NOVEL APPROACH TO FALL

Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — Despite the major snow storm that fizzled to flurries, making some retailer attendance unpredictable, there were enough buyers to keep accessories showrooms busy last week.
Although there were some cancellations — where the weather got as much blame as concern over declining consumer confidence — most vendors said they had a respectable week, with buyers ready to make early fall merchandise investments.
March has frequently been an irregular market. While it can be the key time for long lead items like scarves and handbags, buyers for some major store groups are in Europe, and for smaller stores, March is often too early to place fall orders.
Designers also have trouble sometimes keeping up with the calendar, resulting in showroom assortments that are often a mishmash of spring, summer and fall. Vendors frequently find themselves meeting with stores throughout the month instead of just one week.
Although there has lately been some concern about the lack of a major theme crossing classifications and the slowing of highly embellished looks, there were still trends for buyers to add to their assortments:
Color: Plenty of it and often in new or revitalized retro palettes of browns, berries, greens and grays.
Men’s wear: houndstooth, pinstripes and chevron patterns, often accented by bright colors.
Metallics: alone or as an accent when paired with other color palettes.
Touches of fur: Found in hair accessories, on handbags and trimming scarves.
Color was one of the most consistent statements, according to Maxine Coppersmith, owner of the multiclassification showroom Notanonymous.
“Color is just staying so strong and it’s in nontraditional and unseasonal mixes now,” she said, pointing to the fact that a shade like coral, typically a summer look, is being mixed with other hues and selling year-round now.
She did express some surprise at how many stores were interested in ordering jewelry last week, typically a classification that gets attention later in the season.
“The strongest area has been in artisan looks, the unusual versus the basic,” she said. “And pieces that women can buy themselves.”
Although Coppersmith said prices can range from $60 to $2,000 at retail, “it’s not about price, it’s about specialness,” with nontraditional silhouettes and color palettes leading the way for this type of jewelry that women usually buy for themselves.
Handbags were another strong arena for Coppersmith, with Lily Scott being a particularly strong line. Scott, a young designer known for her jangley, beaded evening bags, added a series of natural canvas totes with brightly colored handles and crystal-accented, Fifties-inspired silk-screened photos, which Coppersmith said were quite a hit with buyers.
Despite seemingly endless speculation about which direction the economy will take come fall, several executives were highly positive about prospects for accessories business.
Steven Roberts, president of Echo Design Group, said: “People are cautious about business, but there are still positive opportunities in accessories, and in scarves, there are many opportunities.
“Even though we’re up against big numbers, largely from the success of wraps last year, we think we’ll make our numbers this coming fall. Scarf business in general is good and we’re coming off a very strong cold-weather business, which adds to the comfort level. Additionally, sell-throughs have been there for spring for those stores that transitioned early.”
Among the most lucrative opportunities in scarves, Roberts pointed to colorful prints, classic floral and leaf themes, ruffled shawls and new techniques with velvet.
“Although we had some cancellations this week, we met with some major accounts last week, and overall we’ve had a lot of positive feedback,” said Roberts. “It may sound funny, but we’re really having one of the best markets we’ve ever had.”
Cynthia O’Connor, president of the accessories and apparel showroom Cynthia O’Connor & Co., was also positive about the outlook for accessories.
“When the economy gets a little soft, buyers don’t spread their money around as much as they do when things are hot everywhere,” she said.
Like Coppersmith, O’Connor said handbags, especially those with some sort of novel touch, continue to be strong, even though some of her vendors still hadn’t finished their fall collections.
“Whether its collectibles like Isabella Fiore, or felt from Tote le Monde, or camouflage mixed with brights from M.Z. Wallace, handbags are still strong,” O’Connor said, adding that toile de jouy patterns are another look that is trending.
Other items that got attention from buyers were Ann Vuille’s fur or silk charmeuse-wrapped hair accessories and small leather goods like cosmetic cases.
“Anything that goes into a handbag is doing nicely,” O’Connor said.
Rounding out O’Connor’s strong performers was the Me & Ro jewelry line, which has just gotten two major boosts: from being the only jewelry worn by Julia Roberts in the film “The Mexican,” and the publicity surrounding it; and being worn by the cover model in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.
Costume jewelry is one arena where retailers are undergoing pressure to streamline their assortments and increase productivity.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with our retail partners about what they really need to run their businesses,” said Patricia Stensrud, chief executive officer of Victoria & Co., which produces Napier and Richelieu jewelry and the licensed Givenchy, Nine West and Tommy Hilfiger lines.
“The fair amount of editorial content focused on bolder looks is helping and all our stores are very interested in color and the social-occasion part of the business,” she said.
Stensrud said colored, rather than white pearls “are the only part of pearls that are selling, in shades like pink, champagne, black or gray.”
“But the customer has yet to respond to a mixture of colors, although I am confident they will soon,” Stensrud said. “And we’re starting to see gold come back. In fact, that was some of the most exciting looks all week.”
Another factor helping to encourage Stensrud about the outlook for the costume jewelry market is the plethora of “major bold fine jewelry statements” in several upscale store catalogs such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Among the hot items, Stensrud pointed to initial earrings and necklaces in a variety of materials and stretch bracelets as the things getting the most attention from buyers.