NOT JUST A WRAP
PASHMINA MAY BE “OVER” IN FASHION-FORWARD CIRCLES, BUT IT’S THE FORCE BEHIND A MOMENTUM-GAINING SCARF MARKET.
Byline: Jill Newman
After several seasons of wildly successful items such as neckerchiefs, novelty fur and especially wraps — the latter largely driven by the power of pashmina — scarf vendors are considering just how to keep the momentum going into fall 2001.
“Everybody is looking for what’s next,” said Philadelphia-based designer Kevin O’Brien. “There is not necessarily going to be a next thing, and clearly, we cannot repeat the success of pashmina.” Nonetheless, he added, “People will still buy scarves.”
“If retailers base everything on one item, then there is a big risk,” said Steven Roberts, co-president of the Echo Design Group. “Retailers need to look at the whole category. There is a lot happening across the board in classic silks, wraps, luxury fibers and cold weather. All these classifications within scarves can happen at the same time.”
Even in the absence of a so-called hot item, scarves have staying power.
“Women want to project themselves as individuals today, and a scarf gives them that flexibility; they can wrap it around their coat, waist, neck or head, ” said Roberts. ” And the consumer still wants to wear things that feel good. That’s why scarves survive so well.”
Another source of strength for scarves is that American women have finally taken to wraps, following the widespread pashmina trend.
“European women have always worn wraps around their neck or shoulders, and now it’s become part of the American woman’s style,” said Barbara Constantinescu, owner of Bajra, a Nepal-based company that specializes in wraps made from high-quality pashmina and other luxury fibers.
Constantinescu was one of the pioneering designers in the pashmina business. Her fall collection focuses on luxury and embellishment, including cashmere or leather, with details including applique work, nail heads, metallic beads, delicate fringe and embroidery. While pashmina continues to be part of the company’s wrap assortment, the styling is more subdued, Constantinescu noted.
Demand for pashmina may still be significant, but several vendors said they are avoiding the p-word whenever possible. “When it comes to better stores, pashmina can be perceived negatively, because it’s been sold at discount prices by New York street vendors,” explained Elaine Gold, owner of Collection XIIX which, in addition to its own line, holds the license for Anne Klein and Ellen Tracy neckwear. “It’s actually a cashmere and silk [blend], and that is what we will call it.”
The pashmina term has become confusing to many consumers who see wraps at varying prices and quality, pointed out Randell Dodge, an owner of Norling, Ltd., a New York business that makes luxurious wraps. “The prices vary greatly and consumers don’t understand the difference between something that is power-loomed in India, compared to a higher-quality hand-spun and hand-loomed yarn.”
Aside from pashmina, Gold sees a definitive shift in the scarf market saying, “The whole ethnic theme and heavy beading is gone. Color and texture are driving the business for fall.” Key trends, she pointed out, are velvet, iridescent or double-faced fabrics, and pretty silk squares and oblongs that will soften the men’s wear influence that’s come to bear on women’s accessories.
“Scarves are selling at retail,” said Gold. “To keep the momentum going, retailers need to bring in newness and support all the classifications in scarves — silks, wraps and cold weather.”
Not everyone thinks that fancy trimmings have seen their day. “Embellishment is not over, but it has to be different,” said designer Adrienne Landau. “Customers are buying things that they can’t resist or don’t already have in their wardrobe.”
Landau described her fall collection as “evening [-oriented], ornate and, in some cases, over the top.” She is emphasizing fur — an area she said has greatly expanded in the last three years and expects will continue to grow significantly — with printed, knitted and colored treatments lined with fabrics such as cashmere.
Elizabeth Gillette agreed that fall’s attention-getting scarves will have to be unusual. “Consumers are more resistant when it comes to their spending,” said the New York based designer. “When they do buy, they want exceptional, special designs.” Gillette’s 10-year-old company offers a wide assortment of styles and prices with an emphasis on novelty, embellishment and handwork. The fall collection features hand-dyed and hand-embroidered yarn, hand-crocheted work with semiprecious stones, handspun mohair on satin and delicate, smaller-scale embellishment.
As has been the case in other accessories classifications, some manufacturers said the embellished neckwear trend dropped off last holiday season, including Norling Ltd’s Dodge. “The focus is on texture and quality and away from all the embellishment of past seasons,” she said. “There is more intricate detail in the weave. We are introducing richer, heavier cashmere with a simple, cut fringe.” The Norling collection wholesales from $95 to $545.
Despite a slowdown on embellished designs, Dodge forecasted a 50 percent growth for her three-year-old business. “Consumers still want luxurious wraps,” she said. “The key is to have the wraps displayed properly and not put them behind a glass case. They need to be touched; that is the allure.”
A returning theme for fall is velvet, which bodes well for designer Kevin O’Brien, whose specialty is cut, printed and burnished velvet. “We saw a lot of velvet at the shows in Paris,” he noted. “And there is already a growing interest for spring.” His lightweight velvet wraps will be featured in the May editions of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus catalogs.
This time, the focus is on printing as opposed to embellishment, he said. In addition to a wide selection of large velvet wraps, O’Brien is showing an assortment of heavier, ornate cashmere wraps. The collection wholesales from $80 to $180.
Roberts of Echo expects sales gains in the high single digits for fall. The company’s major fall trends center on geometric prints, velvet, wool, textured chiffon, washed satin and twill. Bloomsbury and vintage style, argyle, plaid, floral and geometric prints will also be important.