NOVELTY, PARED-DOWN LINES ON TAP

Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — Vendors are heading to the upcoming Fashion Coterie show in hopes of spurring some recovery in the apparel market, which like many other sectors has suffered a host of problems since the attacks of Sept. 11.
Coterie, produced by ENK International, was postponed from late September and has moved from its home at the Show Piers on the Hudson River to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Oct. 29-31. ENK’s new shoe show, called Sole Commerce, will be held concurrently with Coterie in the same location.
This edition of Coterie primarily showcases spring and summer styles and will feature about 700 vendors, including many international companies who are still planning to travel from Europe, said ENK’s executive producer, Elyse Kroll.
“We held our Kids’ show last week, and the traffic level was a lot higher than we had thought it would be,” Kroll said. “Stores need to keep their merchandise fresh, and fashion lives and dies by the season.”
However, some vendors have dropped out of Coterie and many exhibitors said they expect to see a smaller number of stores shopping the show, especially in light of the recent anthrax incidents in New York. Companies said they have altered their projections based on this revised forecast.
A number of vendors said they have already seen cancellations for fall and holiday merchandise and have pared down their line for spring to focus on key items rather than an entire collection.
“Every time something new hits the news, you don’t know how it’s going to affect business,” said designer Nanette Lepore.
Although companies said they are cautious, many are trying to remain positive heading into the spring wholesale season and are looking to attract retailers with more novelty and special items.
“Everyone is being cautious,” said Karen Ericksen, co-owner of Showroom Seven, which represents several firms exhibiting at the Coterie. “But the patriotic thing is for people to go out and go shopping now. And companies are trying to be normal and go forward with their business.”
Many firms said they are serving up more novelty this season, including brighter colors, to attract business, while others said they are taking a more subdued approach and have altered their color palette to feature more somber hues.
Barbara Benenson Warren, co-owner and creative director of White & Warren, said her company is zeroing in on a few key trends for spring.
The sweater coat continues to be important, she said, and White & Warren is offering it in lighter-weight fabrics, such as cotton, and a cotton and acrylic blend that resembles denim.
“We also feel strongly about feminine details,” she said. “And we have started for the first time offering cut-and-sewn lace T-shirts. Our belief is that customers are less interested in basics. They want to be wowed. Our job is to make sure we give people a reason to buy.”
Warren said her four-year-old firm has received a few cancellations and is also being “more careful” with expenses, reflecting the current economic difficulties. Nonetheless, the company has expanded into new categories recently, including bottoms and T-shirts, which Warren described as a “huge growth category.”
“We have gone from being a knit and sweater company to offering an entire head-to-toe look,” she added.
Rem Garson, the leather and suede company, is also branching out. The firm for the first time is offering knits under the Rem Garson label, which are dyed to match its leather and suede offerings. Sweater styles include chunky knits, as well as fine-gauge yarns with sequins.
“People always asked us for sweaters to go with our other items,” said Dana Nadison, vice president of sales at Rem Garson. “Overall, we are really focused on being more item driven.”
Among Rem Garson’s other looks for spring are crinkle suede, as well as suede and leather in a variety of colors, including lavender, off-white, teal, brown, blue and olive. Jeffrey Grubb, designer director at Fashion Active Laboratory, a division of Attune, is focusing on more performance fabrics for spring.
“We have been pushing a category we call fashion active, which includes products that are performance oriented,” he said.
For spring, some of its products are made of “technosuede,” which is a manmade fiber that feels like suede and is lightweight and is meant to be worn year-round. Other fabrics include a fine cashmere that feels like a cotton T-shirt, Grubb said.
At Tibi, a fast-growing contemporary company, bright colors and novelty pieces are key elements for spring, said Amy Smilovic, designer and co-owner.
“We have focused the line and pared it down,” she said. “Anything that had a more somber tone we tossed out of the line. We have kept the collection light-hearted. I was afraid that stores would go more basic, but people are looking for novelty and special pieces. Stores are looking for things that will physically make customers happy to be in their stores.”
Among Tibi’s looks for spring are peasant skirts and a fabric called Bohemian lace, which Smilovic described as a “gauzy Italian fabric.”
“We have focused on more whimsical looks and things that are sexy and pretty at the same time,” she said.
Sherbet colors can be found in many new offerings. Also on tap are postcard prints, including one featuring a map of New York City, that has already seen “extremely strong” bookings, she noted.
Lepore said in part she was grateful for Coterie’s delay because it gave her time to rework and refine some things on her line.
“Also, it may be better that the show is close to the season, since that is how many people buy now,” she said.
Lepore said she is focusing on more toned-down colors for spring because “everything bright looked really wrong after Sept. 11.”
Lepore is reintroducing some rayon prints, and dresses continue to be a key focus.
For resort, styles that have been booking well include novelty pieces and Victorian looks, she said, adding, “Also, we are selling more coordinated looks.”

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