Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — Buyers and exhibitors at AmericasMart’s fall market here said they hadn’t seen such heightened activity since the boom days of the Eighties.
Buyers placed strong fall orders for items with color, animal prints, leather, pleather, suede and “fun” fashion looks. Contemporary sportswear, in updated, novelty looks that help set specialty stores apart from department stores, performed well.
Animal prints, from python to pony, were pervasive. Fabrics generated interest with texture, patterns and high-tech treatments. Color was also well received, even by traditionally neutral-palette stores, who said customers were ready for a change from all the gray of recent seasons.
Cropped pants transitioned into fall, in boot-cut flood pants. Novelty tops ran the gamut from fitted T-shirts and tanks to chunky cable-knit sweaters and sweater coats. Anticipating a fall comeback, buyers bought suitings and updated jackets. Embellishment, in everything from beading and fringe to cutouts and stitching, offered added value to the product array, said retailers.
Peg Canter, general manager of AmericasMart Apparel, attributed the upbeat mood not only to a 2.5 percent attendance increase, but to substantial orders, out-of-territory retailers and strong trend direction in the market.
“This was our best market in seven years,” she said. “Retail is strong. Buyers came with money to spend and left big orders.”
She added that marketing efforts to outside territories had paid off in increased attendance from Midwest buyers. Saturday night parties, on each floor of the building, have also boosted business, she said. The women’s, children’s and accessories show ran March 30-April 3 at AmericasMart Apparel.
Exhibitors in contemporary, traditional, children’s and accessories were pleased with business. Guy Bailey, principal of Those Guys, a multiline traditional sportswear sales firm, reported that sales were $100,000 over his previous best Atlanta market.
David Byrne, a multiline better sportswear sales rep, reported sales increases of at least 20 percent, based in part on substantial orders from top accounts, he said.
Fabric-driven trends, such as texture and pattern, along with new suede, ostrich, leather and distressed pleather, were the focus for Tina Hart, co-owner of Luna, a Columbia, S.C., specialty store with additional units in Charleston, S.C., and Atlanta. She bought leather with whipstitching, cutouts or patchwork from Laundry, BCBG Max Azria, Work Order, Emma Black and Poleci.
She also placed orders for fall flood pants by Theory and Trina Turk, topped with cabled, chunky funnelneck sweaters and sweater shirts by Ago & Filo, French Connection and Teenflo. To develop a new outerwear category, Hart bought plush and suede coats by View, fur-trimmed wool coats by BCBG, embossed leather coats by Cynthia Rowley and sweater coats by Teenflo, Nanette Lepore and Urban Outfitters.
Eyeing a suit comeback, Hart said she bought “Charlie’s Angels” retro suitings with short jackets by Theory and French Connection, and detachable tie-front blouses from BCBG, Laundry and Poleci. Hart shopped for contemporary and young designer looks to take her stores from juniors to a more contemporary focus.
Contemporary and updated casual lines were also key for Mansour’s, a LaGrange, Ga.-based specialty department store with four Georgia locations. Luke Mansour, general merchandise manager, said he was pleased with fall offerings, especially the preponderance of color and good contemporary design.
“Contemporary is now reaching secondary markets in the South, outside of major cities,” Mansour said.
For the contemporary customer, Mansour bought casual sportswear from Karen Kane, Sigrid Olsen and Liz Claiborne. Generally, he bought seasonless fabrics and unique tops with neck interest.
Projecting a revival of career sportswear, a soft area last year, Mansour bought Garfield & Marks and Burns for the bridge customer, and traditional looks by Alfred Dunner and Koret. Jackets in updated silhouettes are also resurging, he said. Special sizes are a growth area, despite a lack of resources, said Mansour.
With an open-to-buy up around 4 percent for comp stores, Mansour also shopped for a new Augusta, Ga., store, scheduled to open this August. Overall, Mansour’s spring business is up 8 percent, with better sportswear up 11 percent for February through April.
A strong economy and low unemployment have meant good business for Sullivan’s, an 11,000-square-foot specialty store in Franklin, Ky. Larry Dixon, owner, said he bought casual sportswear, juniors, accessories and suitings, all growing areas, shopping for an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic looks.
Challenged by unpredictable and unseasonable weather recently, Dixon shopped for year-round fabrics and transitional lines. Dixon bought Canadian and European lines, for good quality and detail, he said. He added Teenflo, which bowed in Atlanta this market, to strong performers Olsen and Desentino. He also bought pants by J’Envie Sport, sweaters by Michael Simon and sportswear by Sigrid Olsen, in regular and special sizes.
To distinguish itself from department and discount stores, Sullivan’s is adding more high-end goods, said Dixon. For suitings, a projected fall growth area, he bought versatile dresses with coats and a variety of jacket silhouettes, often with detachable features. He predicted strong customer response to animal prints and color.
For juniors, a fast growing area, he bought To the Max, Cheap Thrills and Buffalo jeans. Along with many other buyers, Dixon cited a void in day and church dresses, although customer demand is still high in the Bible Belt South. He also noted a lack of plus sizes for younger customers, which are also in demand.
Ellen Bartlett, owner of She’s the One, with stores in Coral Springs and Plantation, Fla., shopped for good transition sportswear for late summer and fall, concentrating on California lines that work well in a warm climate. She bought breathable fabrics such as microfibers, denim and lightweight sweaters.
She opted for basic bottoms and cropped pants from & Trousers, Cambio Jeans, Votre Nom and Krazy Larry, along with a wide range of tops. In T-shirts, a strong category, she bought around 30 lines, including printed, funky designs by Michael Stars, Wayne Rogers, Hanky Panky and Head Over Heels.
She also ordered sweaters from Von Saken and Angelica Val and party dresses from a range of vendors in all price points, citing Casadei as particularly good for fall. Bartlett had trouble finding good day dresses and updated tops with a generous fit.
“I’m looking for good, exciting things for summer that will transition well into fall,” she said. “In Florida, business starts slowing in May.”