Byline: Eric Wilson / Leonard McCants

NEW YORK — The coat market is finally happy about heating up.
After a rough few years of stalled sales and touchy inventory problems, mostly set off by record-breaking warm winters, outerwear vendors are reporting strong fall bookings with expectations of a solid retail season.
A spot check of vendors last week showed they are pinning their hopes on the strength of the leather category, plus fashion trends from the runways that put lightweight trenchcoats at the top of fall’s must-have lists.
Donald Levy, president of The Levy Group, said its licensed Liz Claiborne division has had its best bookings in leather, wool and down-filled styles.
“Fall bookings have been fabulous, particularly with updated casual styles,” Levy said.
In its proprietary Braetan division, a juniors line, bookings have also been strong in down and wool styles, as have fake leather jackets.
At Herman Kay Bromley, which makes licensed lines for Anne Klein, Anne Klein 2 and Albert Nipon, plus outerwear under Jason Cole and Bromley labels, bookings are also strong with sleek, updated styles, said Richard and Barry Kay, co-presidents.
“The Anne Klein 2 launch has been phenomenal, with one of the shining stars being leather,” said Barry Kay.
Lean looks with architectural lines, flat-seam details, high armholes and concealed closures, as well as animal skins embossed to look like ostrich, lizard or Anaconda snakes, have been strong styles, added Younghee Hahm, designer. A whip-stitch style from Anne Klein 2 will be part of the brand’s national ad campaign.
Wools have been the strongest category for the higher-priced Anne Klein line, with luxury fibers and real fur trims leading bookings. In the Albert Nipon line, cashmere full-length coats with lean silhouettes are strong, while in Jason Cole, a contemporary line, shorter wool coats with zippers and hoods have led the pack.
Jeanette Nostra, president of G-III Apparel Group, a leather specialist, was also confident that leather’s importance in recent seasons would help fall sales.
“Across all our divisions, we are continuing to book fitted, zip-front silhouettes that are close to the body,” Nostra said. “There’s actually some early indications that zip jackets with tie-belts and women’s walking coats are going to be very strong.”
From a fashion point of view, G-III’s top silhouette is the trenchcoat, in python, metallic fabric, woven or leather, Nostra said.
“It’s trench, trench, trench,” she said. “Many of the fall fashion books will be featuring leather trenchcoats as the must-have look.”
Bridge designer George Simonton also picked up a few sales through coats he added to his suit line. Top bookers have included storm coats and a vested bib style, as well as novelty raincoats.
Ronald Gallo, executive vice president of Rose Cloak & Suit Co., which holds the license for Bill Blass coats, said, “Our fall bookings are much more ahead than what we originally planned,” representing an increase of 25 percent over projections.
Bestselling looks for the 60-piece fall collection include an albino cashmere three-quarter-length coat and a camel double-breasted style with a mink collar.
“Color is definitely a bigger part of this year,” he said, “and stores are really driving to get new color in.”
Ellen Tracy Leathers reported strong response to color as well, especially in shades of green, red and brown, said Donna Bonetti, sales director, noting its projections are up 30 percent over last year. The line is a licensed division of the Winlit Group.
Important items include a 40-inch trenchcoat in loden green with a crocodile stamp, a three-quarter-length, kimono-style blazer in burgundy and a 52-inch, slim-cut blazer with zigzig stitch detailing.
The Amerex Group is reporting a strong selling season in most of its outerwear divisions, said Ira Ganger, president, noting bookings overall are 20 percent better than last year.
Within the CS Signature women’s arena, key looks include microfiber in lizard and snake prints, and nylon outerwear pieces that are reversible into sweatshirt material.
Fake suede and polyester-filled jackets are top bookers at its Jones New York line, especially fake suede reversing to fake fur.
“Mudd has really taken off,” Ganger added, referring to a new licensed division. “The strength of Mudd is that they are putting it in the junior sportswear department not in the coat department.”
Popular styles within that division include snakeskin prints, motocross styles and jackets with acrylic lamb lining.
Trenchcoats are the key item at Harve Benard, especially in lightweight fabrics and in deeper shades like green and black, according to Morty Holtzman, executive vice president of sales.
“This season everyone seems to be buying a trench,” he said. “Our bookings are up about 50 percent at this point, but will even out at 30 percent.”
Other popular styles included slightly fitted coats with flared silhouettes in camel hair, cashmere and alpaca and wool blends.