DEBATE STIRS IN CHICAGO

Byline: Rebecca Kleinman

CHICAGO — The Chicago Apparel Center’s StyleShow turned out to be relatively successful despite every obstacle thrown in its course, including two simultaneous markets in New York and Los Angeles, weather more fitting for April than June and less traffic than the usual notoriously low June attendance.
“Attendance was flat against last year; however, it seemed to be a bigger total-writing show. Several showrooms reported that this was their best June ever,” said Susan McCullough, vice president of leasing for Chicago StyleShow.
Bernice Burg, principal of the eponymous sales firm, agreed that “even with slower traffic, orders seemed bigger.”
“We had really strong reaction to MAG, a new line for us, and Joseph A.’s holiday collection did incredibly too,” she said.
Steven Palay, vice president of Forwear, a New York-based contemporary line with a misses’ fit, represented by Studio Elle, said, “It was my best Chicago market ever.”
At Boe Chmil Associates, a multi-line sales representative, principal Boe Chmil, taking a large order for New York-based Yansi Fugel, said, “Lots of my customers use the bigger shows for an overview, but they come here to write, because they can concentrate in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere without the noise factor.”
Chmil has decided against participating in Chicago’s first semiannual Stylemax show at the Merchandise Mart in October, though he supports the effort. Reporting that it will benefit the city’s fashion community as a whole, he predicts it will only enhance StyleShow.
In January, Merchandise Mart Properties announced plans to launch Stylemax, a new semiannual women’s and children’s trade show at the Chicago Merchandise Mart. The four-day event will begin Oct. 14, featuring spring merchandise. The second installment will follow with a fall 2001 show in March 2001.
Organizers expect it to include about 500 firms representing some 3,000 lines, ranging from moderate to bridge sportswear and dresses to junior and special occasion. Stylemax will have a temporary booth format in an exhibition area of the Chicago Merchandise Mart, a facility across the street from the Apparel Center, which is also owned by MMP. The space has been used for other trade shows, including the successful Menswear Collective, which has grown from 50 to 500 booths in the past six years. There will be about 200,000 square feet of exhibition space at the venue.
The mart will continue to house the three smaller markets each year and twice-a-year bridal shows.
Whether or not to join Stylemax continues to be a much-heated debate about the need for it and about where representatives should exhibit. After signing a three-year lease, one frustrated tenant couldn’t understand why the apparel center doesn’t issue shorter leases for StyleShow showrooms if Stylemax promises to be so big.
“If everyone else goes, then we’ll have no choice but to follow,” said the tenant, requesting anonymity. “I’d rather not keep this showroom vacant, though.”
Steven Levine, principal of Steven Levine & Co., said he’ll definitely participate in Stylemax for its fall and spring presentations but will show the remaining three out of five annual markets at the apparel center.
“But I’m not happy that it’s going to cost me around $8,000 for another showroom,” he said.
Steven Bair, principal of Statements, also plans to participate in both events. Among his reasons, he cited heavy promotion and greater resources for the new show, as well as less time spent on the road.
“If they can bring enough stores here that I can save two road trips a year, then it’s worth it,” he said.
Retailers report they’ll attend Stylemax, but mostly to support favorite local sales representatives.
“Unlike at the New York shows, Chicago reps know my store and market,” said Mari Morsch, owner of Three Sisters boutique in Lake Forest, Ill. “They’re honorable for not trying to talk me into things that won’t sell here.”
As for buying trends, most retailers focused on fall fill-ins while just touching on holiday. Though some resort collections also were available, few buyers were willing to risk ordering so far out.
“It’s a buy-now, wear-now mentality,” said Cindy Lee, principal of Cindy Lee & Associates. “Retailers, especially Midwesterners with the lingering winters, are worried about flipping their floors too early. They want to buy as close to season as possible.”
But in the same breath, she added that retail has never been better, nor fashion as fun. Novelty and color ruled once again. Important trends were tie-dyed and color-blocked knits, Burberry plaids, sequins, bold prints, colored leather and suede, and embossed leather in snake, crocodile and ostrich skins.
With so many trends, buyers reported having a hard time deciding what to buy.
“How special something is gives the customer more of a reason to buy it,” said Faye Coppin-Rock, owner of Fhay’s 1 boutique in Mequon, Wis. “But now everything’s special and gorgeous. We need to keep on our toes more than ever.”
Located in an affluent area, her store hasn’t felt the effects of recent economic dips, including the state’s high gas prices. Coppin-Rock’s open-to-buy increased 10 percent from last June, which she divided among fill-ins, holiday and petites for a new, nearby boutique, Fhay’s 2.
Filling in lines like Yansi Fugel, Margaret O’Leary, White + Warren and Alex Evenings, she searched for colorful separates with lots of novelty that weren’t too youthful, widespread or over-the-top.
“My customer is an updated baby boomer,” she said. “She interprets trends in a sophisticated manner without being a victim.”
For holiday, Coppin-Rock stayed away from “millennium” fabrics with glitter, metallic or crinkled detail and moved forward with dressier looks again.
Since so many of her customers entertain at home, Morsch opted for dressy separates such as cashmere halters paired with long skirts, iridescent stretch taffeta wrap blouses and velvet fitted straight-leg or boot-leg pants. She also filled in lines including Rayure-Paris, Jane Doe, White + Warren, Three Dots and Weston Wear.
Describing fall’s look as ladylike, preppy, sophisticated and pretty, Morsch bought white blouses, suits, colored and embossed leather and gold jewelry, especially hoop earrings.
Lorraine Block, owner of Michelle’s boutique in Highland Park, Ill., also didn’t go for dressy holiday looks. Instead, she added a little glitz through sportswear lines, such as Joseph A.’s sequined sweaters. Although Block listed cropped pants, colored leather and twin-sets as other important items, she said none compared to novelty T-shirts by Three Dots, Custo, On Your Back and Charlotte Tarantola.
“I must sell thousands of them,” she added. “Paired with some cropped pants, you can go anywhere now,” she said.

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