Byline: Julee Greenberg

NEW YORK — Coat vendors have been paying close attention to what designers in New York, Paris, London and Milan sent down their fall 2001 runways.
Coats have become a big part of sportswear and ready-to-wear collections, and fashion, in general, in recent seasons. Plus, after nearly a decade of poor selling in the outerwear category, business returned in earnest last year, and designers have caught on and made coats more trendy, as well as more functional.
While many vendors do not copy the exact design of what they see on the runways, they do take bits and pieces of the designs and translate them into their own collections.
“I have noticed that fur trims have been very important for the season,” said Jen Gray, vice president of sales and merchandising at Liz Claiborne Outerwear. “So, you will see a lot of them on our coats, both real and fake.”
Gray also noticed the importance of plaid on the catwalks, and while the designers at her company did not copy the exact pattern, they did incorporate their own plaid weaves into the collection.
Also noticing the abundance of plaid on the runways is Mary Beth Downey, design director of ladies’ and junior at the CS Signature and Static divisions of Amerex USA.
“Instead of making an entire coat of plaid, I will make a plaid lining,” she said.
Downey also noted the importance of leather for the fall.
“Since we do not use real leather, we are heavy on fake leather [PVC],” she said. “We will even add a fake-fur trim to a piece and make it very affordable for the customer.”
Just returning to New York from Europe, Downey said she saw a large amount of trench-style belted looks. Therefore, she will include some belted looks in her upcoming collections.
At Harve Benard, Bernard Holtzman, president and chief designer, said he always translates looks from the runway into his own lines.
“Belted coats and trenches are big with us,” he said. “We just make them more realistic looking than they tend to be on the runway.”
For next season, Holtzman said he’s concentrating heavily on wide-belted coats, and black as a dominant color.
“When we do black, we are sure there will be a 100 percent sell-through,” he said. “We don’t fool around. We know which looks will translate well, and we do that using natural luxury fabrics.”
Los Angeles-based North Beach Leather has taken advantage of runway-trend watching for many seasons.
“I did side zips several years ago and, after seeing them on the runway, I am bringing them back,” said Michael Hoban, designer and principal. Hoban said he has added side zippers to jackets, dresses and skirts, but also to long coats, which he never did in the past.
“It’s nice to know that I’m being backed up by every designer in the world,” he said. “If it’s current, everyone will go after it.”
While some companies use the runways as inspiration for what is coming up next, others go their own way.
“In our design process, we have functionality in mind,” said Rick Insley, vice president of fashion merchandising at Woolrich. “The pockets are there for a reason. We think about keeping the customer dry and warm.”
Richard Madris, executive vice president of Winlet Fashions, said he finds that shopping the European market is a more valid source for trend spotting than watching the shows.
“There is a lot of drama in the shows, and you can see the colors and prints and shapes, but you can’t touch the fabrics,” he said. “I think there is a greater impact in touching the garments in order to make our interpretations.”
No matter what type of outerwear business they are in, vendors seemed confident they are headed for another strong fall-winter this year.
“A coat has become a major addition to a wardrobe. It’s now another piece of clothing,” Holtzman said. “I think we are in for another great season.”