love Sue Wong Noir for its vintage, retro appeal. The price is also perfect: It’s a lot of look for the money.
“Billowy ballgowns are always in style for debutantes, women attending charity balls or the all-important auto-show parties. After all, this is Michigan. Many women also are opting for sophisticated evening separates, such as black velvet pants with an embellished blouse. It’s a classic approach.
“As for separates, women like them because of the versatility factor. We carry St. John Knits, and offer a variety of silhouettes. We call it the weekender approach. A woman can take five pieces that coordinate away for a trip and have a unique look everytime she goes out.
“As for colors, women buy black more than any other color. We offer an extremely wide range of colors, but even when a woman walks in and says she’s looking for a colorful style, she’ll walk out with black more times than not.
“Nearly every gown I purchase at market can be ordered for special-size women. We order gowns up to size 28 for larger women when we feel the silhouette would look good on their figure.
“Business is booming, and my budget will reflect it. I’m very excited about fall.”

Donna Berdine, owner
Donna’s Chic Boutique in Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
“I just opened my store last October and business took off right from the start. We’re attracting stylish, socially prominent women.
“I learned from the start that the secret to retail success is to study the marketplace and to know your customer. I always go to market with specific women in mind. And I always make the sale. [Customers] appreciate fashion guidance and tips on how to look put together.
“I try to sell total looks, not just items. Average tickets are obviously going to be higher that way. Alberto Makali is an excellent resource for a pulled-together approach. They’re doing ultralight suede pants shown with camisoles, jackets and a short skirt.
“I’m in a high-traffic area on the St. John’s River, which spills into the Atlantic Ocean. I’m across the river from a riverboat casino, which my family also happens to own. I cross-market the store with advertisements on the riverboat. I dress women for nights on the town, charity events or weekend casual.
“My store also attracts lots of snowbirds who buy seasonal wardrobes to take back home to northern states. And they also buy warmer-climate fashions for when they’re in Florida.
“At market, I’m hoping to find a vivid, rich color palette, such as burgundy and bronze. And I love a hint of sparkle, especially clean paillettes on top of shades such as burnt orange. Muse does a great job with this sort of look.
“Fall in northeast Florida means lightweight silhouettes in autumn colors. It’s still very warm here then. I’ll be shopping the market for lightweight silk dupioni and some vivid cottons — though cotton wrinkles. Muse and Tempo both offer great suits cut in fabrics that don’t.
“Heavy fabrics just don’t work in Florida. Essendi silk knit tops are a perfect fashion item for any season, especially fall with the luxurious color palette.
“I’m expecting capri pants to remain strong for fall. Designers are wisely cutting them differently so that women have a reason to keep buying them. A few seasons ago, capris were cut high, just a few inches below the knee. Now, they’re being shown longer — some call it a flood length.
“Another hot item should be novelty-print dresses and separates with clean styling. Mica, Kay Unger and Morgan McFeeters are masters at this look.
“I’m bringing a very optimistic budget to Dallas.”

Brenda Birenbaum, co-owner,
Posh, in Dallas, TX:
“We’re going to market for items, whether summer fill-ins or early fall pieces. We’ll probably do most of fall in June. Women are just now getting into spring here. We’re doing really well with Pucci and other bold geometric-style prints, cropped or hipster pants and clean dresses with a unique perspective, especially those from Trina Turk or Nanette Lepore.
“We’re targeting college-age women and older. Most women who shop our store are into a buy-now, wear-now mentality. They want practical wardrobes that can be worn for seasons to come and updated with a fashion item. The approach can create some special challenges for retailers. We have to buy the same way.”

Leonard Rutan, owner
Leonard Rutan in Houston:
“I’m looking for sportswear, separates and pantsuits and skirt suits. Women are asking for more skirt suits. It’s a new reason to buy. We like it because they’re buying skirts and pants to go with the jacket — it’s a multiple sale. Women are looking for a tailored straight skirt, whether long or grazing the knee. They’re looking at both — it depends on the jacket.
“For fall, I’m looking for shades like you’d see in a spice rack. They’re natural tones: cinnamon, sage, etc. I also expect camel to be strong this fall.
“Right now, our skirt-suit bestsellers include Tamotsu. It’s a Japanese sensibility, darker tones rendered in luxurious fabrics. Also Marisa Minicucci, which is a wonderful Canadian resource.
“Sunny Choi is doing wonderful cocktail and evening skirt suits in an Italian crepe fabric. These are clothes for luncheons, weddings and afternoon teas.
“I expect to see more novelty and embellishment this fall than I’ve seen in a long time. I like the paillettes. Organza or chiffon ruffle trims are important for dresses.
“I’m hoping to see a strong business in dresses this fall. I haven’t seen the dress market, yet. I think military and shirtwaist dresses may be important. It gives dresses a sportswear, trendy edge instead of a dated look.
“I have women come in and buy for a trip to Washington, D.C., then something clean and chic for a dinner in San Francisco and then something really special for a luncheon in New York. Others come in wearing their favorite black pants and are looking for a beautiful blouse to wear to a dinner party.
“If a woman gets caught up in a designer who can fit her body, she’ll invest big in that label. She’ll buy the whole collection for her various lifestyle needs.
“We’re up by double digits for February. The Houston economy has held up beautifully..”