SO LONG SOMBER, HERE COMES COLOR
Byline: Scott Malone / Kristi Ellis
LAS VEGAS — Bye-bye, black blouse — and take black dress, black pants and black sweater with you. And your gray buddies.
It might be overstating the case to say black has been banished, but buyers at WWDMAGIC said they were primarily on the hunt for anything colorful or with surface interest, as consumers are ready for a change after years of darkness.
Fashion highlights included animal prints on everything from fake suede to denim, backless halter and camisole tops, novelty T-shirts and abstract prints.
While the event is conceived as a fall market, many vendors and retailers said most of the action was on spring fill-in merchandise and summer goods; some exhibitors brought only a smattering of fall goods.
WWDMAGIC ended its four-day run at the Sands Expo and Convention Center Feb. 17. The show ran concurrently with three other events, the MAGIC International men’s wear show, MAGIC Kids and The Edge, a women’s and men’s streetwear event.
The four shows combined drew about 91,000 visitors, including buyers and industry representatives, according to organizers.
About 1,100 companies exhibited at WWDMAGIC this year, about the same as the last time around, the organizers said. However, the women’s event increased its space by 24,900 square feet to occupy 203,500 square feet at the Sands.
Buyers from regional chains and specialty stores working the show said they were trying to get a sense of what trends were likely to be important for fall, but looking more closely at spring and summer merchandise.
Roseanne Cumella, general merchandise manager at The Doneger Group, a retail buying agency based in New York, said there was one clear trend at the show — “Color, color, color.”
“That, to me, is the biggest message across the board in every category,” Cumella said. “The stores are very happy about it; they’re loving it, and it looks terrific.
She said the current enthusiasm for color was not limited to any part of the spectrum, but pretty much extended to everything that wasn’t black or gray.
“The occasion business looks terrific, and that was driven by color,” she said. “Long separates looked great, as well.”
Cumella added, “The whole skin story is very strong for transition, as well as paisleys. In fact, the whole pattern story is very important. Florals and geometrics, as well as embellishments, were also very strong. We’ve been so clean for so long, that the visual excitement of embellishment is long overdue.”
She said early tests at retail of more colorful spring looks showed an “overwhelming” interest from consumers. Cumella added that stretch was key across all segments, as were sheer fabrics and georgettes.”
Cumella added that “casual dressing looks particularly good again,” and capri and slim-leg pants were drawing interest.
Christian Toth, owner of Off the Wall, an eight-store chain based in Vancouver, said, “Bright colors are definitely happening. Prints are starting to go as well. Also, sheer looks are catching on.”
Executives from Charlotte Russe Holding Inc., based in San Diego, Calif., operator of 84 Charlotte Russe stores and 23 Rampage stores, were reviewing trends and plans and picking up fill-ins.
Harriet Sustarsic, executive vice president and general merchandising manager, said the growth of the chain had resulted in a much larger open-to-buy. She concurred that one of the most important trends was color, ranging from naturals to bright orange, pink, turquoise and yellow.
Missoni-inspired knit patterns, paisleys, dots and patchwork prints, solid and colorblock crochets and natural and bright skin prints were all key trends that Sustarsic has already placed in her stores and is watching closely.
Backless tops have been key and are still predominant, as are UltraSuede and real suede, and light and dark studded denim and frayed denim, she said.
“The whole influence is feminine and pretty, and that is what we are keying into,” Sustarsic said. “That is the strongest message going forward.”
Lita Sohn, general merchandise manager of soft lines for Nexcom, a 115-store chain with units at Navy bases around the world, said she came to the show looking for new ideas in juniors and basics.
“A lot of the street looks are pretty strong,” she said, noting she was interested in clothes made of luxury fabrics, which have been performing well for her lately.
On the bottoms front, she said she noticed a definite trend to “more cleaned-up looks,” though silhouettes like flares and cargo pants are still in fashion.
Sohn said the career suit business appeared to be picking up again in the moderate market, a trend she called refreshing after the heavy market emphasis on casual sportswear of recent years.
“We like to see the categories balanced,” she said.
One unconventional idea she put forward was a desire to trim the amount of stretch product in her stores’ assortments.
“We’ve had a lot of it, but we don’t think the customer understood it,” she said.
Jan Jones, owner of a 2,000-square-foot store named Charisma in Eureka Springs, Ark., said she was “not a brand shopper.” In her small, resort Victorian town, she has to offer unusual, fun items that her customers can’t find in a department store.
Her volume has doubled over last year’s and she was armed with a bigger budget at the show. Jones was looking for unusual items in every category, including plus sizes, and said clothing was “dressier” this year.
“I’ve started to gallery my clothes — I have less of one brand and more unique items,” she said. “I don’t want to be too trendy, but I want something fashionable and exciting.”
Rita Amiot, owner of The Squire Shop in Grafton, N.D., was at the show to buy spring after an unusually warm winter in her area forced her to slash her prices on outerwear and sweaters.
“I had to clear out merchandise and take a beating,” Amiot said.
The agricultural economy has also been suppressed, which has kept her sales on a level even with last year’s.
She was on the prowl for “beautiful fabrics, subtle embellishments and nicely cut silhouettes” in the moderate-to-better misses’ category. Amiot shopped her mainstays at the show, including Susan Bristol. Other top performers at her store are French Dressing, Woolrich and Huxley & White.
The show was billed as a fall market, but vendors in all categories noted a lot of demand for immediate goods, a symptom of the ongoing trend of stores buying closer to season.
In fact, Markham Industries Inc., the Vernon, Calif., company that produces the young contemporary Jonathan Martin label, didn’t even bring much fall merchandise to the show, according to marketing director Tina Aldatz.
She said the company was mainly showing spring and summer, with some prefall offerings.
“One of the things we’ve been asked about a lot is immediate deliveries. We’ve written orders for immediate business,” she said, adding that the bulk of the merchandise the company was selling at the show was slated for April 30 and May 30 deliveries.
Gary Bader, president of the junior jeans resource Bongo, based in New York, noted retailers were buying much closer to need.
He said most buyers at the show were looking for “four, six, eight-week turns, while historically, they would have been happy with 14 weeks.”
But whatever they were showing, exhibitors said business was on an upswing, driven by new products and a strong fashion cycle.
Hot Kiss, which launched a denim division at WWDMAGIC, had one of its best shows ever, according to Moshe Tsabag, president of the company, who said his company might do $1 million in sales at the event.
Tsabag said he was focused on his new Hot Kiss Jeans venture, which he expects to pull in $10 million the first year. He announced at the show that he had hired Alex Bajrech, former fashion director for Wet Seal/Contempo Casuals, as creative director and vice president of merchandising, as well as Steven Kale, formerly vice president of sales at Bongo Jeans, as account executive for denim.
“Our image will stay the same, but it will be reinforced by denim,” Tsabag said.
Hot Kiss did well with 13 3/4-ounce and 10-ounce stretch denim, 8-ounce snake-print denim, 8-ounce coated stretch denim and 10-ounce iridescent denim.
In sportswear, ethnic prints, bright animal prints and Polynesian prints were strong. Bare-shoulder tops and flair pants were also key.
One Clothing, which launched its new licensed Bugle Boy line under the B-heart-B label, also had a strong show, according to Ace Ross, president.
Ross said he had a lot of exposure on the B-heart-B label, which will be distributed to retailers in June.
Among the bestsellers in the One Clothing line were Indian prints; popcorn lace spaghetti-strap tops; camisoles; ruffled skirts; pleather halter tops and miniskirts, and polkadot handkerchief tops in a cotton and poplin blend; capris, and stretch bengaline bottoms with patchwork designs at the bottom.
In the moderate to better categories, Ashro, an ethnic sportswear firm based in Downers Grove, Ill., drummed up business with its Indian, African and European prints on linens and silks, according to Ramila Khatau, a partner in the company.
Khatau said the company generates about $800,000 in orders on average from the show, and she expected to hit that this time around.
Hand-painted designs on silk organza and linens and cotton were strong for spring. For fall, the company’s embroidered and hand-painted leather outerwear did well.
Beverly Rose, a moderate-to-better company, showed four labels: Beverly Rose, Vaho, Cruzoes and Animale.
The company did well with abstract watercolor prints and two-piece dressing under the Beverly Rose label, said Ajit Datwani, president. Blouses and sweaters were the two strongest categories in the Animale division.
Datwani said his bookings were up 30 percent at this show compared with last year.
In the jeans area, the buzz was focused on cleaned-up silhouettes enhanced by new washes, finishes and treatments.
“What’s moving is a lot of shine and glitter,” said Lisa Engelman, national sales manager at Paris Blues of New York. “Dark denim is still happening, but there’s more out there.”
Paris Blues was showing glitter-treated jeans in black and blue, in a basic five-pocket jeans. The company also showed a variety of prints, including zebra.
Bongo also placed emphasis on washes and treatments, showing jeans rinsed in a copper solution, which provided a rustier take on the dirty-denim look, according to Bader.
But while interest had shifted away from cluttered cuts, Bader noted that “everyone is still into the very cool hip-hugger looks,” as well as flares in 21 to 27 inches.
At LEI, senior account executive Peter Caminiti also noted a shift to simpler cuts.
“Basics are big,” he said. “Basics rule the jeans business now.”
On the second-to-last day of the event, the show organizers gave awards to the best-designed booths in each category.
The winners were: MGM Consumer Products, which showed its Pink Panther line in the junior area; Blanc Noir in young contemporary; Sorel-Kaufman Footwear in better-contemporary; Mistral Distribution in moderate; Totem in resort; Hobo International for accessories; Killing the Romantic in junior accessories, and MarketMax Inc. in services.
And as full as most buyers’ and exhibitors’ plates were during the day, many took time out to attend a slew of industry parties in the evening. At the first-night kickoff party, hosted by MAGIC International, rocker Melissa Etheridge entertained a large crowd.
Baby Phat, the junior business of Phat Farm jeans, hosted an event that night at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel. Later that evening, Levi Strauss & Co. held another event, also at the Hard Rock, to show off its Engineered Jeans.
Lucky Brand Dungarees hosted an event, also at the Joint, the second night of the show and the rock band Sugar Ray performed.