PLAYING IT SAFE
RETAILERS ARE RESPONDING TO FALL’S TREND OVERLOAD 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 on 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. Jewelry elements like chains, safety pins, jewels, rhinestones and studs will turn up in Eighties-inspired clothing items, too.
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 oversized 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, colored, 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 result in equal confusion. Some retailers plan to buy tweeds, stripes, camouflage or geometrics, whereas others believe consumers will tire of them by fall. But all agree that leather and suede will be even bigger this year, and hope for updated treatments or embellishments. Black is back, and neutrals like chocolate brown, olive and camel are on retailers’ minds as well.
Despite the shaky market and the spector of widespread layoffs, retailers go to market with equivalent or increased open-to-buys.
Suzy Jacobs, owner and president,
Julia’s, Cincinnati, Ohio:
“I’m looking for more accessories than in the past few years. Not only do accessories make a great add-on to a sale, but they are important to my lines, since I focus on simple, classic bridge wear.
“I’m always looking for new and different resources, while sticking to my tried-and-trues. I really try to find unique things.
“In belts, I think chains are fun, and I plan to buy wide ones that fall on the hip, with jewels and studs, like I wore long ago. Since some women aren’t ready for big jewelry, I’ll do some small stuff, but I’m buying more gold, and chunkier and beadier pieces. I don’t carry hosiery at all, but shawls and scarves do really well. I’m always looking for hand-painted or cut-out looks in silk and velvet. I’ll also add some boas and furry things for fun.
“I need novelty outerwear, since my customer can find a basic black coat anywhere. I like new leathers, maybe even some of the zippered motorcycle looks, plus tweeds and wools.
“Separates are easier for me to sell than suits, mainly because of the sizing issue — for example, if someone is bigger on the bottom than the top. Even cocktail suits don’t sell. But I carry suit-like collections with matching underpinnings. Dressy separates is a hard category for me to fill in. Kay Unger does pretty well, but I need more.
“I bought some chunky knits and they walked out fast, but only in the long sleeves. The sleeveless didn’t sell. Cashmere’s still big, so I’ll do both classic and updated shapes. I’ll do both chunky and fine looks in knits. I think dolman sleeves are great, but Cincinnati won’t get them for a year — it’s usually behind Chicago.
“I’ve always loved beautiful blouses. I hope three-quarter sleeves will end. Long sleeves are more versatile, because you can roll them up or leave them down. But I’d always go for classic over trendy. I’ve learned the less on the dress, the easier the sell.
“Below-the-knee skirts are just catching on here. I’ll bring the mini in again, but also classic lengths; long, flowy knits, and pleated skirts. I would do pleated pants, but they’re just starting to get flat-front pants here. I bought cropped last year, and no one got it.
“I’ll buy denim, but not the typical trendy lines like Lucky. I need the kind that fit with stretch like Cambio and Womyn. I may do a teensy bit of trendy, tie-dyed and bleached looks.
“This market, I’ll have the same open-to-buy as last year’s.”
vice president and
co-owner, Tres Raffine, Sioux Falls, S.D.
“Even though the mini’s back, it’s not a look that’s here yet. I’ll stick to classic lengths; the same goes for pants. Customers like flat fronts. I think it’s because they don’t show off the tummy as much as pleated do. I’ll do tailored, straight-leg looks and some cuffs.
“In tops, cowlnecks are nice because they’re not right against the neck. Dolman sleeves are good, too. I won’t do so much mohair in knits because people think they’ll have a reaction to it, plus it sheds on dark fall colors. Instead, I’ll focus on 100 percent cottons because they’re washable, and cashmeres, though not as much as last year.
“Blouses are important, but for a white blouse, my customer wants something with a twist. I’ll bring back Rayure-Paris, which is great for French cuffs or unique details.
“Stripes are okay, as long as they’re vertical. I’ll also pick up some geometrics from fun lines like Kisca. Tweeds are good, but only if they’re updated. I’ll keep to more classic than trendy or junior looks.
“I’ll do leather and suede in pants, skirts and jackets, but not things like ostrich. I’ll also move forward with colored denim without embellishment, like Cambio has, or Pulp’s denim styles in Tencel. I also need new T-shirt lines.
“An Italian belt line with metal studs and patent leather has been doing well. I want to do wide belts, too. I hope to bring the Eighties stuff back in, but I have to really pick and choose. Not all of it was so wonderful back then.
“My open-to-buy is the same. I’ll check out Essendi, Isda, New Frontier, Margaret O’Leary and White & Warren.” Nancy Tuggle, senior buyer, The Peppertree, Rochester, Mich.:
“We’ll focus on fall with a few fill-ins.
“Suits have been a hard sell lately, but we’ll take a look anyway. Garfield & Marks is our most suit-like line. Separates are still big. We’re a sportswear store, so we don’t carry dressy things either. But we bought some cute day dresses from Donna Ricco this spring, and may look [there] again.
“We’ll buy a variety of knits, from classic cashmere to chunky, which is where I see the direction heading. I also think people are ready for looser clothes. Things have been so fitted and body conscious — which is great if you’re 18, but not when you’re 45. We need more relaxed looks.
“The same goes for minis. They’re not for everybody. But the below-the-knee length didn’t fly well either. It’s seen as a dowdy length in Michigan. We tend to sell either long or short skirts.
“We did a lot of prints for spring, so it will depend on the market if we go forward for fall. I’ve always liked tweeds and pinstripes, too. We also had lots of capris and cropped pants for summer, but our customers won’t invest in them in a good, wool tweed for fall. It’s more of a fun, summery look.
“We hope to find some new accessory lines at StyleMax. Finding new lines is what the show’s best for. It’s hard to tell about novelty bags now, but belts, especially Brighton’s, sell like crazy. Some other things are shawls, scarves and jewelry by Judith Jack and Brighton. We still sell smaller jewelry, but it’s going in the other direction now. I also saw quite a bit of fishnets and patterned tights at the last market. They’re cute, but need to be done tastefully.
“In denim, we’ll go for everyday looks from Cambio — nothing too trendy. We prefer to just do a little of what’s happening trend-wise.
“We’ll check out Canvasbacks, Fabrizzio Gianni, Jax, Geiger, Burns and Garfield & Marks. We’re set on T-shirts, though. My open-to-buy is the same as last year’s.”