Byline: Nancy Brumback

CHICAGO — The economic slowdown didn’t dampen the spirit of buying at the Chicago Stylemax fall market at the Merchandise Mart.
Instead, buyers went for sprinklings of color, notably in dyed shearlings, as they planned their autumn merchandise mix.
The March 17-20 show was Merchandise Mart’s second Stylemax, a booth-style show on its eighth floor. This and the October Stylemax have replaced two of the five women’s markets that have traditionally been held in reps’ showrooms in the adjacent Apparel Center.
Despite some softness in early spring sales, “retailers are buying,” said Bruce Brown, owner of a sales rep firm that bears his name. Brown said he’s added more European lines to give specialty stores a point of difference, “And my numbers are up. Every order is showing an increase.”
Phyllis Adelman, owner of Fashions by P.J. Adelman in Rockford, Ill., was enthused about “wonderful leathers and shearlings in beautiful colors,” such as sheared beaver jackets and vests from Herman Waitz & Co. She also liked blouses from Rayure-Paris.
“There are a lot more forward and trendy looks, such as bell bottoms and dyed jeans,” she noted, adding she expects red to be a strong fall color in pants and jeans.
Joel Bishop, co-owner of Christy’s, a moderate-to-better specialty store in Racine, Wis., expects classic looks such as Pendleton to dominate this fall.
Jill Esko, owner of two Illusions by Jill stores in the Chicago suburbs of Arlington Heights and Northbrook, noted that “outerwear and shearlings were wonderful” at the market, citing lines from Autanno Shearlings and Oxan. She also liked several sweater lines and separates from Garfield & Marx.
Betty Diersen, owner of Harbor Boutique, a resort-oriented store in Harbor Springs, Mich., said linen should be strong this spring and summer. Jackets and other separates, plus novelty sweaters, are expected to be strong in blue, aqua and pink, she said.
Elaine Siegal, owner of Complaisant in West Bloomfield, Mich., thinks bright-colored tops and capris, along with Vitamina jeans, will boost spring and summer sales. For fall, she likes duster coats and coat-sweaters, with brown a strong basic color.
The retailers were generally enthusiastic about the new market format, pointing out it was faster and easier to evaluate the lines being offered when they did not have to go into showrooms.
“There are more companies here than in the past. I bought some Dana Buchman for the first time,” said Diersen.
“I love this concept. I was ready to shop somewhere else,” said Bishop. “I can get so much more done so much faster.”
Bruce Brown noted that moving his stock across to the Merchandise Mart from his Apparel Center showroom is a hassle, “but about 20 to 25 percent of the retailers we are seeing have never been to Chicago before. If that continues, this market can’t help but be a success.”
Jamin Whitaker, vice president of Ge-Ne, a Dallas rep firm, was exhibiting in Chicago for the first time.
“We’ve have opened several new stores, met with existing customers and have seen several retailers who are also trying this show the first time.”
Susie Jones, owner of Diane’s of Saugatuck in Saugatuck, Mich., commented: “We’ve picked up several new lines. There’s so much more available here.”