BUSINESS HOLDING UP

Byline: Katherine Bowers

LOS ANGELES — Spring market here was a litmus test of the industry’s mood — and, by most measures, the junior specialty- and department-store buyers proved they were ready to do business.
Although bombing in Afghanistan began the day before market opened, vendors reported few cancellations and even met with accounts that hadn’t come west in a while. Attendance figures for the market, which ran Oct. 8-10 at the CaliforniaMart, were unavailable at press time.
“Business held up a lot better than I thought it would,” said a relieved Lisa Engelman, president of sales for Paris Blues. Her bookings split 50 percent for spring deliveries and 50 percent for immediates.
Both vendors and buyers praised the almighty spending resilience of the teenage girl. “After three or four months of one thing, they want something totally new. God bless ’em!” quipped Randy Fujiu, national sales manager for Pewter, a new denim line that did well with flag transfer prints on denim.
Still, it wasn’t business exactly as usual. According to Gottschalks’s vice president Scott Manson, corporate policy, as of this market, is for buyers to reserve 25 percent of their open-to-buy for immediate trends. Previously, practice was to set aside less than 10 percent.
“It’s a healthy way to run a business,” Manson said. “We’re in position to take advantage of off-price opportunities, but even there, we’re going to be more picky.”
According to Ersin Akarlilar, president of Mavi America Sportswear Inc., “everyone is trying to be as nimble as possible. More so than ever — write small and then come back to it.”
Laurie Grijalua, merchandise manager for The Boot Barn, an Anaheim, Calif.-based chain, said she was shopping for “margin-building” items, like lower-priced denim.
One executive appeared almost tickled to have made the trip west. “We don’t come out here enough,” enthused J.C. Penney Co. divisional vice president Mark McDevitt at Barbara Fields’s runway trend presentation. “The West Coast, in particular, has phenomenal junior resources.”
Overall, spring’s look is pretty-sexy — as opposed to teen-queen sexy. Vendors dressed up bright color with lace, tuxedo ruffles, satin ribbon and cutesy motifs like fruit and turtles. As part of a continuing nautical trend, new resource Hot Sauce did well with a red-and-navy regatta print, said sales rep James Garvey.
Denim was again huge, with pleated, tulip and asymmetrical skirts emerging as hot items at Bubblegum U.S.A.
Athletic looks continued to exercise influence. Models at the Directives West fashion show strolled the runway in teeny shorts paired with terry-cloth hoodies, or muscle T-shirts and low-slung drawstring pants.
Hot Kiss segmented its line, producing true junior groupings for specialty chains and young-contemporary groupings for department stores (a Prada-like tulip-print blouse with hook-and-eye closure).
“We didn’t want to stay really young. Even in the specialty chain, that customer is growing up,” said president Moshe Tsabag. Denim dresses have been “unbelievable” and he plans to expand the category for November market.
Esprit showed a bright, hot palette of solids in key bodies: zip-front hoodies and contrast johnny collars. According to president Bill Lampl, Esprit’s president, the company is “in line with projections” for spring.
At Byer California, where business has been solid since Sept. 11, national sales manager Julie Miller speculated that the company “might have walked away with a great fourth quarter” if the attacks hadn’t occurred.
Though they are aware more retail dollars will be left open, Byer’s spokesman said the company is not taking inventory risks. “We’re not going to cut 20 percent overbookings,” he said. “We’re not sitting here waiting for the floodgates to open.”

Hit List
Peasant blouses
Printed lace
Athleticwear: mitered muscle T-shirts, zip-front hoodies, T-shirts with oversized numerals.
Pleated skirts: either tennis or walking.
Novelty denim: lace transfers, patriotic detailing, overdyeing, whiskering.