Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio / Georgia Lee, Atlanta

NEW YORK — It may be a contradiction, but hippie chic has been the real deal.
From Saks to Sears, hippie chic — a throwback to a time when it was cool to be unchic — has turned out to be a bonanza. But it could wind up like the Sixties and Seventies society from which it came: Some stores think saturation and boredom will kill the trend for fall.
Embracing such styles as fringe skirts and beaded tops, hippie chic is predominantly attracting the young contemporary and junior customer, but the more traditional woman is also buying in, although to a lesser degree.
“Whether consumers bought the clothes or not, it is adding a lot of excitement to the stores,” said David Wolfe, creative director at The Doneger Group. “It’s not about plain black clothes.”
That’s why some stores are only too happy to keep stocking up on fringe and the like.
“As long as people are buying it, we need to run with it,” said Colleen Sherin, fashion director for sportswear at Saks Fifth Avenue, adding that the styles have done well in the young designer and contemporary area.
Sherin said the exotic styles are faring better than what she calls “girlie” looks. Bestsellers include python leather pants from such resources as Paige Novak, ABS by Allen Schwartz and Betty Page. Colorful T-shirts from Custo Barcelona are getting a good reaction, as well as suede leather pants from Josephine Locca and Rona’s Heart’s scarf tops and camisoles made from vintage handkerchiefs.
The styles appeal to a “sexy, body-conscious” woman in her mid-20s to mid-30s, Sherin said.
Stephanie Greenfield, owner of Scoop, a contemporary specialty retailer with five stores, prefers to call it “bohemian chic.” Scoop has done well with asymmetric skirts from Fake London and vintage scarf prints and dresses from Keita, a Japanese resource.
“People are over triangle skirts,” Greenfield said. “The movement is now into asymmetrical. It needs to look clean and modern.”
However, for fall, Scoop is buying a more sophisticated look and is stocking suits from Michael Kors, Theory and Katayone Adeli.
At Sears, bohemian styles are translating well in the junior and misses’ departments, according to a spokeswoman.
“We are making statements in both areas,” she said.
In misses’, the Crossroads and Apostrophe labels are getting good response from customers. In Sears’s junior department, private labels are chasing after the look.
Across the board, decorated knit tops and embroidered denim, as well as deep greens and reds, are doing well, the Sears spokeswoman said.
At Lord & Taylor, the hippie chic trend in apparel worked best with younger customers, an increasingly important target group for the store.
Color, embellishment and embroidery have performed better than extreme beading and fringe, according to Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president of fashion merchandising.
Novelty tops have been early bestsellers, including halters and crocheted, fringed and beaded styles. Bare tops have been unusually strong for early spring and should pick up as the weather warms up, Olexa noted.
Boosted by more color, the trend should continue to build through summer. Best-selling resources have been Tommy Jeans, CK, Polo Jeans and DKNY.
While apparel has been restricted to a younger customer, hippie-inspired accessories have appealed to all age groups, with a range of embellished shoes, bags and jewelry attracting a broader customer base, Olexa added.
At Macy’s West, elements of the trend have been stronger than the trend as a whole, according to Rob Smith, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for juniors.
Crocheted looks and jeans jackets have been strong across the board, while beading and embroidery have filtered down mostly to moderate areas, he said. Bell-sleeve tops, peasant blouses and heavily embellished pants have not done well. Necessary Objects has been a strong better-priced junior resource, while Jalate sold well in moderate junior areas.
After emphasizing the trend for holiday, resort and early spring, Macy’s is pulling back now, said Smith.
“The trend worked well for very young, preteen customers and for a contemporary woman,” he said.
At Jacobson’s, the trend has been strongest for younger customers, said Beverly Rice, senior vice president for fashion merchandising. Embellished bottoms have done well for early spring and should continue into fall in more subtle interpretations. Decorative printed T-shirts with Eastern and Oriental motifs have also sold well.
“To juniors, who didn’t live through the trend the first time around and who are open to experimentation, it looked new and fresh,” said Rice, who added that California resources such as ABS and XOXO had interpreted the look more successfully than New York manufacturers. She cited Tempesta as a strong seller.
Rice said fashion had entered a cycle of color and embellishment, as a natural reaction to the minimalism of the Nineties.
But while younger customers readily embraced hippie chic, retro trends generally don’t resonate as well with older customers.
“It’s lamentable that designers hark back to past decades so much, when fashion is evolutionary and should move forward,” she said, adding that the hippie chic trend would be short-lived, replaced for fall by a return to feminine, classic clothing and luxury fabrics.
Hippie chic has been strong for all age groups at A Nose for Clothes, a Miami better, bridge and contemporary store with nine locations. Freda Greenbaum, owner, bought extensively for fall-holiday and into early spring, featuring the look prominently in company mailers and newsletters.
Customers age 35 to 55, a core target group for the chain, responded to the trend, particularly in looks with the right fit for that customer. Greenbaum cited William B’s fringed and tapestry skirts and Bella Dahl’s silk embellished denim jeans as strong resources.
“Older customers will respond to trends — they love them — if they can find anything with the right fit,” she said. “Manufacturers are shortsighted in targeting trends only to small-sized women.”
Embellished bottoms have been the number-one category, followed by novelty tops. Embroidery, laser-cut fabrics, fringe and tie-dyed patterns should be important for summer.
“We’re pulling back after early summer,” she said. “Customers are starting to ask, ‘Do I really need any more of that?’ It’s pretty much over.”
Greenbaum said that in recent seasons, manufacturers had flooded the market with one look, such as hippie chic, or animal prints for fall, and were losing customers by not offering enough options.
“There’s too much focus on one direction,” she said. “The woman that’s really spending money on fashion doesn’t want to be told that that’s the only thing to buy.”