Byline: Scott Malone

NEW YORK — So long as the allowances keep coming and nothing happens to Britney, it seems there’s nothing to worry about.
While sales of fashion jeans dropped off along with most apparel categories immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, executives said they quickly popped back up, though not quite as high as they had been. They attribute that to the typical preoccupation of teens with their own lives and pop-culture interests, which makes them less easily unnerved by world events.
“I remember being a kid,” said Dick Gilbert, president of New York-based Mudd Inc. “I wasn’t paying much attention. I couldn’t tell you what went on between 1955 and 1960. I never read the paper, and I didn’t listen to anything but Dick Clark’s ‘American W25 reports.
“I look at my sell-throughs and I see action. I see the same action I saw before the problem,” said Lloyd Singer, president of ABS by Allen B. Schwartz. “If they are offering the customer something that she doesn’t own and has to have — and that seems to be fashion — she’ll buy it. My fashion pieces are the things that are selling through and the not-as-special items are slow.”
Singer said ABS is emphasizing its offerings of embellished jeans, “From pins to jewelry — all kinds of different things on the denim. It’s not only about the wash.”
Michael Silver, president of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Silver Jeans, said since the attacks, he has found it easier to persuade retailers to take a chance on edgier fashion looks, which he believes are more likely to catch the eye of junior shoppers.
“We made it a mandate to hit the road at the end of August,” Silver said. “We sensed that people were getting ready for more fashion at that time, but there was uncertainty. People were definitely interested, but they weren’t committing.”
Following the Sept. 11 incidents, Silver went on another round of sales calls and found “a sense of urgency, a need to get the newness in.”
One of the first fashion shifts he’s noticed is a readiness among his more mainstream retail customers to take on lower rises — his most popular rise has dropped to eight inches from nine.
“Low-rise cuts are a significant issue in our business and have been so for almost a year, in terms of pushing downward,” he said. “But all of a sudden, what seemed to be way too low is not too low anymore.”
Silver said he is backing away from basic styles, which have performed below expectation since the attacks.
But while he takes an edgier position on fashion, Silver said his company is becoming more conservative financially, in light of economic uncertainties.
“This really makes everybody pull up their socks,” he said. “You have to be a good operator now. You have to be quick, you have to be value-oriented, you have to read the market. You have to not set your goals too lofty. Those are the things that internally a lot of smart companies are doing. They’re resetting their sights, budgeting less and hoping for more.”
Bob Arnot, chairman and chief executive officer of I.C. Isaacs & Co., New York, which produces the Marithe & Francois Girbaud jeans line in the U.S., acknowledged that business had slowed slightly following the attacks.
“Our sell-throughs have been good — not great, but not far off plan,” he said.
He agreed that providing fashion newness is even more critical during tough times.
“A lot of this is just plain out of our control. One of the reasons we’re selling as well as we are is we’ve got fashion,” he said. “There is at least a reason for a consumer to make an impulse purchase on a fashion item. On a basic, you can wait. I guess on fashion you could wait, too, but at least there is an extra reason to make someone motivated to get something new.”
Like many of his colleagues, Arnot said at this point he doesn’t see a lot that vendors can do to influence holiday shopping, but his company is planning for a harder marketing punch in the spring.
“We’re doing a new shoot in November, but that hasn’t been finalized,” he said.
Ron Gelfuso, executive vice president of Mavi America Sportswear Inc., based in New York, noted that his company had completed its fall marketing plan — its first television campaign — prior to Sept. 11. At this point, he is hoping that panic doesn’t prompt a holiday markdown war.
“Holiday will hold if we don’t get a rush of retailers to the promotional cycle,” he said. “That is going to be the big factor. If somebody starts a stampede, then it’s going to be very difficult to have a real positive ending after Christmas.”
At Gloria Vanderbilt Apparel Corp., which this spring launched the Glo junior line, president Jack Gross said he’s looking beyond the holiday season and thinking more about driving traffic next spring.
“There is going to be a lot of pent-up demand in spending,” Gross said. “Christmas doesn’t just go away. For two weeks in September, people basically didn’t shop much, but that doesn’t mean they won’t give presents this year. Traffic is going to be there for the holiday season. It’s the first quarter we’re focused on.”
In an effort to make sure shoppers keep coming out through the winter, his company is developing a number of promotional strategies with retailers, including “Gloria Vanderbilt weeks,” during which shoppers will receive gifts-with-purchase for spending a certain amount on Gloria Vanderbilt items or buying across multiple product categories.
“We’ll give them a tote bag or a watch,” he said. “Something that has value.”