THE PARTY ROLLS ALONG

Byline: Leonard McCants

NEW YORK — With an eye toward millennium-year weddings and the fall election season, which bring with them hundreds of celebratory parties, retailers continued picking up key looks from resources during the second round of fall buying at two recent hotel trade shows.
Retailers and resources attending the shows reported strong demand for constructed suits and jackets, as well as dresses and items in unusual fall colors.
“The customers are my guide, and they are looking for a change,” said Susan Schwartz, owner of Sophy Curson, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., boutique. “Change from anything that’s in their closet or that they’ve had before.”
This season, Schwartz said, she is searching for color in bold and more subdued tones. In addition, suits and other easy-to-wear looks are high on her list since she’s continuing to notice her customers’ time is at a premium.
“I’ve got people who have little time to shop and who don’t have time to special order,” Schwartz said. “They want to walk into a specialty shop and walk out.”
Vendors at two ready-to-wear hotel shows in Manhattan last week offered retailers another chance to pick up fall looks shown during the first fall presentation in February. Resources also presented transitional clothing for later delivery.
The shows, American International Designers at The Waldorf-Astoria and Designers at the Essex House, which generally ran April 8-13, counted 16 labels at the Waldorf and 17 labels at the Essex for fall II collections.
With a strong social occasion business, Michael Casey, designer and owner of an eponymous label based in San Francisco, said he is poised to take on any demand for millennium weddings or the forthcoming election parties. His offerings for fall have grown to 80 looks, and he continues to gain inspiration from the Art Nouveau painter Gustav Klimt.
“Using Klimt as a starting palette point has been so great,” Casey said. “You see elements of Klimt in art today. It’s something very classic, antique and modern at the same time.”
Some of his best-selling items were a Klimt-inspired copper and mulberry dress with a beaded velvet and silk bodice, a moss tafetta back-pleated skirt with Solstiss lace and velvet appliqued bodice, and suits.
Firm results from this season’s sales will not be known for several weeks, Casey said, but he predicted numbers should be on track to beat last year’s figures.
For the principals of San Carlin, a Denham Springs, La.-based eveningwear vendor, the fall II show is where they present their transitional collection, which moves toward resort.
This season, buyers responded to the demand for gowns with sleeves to cover the upper arm, said Carla Jumonville, who owns San Carlin along with Linda Ward-Dalton.
“We did a whole lot of sleeves,” Jumonville said. “Even the younger girls in very good shape want them. You can cut a dress down to their belly button but you’ve got to cover that part of the arm.”
Important looks included an iridescent taffeta gown with French lace trim, a black crepe dress with sequins and fox fur cuffs, and a gossamer gold jacquard dress with a lace jacket. She said this collection’s business had been on target to last year in terms of both traffic from buyers and orders placed.
As one of the organizers of the Waldorf shows, Jumonville said the resources reported that they were content with traffic from retailers and the commitment to placing orders.
One of those resources looking to expand their business is Craig Signer. Initially a men’s wear designer, Signer branched into women’s apparel six years ago.
“He was here [at the Waldorf show] two years and didn’t do much with it,” said Valerie James, sales director for Craig Signer. “Now, they are ready to build the brand. He’s grown and evolved and he has a better sense of the market.”
She said the New York label made its return in February and in this edition reported three times as many appointments.
“Traffic has been excellent,” she said.
Buyers have been responding to the line’s ivory leather jacket with crystal beaded pants, a steel leather suit and a black georgette ruffle-trimmed skirt with a beaded tank.
Another newcomer, Monique Lhuillier, is branching out from bridal with her first season of eveningwear.
“The traffic has been slow, but the same as last season,” said Tom Bugbee, the company’s chief executive officer and Lhuillier’s husband. “We’ve gotten good reaction from buyers. Even if we don’t sell, it’s nice to be seen by the stores.”
Most of the interest has come to the line’s bias-cut gowns with low-cut backs, Lhuillier said.
Further uptown, Essex House vendors mostly reported the same strong season.
Barry Bly, president of Toronto-based Marisa Minicucci, said business has been good for fall II, where the firm usually rounds out fall business by picking up the retailers who missed the fall I presentation.
Key looks, he said, included a mohair sleeveless top with fur trim, a lambskin and shearling skirt and a baby alpaca coat with a funnel collar.
At Sansappelle, a Chicago social occasion resource, traffic and response to the label has been good this season, reported president and owner Ina Sherman.
“People are in the market to buy and they left paper,” she said.
Key looks for the season include a plum wool crepe top-stitched suit, a brown beaded chiffon gown with a train, and a beaded tulle cardigan with a brown four-ply silk dress.
The fall II show was not as positive for Carlo Goetschel, president of Algo, a Zurich-based resource now in its third year.
“I don’t know if this is really worthwhile,” he said. “The traffic has dripped but not flowed. If I touch enough clients in fall I and spring then I will drop fall II, looking at it as I do now. I’ve only seen half the clients I saw last year.”
Those buyers who did come looked to Algo’s suits, especially in lighter colors, Goetschel said. Some of the top sellers were a light blue and gray double-faced cashmere jacket, leather jackets with fur trims in red and blue, and reversible double-tweed coats.
Despite reports like Goetschel’s that business had been slow, Linda Heister, vice president of Mark Heister, a Chicago-based resource and an organizer of Designers at the Essex House, said the majority of resources had reported a good season.
“Overall, I think people are positive about the results of their stay,” Heister said. “The number of buyers was up and many were in the mood to buy.”
For her label, Heister said, this season was a good one.
“We’ve made a bingo of almost all of the six pieces we’ve brought in for fall II,” she said. “The reaction has been very good.”
She said some of the Chicago-based label’s more important looks were an olive beaded lace T-shirt with a bias-cut skirt, a silk taffeta demi-belted jacket with a silk bias-cut skirt and a melon and chartreuse front-slit bias tunic paired with a side-slit skirt.
In terms of sales, she said the label will be on track with their predictions.