Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — Spring selling is off to a fast start in the junior market, as shoppers scoop up trendy, warm-weather looks such as halter and backless tops, hippie skirts and short pants.
A spot check of retailers showed that big brands in the junior market, including XOXO and Guess, are still blazing ahead. Smaller and lesser-known brands such as Lip Service and Hot Kiss are also starting to make their mark in this growing field.
At J.C. Penney, the junior category has been gathering steam heading into spring, said Mark McDevitt, divisional merchandise manager for junior sportswear. The 1,150-unit department store chain has focused more attention on this category recently by adding in-store shops for LEI and Byer California brands in some of its larger stores.
“We didn’t have a strong back half of the year in 1999, but sales are picking up,” McDevitt said. “This early in the spring, to get the kind of sell-through we are getting, is encouraging for a good first half.”
Bare-back looks and tube tops are bright spots from labels including Aqua Blues, Energy and Anxiety, according to McDevitt.
“Nylon board shorts have been doing extremely well,” he said.
One area of surprise has been increased sales of more structured looks in the junior department, particularly from Byer California
Charlotte Russe Holdings, the 107-store chain based in San Diego, Calif., that also operates Rampage stores, has seen strentgh in both tops and bottoms, according to Harriet Sustarsic, executive vice president and general merchandise manager.
“Knit tops and woven bottoms have been selling,” she said
Accessories, which have seen strentgh all year, are another top performing category at Charlotte Rousse.
“We have had a very nice sping overall,” she said. “Cold weather on the West Coast has caused a slower start to spring there, but we have seen a good start to spring selling.
“Indian prints, camisole tops and long skirts are doing really well for us,” said Barbara Golaszewski, manager of The Junkman’s Daughter, a specialty chain in Atlanta that carries a large selection of streetwear. “We have had a lot of interest in novelty items.”
Punk-influenced styles such as T-shirts that read “Punk Rock” and heavy-metal inspired looks are also generating sales, she said.
“Shiny and glittery pants, vinyl and glam looks are doing really well for us,” Golaszewski added.
Other hot items include brightly colored pieces and paisley prints, and cargo pants have emerged as a surprise bestseller.
“Our customer is influenced by the trends in music, and they want hip stuff, but they want their own individuality also,” Golaszewski noted. “They don’t want to be a carbon copy of other kids. They want something funky and different.”
Mauro Farinelli, owner of Farinelli’s in Old Town Alexandria, Va., a store that carries junior and contemporary offerings, said “fringe is in.” Backless looks, bright colors, halter tops and dresses are topping the lists of junior shoppers.
“Spring is off to a great start — people are buying early,” Farinelli said.
The best performing lines in the store are Trina Turque, Theory, Chloe, Cynthia Rowley, Westwood and Vivienne Tam. Cropped pants and denim from companies such as Earl Jeans are flying off the shelves, Farinelli said.
Farinelli, who opened his store about 1 1/2 years ago, said he has gotten such a strong response that he plans to sign a lease in downtown Washington to open another store later this year.
At Fusion, a two-store junior chain based in the Astoria section of Queens in New York, pants in varying lengths, including clam-diggers, capris and ankle-length looks have garnered consumer interest, said Tal Kashi, owner.
“The capri pant trend started last year, but it seems to be continuing this year,” Kashi said.
Kashi, along with other retailers, noted that Guess recently has been a standout label at his store.
“Everyone is doing well with Guess,” he said. “In addition, tried-and-true labels such as Paris Blues are selling well.”
Leather, which has made headway recently in the junior arena, has gained momentum and Fusion now offers leather looks from about five resources.
Embellished looks such as an XOXO jacket featuring feather trim is another strong trend at Fusion, and animal prints, which are ubiquitous this season at virtually every price point, are selling well in everything from skirts to swimsuits, Kashi noted.
At Up Against the Wall, a 15-store streetwear and junior chain based in Washington, backless looks are “selling like crazy,” according to fashion director Wendy Red.
“People are jumping into spring,” Red said. “Consumers have money to spend and they are spending it, and higher price points don’t get the same resistance that they used to.”
Best-selling brands at Up Against the Wall have been XOXO, Guess, Hot Kiss, Baby Phat and Sergio Valente. Sales have been so strong that the firm plans to open three new stores this year, Red said.
“We have a lot more multiple sales and more return shoppers,” Red added. “We now see some of the same people three or four times a week.”

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