DRESSES, DENIM REV UP COTERIE
DESPITE BUYERS’ CAUTIOUS ATTITUDES, VENDORS ARE COUNTING ON A FLATTERING FIT AND WEARABLE NEW ITEMS TO SECURE ORDERS.
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Vendors headed to this weekend’s Fashion Coterie trade show won’t be deterred by retailers’ easy-does-it attitude.
The looming threat of an economic slowdown is something they are not ignoring, but instead are using it as motivation to try to get stores energized about fall business.
Jill McGowan, who has a signature line of shirts that will be offered at Coterie, said, “Spring is strong still, but we’re hearing the dreaded “r” word. I believe the economy is resting not recessing. People have stepped back, but they continue to buy quality goods.”
Nearly 800 lines will be shown at the Fashion Coterie, compared with 700 labels last February, said Elyse Kroll, executive director of ENK Productions, the show’s producer. The three-day event gets under way Sunday at Piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson River.
There will be a healthy offering of denim, shoes and dresses at the show, which focuses on fall merchandise.
Buyer traffic is also expected to be on the rise, with more retailers from South America and Mexico visiting the show than ever before, Kroll said. Despite published reports about sluggish fourth-quarter sales, stores saw an uptick in business after the holidays and are ready to buy fall goods, she said.
McGowan, whose business is based in Portland, Maine, said a key selling point of the line is that it is made of longer lengths of cotton than standard shirt makers use and “wears like iron.”
“People, especially working women, want things in their closets for a while,” McGowan said. “They don’t want to invest in something — and nothing is inexpensive these days — that doesn’t hold up.”
Lafayette 148 is working to keep momentum going by offering new items that are wearable, according to Aileen Dresner, executive vice president. Lightweight woven knit novelty jackets, a variety of skirts and Greta Garbo-inspired wide-leg pants should be show-stoppers, she said.
“At times like these, when people are a little concerned about the economy, you need to find a way to inspire confidence in people to buy something new and very wearable,” Dresner said.
Juicy, a label known primarily for its plethora of colorful T-shirts, is also counting on new looks to encourage buyers.
Denim pieces, low-waisted corduroy pants, cashmere T-shirts and a trenchcoat have been added to the mix to make the line more of a collection, according to Pamela Skaist-Levy, who runs the Los Angeles-based company with Gela Taylor.
Being up-to-date with fabric trends is essential, but designing a flattering fit is equally important, Skaist-Levy said. That’s something stores have made a point of saying in recent months, she noted.
Juicy’s celebrity clientele, which includes Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston, China Chow and Courteney Cox, have helped raise brand awareness since the brand does not advertise, Skaist-Levy said.
Simon Showroom will be introducing some new labels and key items to buyers at the Coterie, such as Seven, a Los Angeles-based denim line; Tono Sur Tono, an Italian sportswear label; Paige Novick, an accessories designer with her first full apparel collection, and Petit Beateau, a T-shirt line with a few new coats.
Simon also reps Paul & Joe, Beth Bowley and Cashmere Studio. Interest in the Paul & Joe line has been so strong that the vendor doubled its exhibition space and scheduled appointments are mandatory, she said.
Even though some stores are buying closer to need, many buyers are still planning out their orders in advance, since lines like Petit Bateau are replenishment businesses, Simon said.
But some show resources said there have been hints of a slowdown.
Retailers were somewhat cautious about spring orders, according to Arielle Cohen, East Coast account executive. Speculation about a recession and the presidential transition have made stores approach the spring season carefully, Cohen said.
“Everyday buyers who come in and plop down money for a dozen colors are now buying four or six colors,” he said.
Nevertheless, Cohen is counting on a few trends to build fall sales. Knee-length and midcalf-length skirts, low-waisted pants and ponchos should raise interest among buyers, he said.
Classic plaids, geometric patterns and pony prints should be important, Cohen said. In terms of colors, chocolate and caramel should be key, he added.
Well aware that economic concerns are a national phenomenon, not limited to retailers, Cohen said the company will not dismiss any reservations stores might have.
“We’re all for them being cautious instead of going crazy with orders,” he said. “It’s all about having them come back.”
Richard Gabor, president of Sweet Romeo, a five-year-old knitwear label that will also be offered at the show, said he is not that concerned about the economy.
“I don’t think things are as pessimistic as they look,” Gabor said. “Women always need new clothes, and fashion always needs to progress.”
Tuning into versatile items like sweater jackets is one of the ways Sweet Romeo is addressing buyers’ trepidation. The brand is also offering more neutral tones instead of brights for fall.
“Fashion colors look great on Seventh Avenue, but no one understands them one block over,” he said. “They usually end up as unsold inventory or marked down.”
Sweet Romeo has no plans to force buyers to book orders if they are concerned about business, he said.
“Business is on hold, but January and February are never big months for sweater people,” Gabor said.
Joanne Yellin, vice president of sales for Anna Sui, said most retailers are “optimistically hopeful” about the economy, since no one really knows what to expect.
Buyers will be able to review coverage online of the designer’s runway show after it takes place Wednesday. That should help to pull in a few new stores, Yellin said.
Dresses, especially daytime styles, should continue to be a key, she said. Anna Sui is also counting on decorated T-shirts and jeans to be a major draw.
Jennifer Graham, designer and co-owner of Velvet, a Los Angeles-based label, is also counting on novelty looks to boost show traffic.
This time around, the brand will be serving up T-shirts with screen-printing, hand-stitching, or silk and cotton ribs. There will also be some in a washable suede-looking fabric, wool and rayon blends, and a new group of silk and Lycra spandex blends.
Developing focused groups is key, since stores are concerned about business due to not-so-great Christmas sales and the anticipated economic slowdown, Graham said.
“Stores have become more picky about the number of resources they’re carrying. But they do want to work with the lines they know will sell in their stores,” she said. “We’ve become more focused because every group has to be great. Stores are using the same philosophy, ‘Be precise and very focused.”‘