WWDMAGIC HAS ’80S TEMPO
Byline: Katherine Bowers / Kristi Ellis / Kim Friday / Kristin Young
LAS VEGAS — With so many Eighties trends saturating fall collections here last week, it would have surprised no one to see Alexis Carrington strutting though the Sands Expo & Convention Center halls.
Fur, studs and gold Lurex-threaded denim permeated the fall offerings at WWDMAGIC that ended here on Friday.
Also hot was anything preppy, punk, cowboy or glam. Retailers scooped up miniskirts, plaids and over-the-top accessories.
“Anything that was gaudy in Texas five years ago is where it’s at,” beamed Sonny Hollis, owner of Swoozy’s, a young contemporary store near San Diego, who traipsed around looking for the early Madonna-era trends.
While flounce and flourish dominated at the Sands Expo, exhibitors at the Las Vegas Convention Center offered Americana classics that transcended traditional junior, contemporary and misses’ typecasting. There were enough chocolate-square quilted down jackets, “whiskered” corduroy pants (corduroy with fan-like wear lines across the front), plaid knee-length skirts and brightly striped crewnecks to outfit the cast of “Eight is Enough” for an entire season.
Beyond the fashion, another trend of the decade of excess — the nonstop spending spree — wasn’t championed so strongly. Most large-store buyers walking the Sands discussed the current economy in more conservative tones, noting that they were being extremely careful with their orders.
While some predicted business would pick up with single-digit increases during the second half of the year, they acknowledged it wouldn’t be enough to loosen any purse strings for frivolous orders. Federated, The May Department Stores Co. and Nordstrom were among the large chains at the show.
Specialty store buyers in niches such as clubwear and juniors appeared less vexed by business conditions and noted that their customers would buy merchandise regardless of the state of financial affairs.
“They don’t want to worry about the economy,” said Joel Carman, owner of Over the Rainbow, a better boutique in Toronto, referring to his teen customers. “It’s a boogeyman thing [to them].”
Canadian and Mexican buyers were out in force. Though not yet affected by the economy, several said they were bracing themselves for a downturn in the coming months.
“If the U.S. coughs, we get the flu,” noted Larry J. Horack, owner of Plum Loco, four edgy streetwear stores in Ontario, Canada.
Thomas Terlecki, a buyer for Dorian’s, an 18-store chain in Mexico, concurred. “Our business has been fairly good and I’m trying to ride the wave. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”
The denim and printed T-shirt business has been on fire, he said, although Dorian’s dress business has not been as solid. Terlecki was “looking to spark” it with orders of wrap, frilly and button-down shirt dresses.
Despite the cautious note sounded by buyers, exhibitors were painting a rosy picture about the show and business in the second half. Many manufacturers predicted double-digit increases in volume and upticks in bookings at the show.
While WWDMAGIC sustained a 10 percent growth in exhibitor square footage across the board, the fastest growing category in recent years — juniors — was flat for this show, observed Laura McConnell, general manager of women’s for MAGIC International, who attributed it to softer business in the fourth quarter. XOXO, which had dominated the show, front and center, with 28 booths, shrunk to 14 booths, she noted.
While some companies scaled back, others expanded and first-time exhibitors such as Nine West, Fornarina, Parallel, Sue Wong and two divisions of Kellwood Co. moved in. The fastest growing segments are accessories, young contemporary and contemporary, said McConnell.
Although the show appeared smaller at first sight, McConnell maintained that organizers changed the layout, pushing the front line of exhibitors back. She said that 1,100 exhibitors occupied 2,240 booths in 224,000 square feet.
In the junior category, the top-selling items included denim jumpsuits, low-rise dip-dye and tie-dye jeans, corduroys, kick pleat skirts, belted flairs, fake fur vests and coats, Zodiac prints, screen T-shirts, chunky handmade sweaters and long sweater coats and dusters. Other bestsellers included anything with glitter, studs or rhinestones; collegiate and preppy logos; plaids; and camouflage.
Vendors used the show to launch new divisions and licensed product lines. Dollhouse introduced two new divisions, sweaters and denim. Bisou Bisou by Michele Bohbot converted a private label line into a brand named called B. Clothing Co. And XOXO launched licensed junior outerwear, children’s and children’s outerwear at the show.
Junior No Miss
The economy and retail cautiousness notwithstanding, junior manufacturers booked solid business at the show. Many, including XOXO, Mudd and Dollhouse, predicted orders of $1 million.
“Buyers are always saying that they are cutting back but they have to do a certain volume, otherwise they would not be in business,” said Albert Shehebar, president of Dollhouse, a division of Jou Jou Inc. The brand’s two biggest growth areas are denim and sweaters, which should help drive the division’s sales to between $60 million and $70 million this year.
Marty Weisfeld, a principal in Mudd Jeans LLC, said that there was a “tremendous” slowdown in the basics denim business in the fourth quarter though the fashion components compensated for it.
Placing an emphasis on fashion denim and increases in summer and early fall bookings, Weisfeld said he expects Mudd to hit $180 million, with $125 million generated from its 14 licensed product lines. Mudd, which launched its newly licensed home furnishings at WWDMAGIC, plans to sign a swimwear license this week and will roll out higher-priced denim in March.
Like their junior counterparts at the show, contemporary manufacturers were bullish about the second half and predicted double-digit increases despite the downturn.
Deviations scored well with fashion denim and lace-up suedes, while Fiona London booked printed leathers and tweed suitings. A handful of brands served up real fur, ranging from long rabbit and beaver maxi coats to fur-trimmed coats and accessories.
In addition to its hot-selling zodiac T-shirts, La Loop featured a group of fur coats and vests. The centerpiece was a multicolored pieced, hooded maxi rabbit coat. Musi Furs ventured out with a celery sheared beaver vest with bobcat trim and a pink bobcat jacket, while Furko Canada offered a vanilla reversible beaver jacket.
La Loop, a division of U.K. Knits, offered less-expensive short lengths in addition to the maxi coats. The company sold rabbit shearling waist-length coats in sky blue and red for $199 wholesale. On the top end, the rabbit-lamb maxi coat was wholesale priced at $840.
Western-style suedes and leather drove the business in the company’s other division, Fifi.
Among the accessories lines creating a buzz — with ribbon belts, belts with rhinestone buckles and military canvas belts with rhinestone buckles and camouflage and distressed leather handbags — were Leather Rock, Topsy Turvey, Faith Knight and Switchblade Sister.
Buzz North of the Border
A strong group of streetwear vendors from Canada were first-time participants of The Edge, WWDMAGIC’s streetwear show. These included JY Stijls, i Clothing Co. and Kitchen Orange.
The Canadian lines pushed the streetwear fashion envelope. JY Stijls, a two-year-old line from Montreal, offered a microfiber drawstring dress with cap sleeves jutting from the shoulders to favored response, the company said.
Toronto-based i Clothing Co. said an asymmetric zip fleece jacket that was reminiscent of a kimono was checking well. Another Montreal-based resource, Kitchen Orange, said order writing was brisk during the show’s four-day run.
The Edge signed on 125 exhibitors in 200 booths and more than 600 product lines. Long-time exhibitors Serious, Lip Service and Illig also reported solid order writing, noting that the specialty stores with streetwear niches are less prone to the ups and downs of the economy.
A representative from Pornstar said buyers were picking up tiny rhinestone T-shirts with a heavy metal influence, clubby Lurex-threaded tops and the company’s expanded underwear line.
“With our demographic, [the economy] is not going to kill us,” said Greg Henley, sales manager of parent company L&H Apparel. “People still want to party and be edgy.”
At the Convention Center, manufacturers said they thought the return to crisp colors and classic silhouettes was both a pickup on Eighties preppy as well as a reaction to recent embellishment excess.
It’s a welcome “cleaning up,” said Jayne Whitman, director of the women’s division for Cutter & Buck. The Seattle-based sportswear firm, which launched a women’s line for spring, showed fall pieces with a slightly younger-than-Talbots feel. Whitman said the company is projecting its women’s business to yield $12 million to $20 million in sales this year.
Despite an abundance of salable looks, most retailers said they intended to spend less. Some planned to go deeper into hot-selling brands — a pair of Midwestern retailers mentioned they could not keep Lucky in stock — while others were avoiding marquee national brands that they thought were “overexposed.”
A Macy’s East buying team, led by chief executive officer Hal Kahn, met with men’s streetwear labels in preparation for the development of an urban-influenced junior business for Macy’s.
“We’re starting here to see if [the concept] can do major volume,” said Kahn, who would not disclose prospective vendor names. Kahn said Macy’s will start testing junior streetwear immediately, with a rollout slated within the year.
Buyers from Hot Topic, Gadzooks and Delia’s signed on to carry Always Fresh, a new colicensed T-shirt line from Irvine, Calif.-based sportswear company nZania and Disney Corp., which features Disney characters paired with tongue-in-cheek commentary.