WHO WEARS SHORT-SHORTS?
RETAILERS ARE WAITING TO SEE IF CUSTOMERS WILL WARM TO HOTPANTS — OR IF IT’S GOING TO BE ANOTHER CAPRIS-DOMINATED SUMMER.

Byline: Sally Horchow

If Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani have any influence on the junior and contemporary fashion market — and the experts swear they do — we can count on one thing for summer: short-shorts.
In her recent performance on the VH1 Music Awards, Aguilera’s back-up dancers shook a tail feather in black HotPants, while Stefani’s crew waited in the wings in equally brief, gilded versions.
In music videos and on the runways, shorts are it. And they’re shorter than ever.
Away from the showbiz scene, however, it’s a different story.
With a less-than-stellar retail business last season, shorts have yet to make a real impact. Designers and retailers agree that rollout may have been too early for the consumer and that other bottoms options — like the ubiquitous capri pants — have contributed to consumers’ ambivalence about shorts. But they are cautiously optimistic that this year may be the year of the shorts — at least among those who can wear them well.
In Laguna Beach, where exposing skin is in vogue year-round, toned teens and women would seem prime candidates for short-shorts. But according to Amii English, owner of the Little Bohemian in downtown, even skimpier trends take up to a year to effect consumer purchasing.
For this reason, English avoided buying HotPants for her store when they were introduced at market last year.
But for summer 2001, she’s betting that new designs and higher-quality offerings by designers such as William B. and Trina Turk will make them appealing for her fit customer.
“If designers are making shorts, and they’re lined and they fit well and there’s a twist — like the fabric or the cut or the trim — then my customers will be more apt to pay more money for a nicer pair of shorts. I’ll be buying those designs more than ever.”
Trina Turk is indeed in the shorts game, with a group of short-shorts in fresh prints and solids for summer, as well as slightly longer “tennis” shorts edged with a V-notch at the thigh and sitting slightly lower on the hip. Turk has consistently shown shorts in her five-year-old line because it is in keeping with the breezy Palm Springs aesthetic of her designs.
But she recognizes short-shorts are limited. “They look great on the models, but the stores are a little more cautious about them.”
Pat Wellman of junior maker ILU concurred. “While everyone’s excited about seeing the newness and potential fashion business emerging from the shorts classification, they are very, very guarded about it, because shorts were such a disaster at retail last year.” Shorts only represent 10 to 13 percent of ILU’s planned business for the shipping period of March to May 2001, down from 18 percent last year and 35 percent in 1999.
Wellman says that ILU plans to add more shorts to its 2001 lines of varying lengths, from HotPants with a two-inch inseam to bermuda shorts with a 10-inch inseam.
“[Shorts have] to be fun and novel and they have to give the customer a reason to buy them. Last year, shorts were boring. There was no newness. If we treat shorts this year the way we treated capris in the last two years, we could have a very strong business,” observed Wellman.
Kelly Hoose, owner of Dolly Rocker, a retailer in Hermosa Beach, Calif., maintained that short-shorts are simply unrealistic. “People just don’t wear HotPants,” she says, adding her customer prefers capris.
But some larger retailers, including Macy’s West, agree with Amii English’s year-to-take trend theory and believe strongly in short-shorts making an impact not only on juniors, but on misses’ and contemporary as well.
“We’ve seen the shortest of shorts. And now we’re going to see a fashion spin on them, as well as an impact on the creation of other shorts lengths, like the walking and the bermuda short,” said Durand Guion, women’s fashion director for Macy’s West. “The [consumer] will dictate which length and color she goes to, but there will be something for everyone.”
Consensus is that short-shorts, however potentially successful, will never equal the business of what has now become a wardrobe and retail staple: capri pants.
Having experienced phenomenally high sell-throughs and profit margins last summer with this item, most stores expect to take an aggressive position.
“We aren’t going to talk about the capri as a new item. It has settled in as a must-have classic,” added Macy’s Guion.
For Chanita Harris, sales and marketing director of the Backseat Betty and Sybil stores in San Francisco, the capri and ankle is a perennial favorite with her customers because of the climate.
“You can wear them all year long,” said Harris,”in the fall with boots and in the summer with sandals and sneakers. So we’re trying to add them as a basic for every wardrobe.”
Retailers will have ample choices in the capri category. Whether it’s in cut — the classic tapered leg, wide bottomed, or flared — or in fabrication, print, or colorway, capri variations will abound.
Junior brand Hot Kiss will roll out capris in solids, plaids, floral prints, abstract prints, graffiti and in varying denim washes. Silhouettes range from narrow to floods and will maintain the low rise in all variations.
Trina Turk, whose sportswear company is known as a bottoms resource, is most excited about her wide-cropped leg, cut from a tropical wool-type fabric. “Like a dressier sort of Yves Saint Laurent pant,” said Turk.
She will also offer capris that are tapered, ankle and calf length. The cropped flare, which hits three inches above the ankle and has a slight flare at the bottom, will also continue to be strong pants for her line. So will a boyish fit that sits low on the hip, with a straight, chopped-off leg. All will be offered in Turk’s signature whimsical prints.
Most designers, unwilling to make a definite call in the direction of either shorts or capris, will be offering a choice.
There is always a place for both styles in the market, they said, particularly on the West Coast.
Guess Jeans, already at summer market, will offer more “floods” — their version of a capri — and fewer shorts, because they had performed so poorly last season.
The lower rise, lace-up shorts that they did offer, however, were booked confidently by their core retailers.
In short, shorts will be out in force at market this season, in a wider range of patterns and designs and undeterred by the strength in other bottoms options. Of course, at the end of the day, the heat of HotPants will depend on the customers who will buy them.

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