A CATEGORY IN BLOOM
FORGET RUN-OF-THE-MILL RAIN GEAR: THIS SEASON’S SPRING COATS ARE IN FULL FLOWER.

It’s spring, and everything’s coming up coats. From lightweight leathers in fun shades like lime green and powder blue to above-the-knee toppers in multicolored plaids to the classic trench, variety will never be greater than this season. Spring coats have evolved from a rainy-day necessity to a key fashion accessory.
“The topper is better than ever,” said Susan Glick, fashion director at the Chicago Merchandise Mart. “It’s not the navy spring coat that we wore over everything. It now becomes part of what we’re wearing — so if it’s priced right, you’re going to have more than one.”
Why have coats suddenly become a must-have item to pull a wardrobe together? It has to do with the great variety of fabrics and styles available, said Susan McCullough, vice president, Chicago Merchandise Center.
“The lightness of weight and multitude of colorations make coats more appropriate. There’s more variety, both in silhouette and fabric,” said McCullough. “Spring has never been an important season for coats, so when coats as a category really interface with sportswear, that’s something new.”
One of the hottest looks this spring will be the trench, said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s.
“From cotton gabardines to dressier fabrics like taffeta, the idea is coats that can be worn with pants or with a dress,” said Ruttenstein. “We also see plaids resurfacing, starting with the Burberry plaid to the soft plaids by DKNY. And many of the coats this spring have a bright lining.”
In addition to plaid, checks and a distinguished houndstooth will also be hot, said Glick. And in terms of color, black and white will be right on target, as well as lots of oranges, greens and corals. Animal skin patterns and embossed effects will also be strong, Glick said.
“All of these coats this spring have a shirt-lapel feel; the collar is very defined,” Glick said. “I think everybody before was always [into] jackets and didn’t consider their spring coat. Now instead of a jacket, you might be buying a coat in a lightweight, high tech fabric.”
Ann Watson, vice president of fashion merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue, views the new focus on coats as signifying a larger movement toward classic dressing. “It follows ready-to-wear, which has gone more classic,” Watson said. “A trench with a pair of skinny pants underneath [represents] that kind of easy America lifestyle, a la Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. It’s a desire to simplify your style, especially since today’s woman is so multifunctional.”
New York-based bridge line Lafayette 148 saw a huge increase in jacket sales for fall as well as winter. So for spring, the collection will feature an even greater variety of jackets, from novelty to short and long, said Debra Blanchard, vice president of sales for the New York-based company, which is carried in stores like Mark Shale, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
“We really offer a diversified selection when it comes to jackets,” Blanchard said. “because our customer is a professional, and she feels jackets are a pivotal part of her wardrobe.”
Blanchard expects her line’s hottest items this spring will be the two-button leather and one-button peak lapel. She projects selling about 600 units of the leather and 1,500 units of the peak lapel. On average, Lafayette jackets retail from $398 to $798 for leathers. Colors will range from indigo and aquamarine to peony and peach, she said.
Blanchard said the renewed importance of jackets to complete one’s look started last fall and represents the return to “head-to-toe” dressing. “I think the whole casual thing went too far,” she said. “Before, career was dead. Now career is starting to become very important and casual is suffering.”
Designer Linda Richards, whose eponymous line is featured in Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and other specialty stores, noted that classic fabrics like wool gabardine are making comebacks, as well as the clean look that can be easily achieved with the simple trench.
“I think people are tired of the plastics and microfibers,” said Richards, whose line is made entirely of natural fibers and shown in classic colors like white, camel, red and navy. “It seems to me that people want a coat that doesn’t button and is very duster-ish or a trench with a wrapped belt.”
Richards expects her no-closure duster with side slits to be the hottest item this spring and expects to sell about 10,000 units. The coat sold almost 5,000 units last fall.
To transition the coat into sportswear, Richards is featuring matching pants that retail for about $210 to go with the duster and complete the look. The coats start at about $400 retail.
Ultralight leathers in colors like lime green, powder blue and vibrant red will be the main look at the high-end apparel line Vericci, said designer Michael Zeidner.
“We’re trying to create more of a fashion collection for spring that transcends outerwear,” Zeidner said. “These coats are so lightweight you can wear them indoors as well as outdoors.” Zeidner projects that most of the jackets will be within the 19- to 26-inch-long range, and he expects to sell about 1,500 to 2,000 units. The jackets retail from $275 to $600. Vericci can be found in Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
The bottom line on all the variety of coats available this spring can only mean good things for the customer — and retailer. As Glick puts it: “Coats just look better. I remember walking into the coat department and all you could find was a camel reefer. Now you truly can go beyond that.”

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