MUCH DEBATE ABOUT JANUARY

Byline: Wendy Hessen / Marc Karimzadeh

NEW YORK — Still reeling from a mediocre holiday season, accessories makers were in the doldrums as they made their way through trade shows and showrooms during the summer market, which ran Jan. 8-12.
Beside concerns about the pace of business, there was plenty of frustration with what stores said was a lack of newness. In a category that’s been lauded in recent seasons for providing a steady stream of fresh options, that was particularly disappointing for some.
Though stopping short of conceding that traffic and buying was slow, Elyse Kroll, executive director of ENK International, producers of the Accessorie Circuit, which was held at Piers 92 and 94 from Jan. 7-9, said, “We’ve been hearing and reading so much gloom for a month [about holiday business],” which, she said, “can very quickly become a self-fulfilling prophesy.”
“You’re suddenly uneasy,” Kroll said. “I don’t think there is panic, but everyone is exercising caution.”
“I feel it was a repetition of the previous shows [in August],” said Sandra Wilson, fashion director for accessories at Neiman Marcus. “The strength seems to be in some new additions to the handbag market. The weakest part was the jewelry area, which didn’t have direction. Overall, there was much of the same.”
Cheryl Holland, vice president of merchandising at Ashford.com, also said she was expecting more innovation across all areas of accessories this market, but instead, she said, “There were a lot of the same ideas in November.”
For the most part, vendors agreed.
Cynthia O’Connor, president of the accessories and apparel showroom Cynthia O’Connor & Co., said, “The customers were there, but many said there was not a trend going on, especially in jewelry.”
“It was a strange market with a lot of people freaking out about a recession, the President and the stock market,” said Allyn Fried, owner of the showroom Allyn & Co.
Fried felt that even though the January market was not as strong as August, overall sales were up from January 2000.
Still, there were items that attracted buyers’ attention:
Black and White: Although color continues to play a significant role across all classifications, black and white has returned as the main palette, including strands of pearls and zebra-print bracelets, sophisticated spectator looks and psychedelic mod handbags.
Fabric mixes: Mixed blocks of leather with canvas or straw for a graphic, clean look.
Preppy Chic: Bermuda bags with wooden or acrylic handles, and ribbon belts and bracelets.
Vintage: Whimsical floral and animal motifs to more graphic, Sixties-inspired looks.
Straw: The summer favorite continues, with more sophisticated finishes and colors.
Belts: Long considered to be on the verge of a comeback, as long as it’s about novelty rather than basics. Includes metallic chains, narrow stretch leathers and wide leathers with chunky, embellished buckles.
Whether it surfaced because business was a bit off or it’s been awhile since there has been any discussion on the matter, there was talk once again of the merits of November versus January markets and the timing of the two major trade shows.
Many feel now is the time to shift the January shows to November, which currently has no trade fairs, while others feel the January market could be eliminated altogether.
Right now, there are five markets: January is generally listed as a summer market, March is for transition and early fall, May is the dominant fall market, August is holiday-resort and November is for spring. But with each product category’s varied production schedules and stores’ individual needs, many vendors are frequently selling three seasons at once: immediate, the current season and the season beyond that.
The Accessories Council, in collaboration with the National Fashion Accessories Association, sets the accessories market dates each year. Sheila Block, executive director of the Council, said the group conducted a survey of industry executives about a year ago and asked them to rank their favorite and least favorite markets, and also to indicate how many markets were appropriate.
“Across the board, January was the least favorite market, and four was the preferred number,” said Block.
“I think November might be an opportunity for the designers to show after coming back from Europe,” said Neiman’s Wilson. “The January market seems to be after the fact.”
“Accessories should follow the trend of ready-to-wear,” said Karen Erickson, co-owner of Showroom Seven. “January is too late for spring when you know that you open for fall on Feb. 1.”
Erickson would prefer the main spring market to be in November to give buyers a chance to do the bulk of their accessories shopping locally before heading to Europe.
“And specialty stores will come in November anyway because they are in town to buy ready-to-wear,” she said.
Designer-manufacturer Franco Franchi said, “We basically had the same collection in January as we did in November,” adding that November gives retailers more flexibility in deliveries and style assortments. “Also, I don’t think spring commitments should have anything to do with sales in December.”
Roy Kean, owner of the handbag showroom Accessories That Matter, pointed out that while showrooms continue to be busier during market weeks, in recent years the buying patterns of many stores have changed and there is more showroom traffic throughout the year. He felt that an earlier market and show schedule would force boutiques to rethink their buying. He said this would help speed up production and give retailers a chance for earlier deliveries.
ENK’s Kroll was upbeat about the prospect of shifting dates.
“I believe in change and I would welcome a shakeup if it will help buyers’ schedules,” she said. “I will also consult my participants to see if they believe it will work. This has come up for us before. Maybe now is the time to make a change.”
Among those seriously on the side of maintaining the current schedule are cold weather accessories makers.
“January is a critical market for cold weather,” said Harlan Kent, senior vice president of Totes. “While I can see the other’s perspectives, because of the dynamics in cold weather and the variability of the weather, we don’t have a good read on how the season has progressed until December.
“We get a lot of commitments in December, but everything is firmed up in the first week in January. Letting January market slip will have a dramatic effect on shipping performance, and our ability to keep prices in line.”
Yvette Fry, owner of the showroom of the same name, said: “I think [a November show] would be a disaster for small stores, because they have to wait until they finish the fourth quarter before they make their budgets.”
She added that even if the shows were moved, accessories can be ordered so close to the season that many retailers don’t feel pressure to spend their money before January.
Michael Horowitz, president and chief executive officer of Judith Jack, agreed that putting the focus on the November market would be problematic for specialty stores who wouldn’t be able to commit before their holiday season was completed.
“Most of them are individual stores, and are cash-flow oriented,” he said. “They want to see how sales are. As somebody who sells to these stores, my concern is that we will not get the buying [earlier].”
Britton Jones, president and ceo of Business Journals, producers of Accessories The Show — which took place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, also from Jan. 7-9 — said that although he could see the point of some in the industry who want to adjust the schedule, the company views January as a key period.
“When we bought the show and prepared for our first edition in January 1998, people kept telling us that January market was for markdown money, but each year it has gotten stronger,” Jones said. “We are very committed to keeping a show in January because of that. We would maybe consider adding a show in November, after talking to our participants to see if they felt it was worth it.”

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