IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR FANTASY, CARY LOWE CAN GET IT FOR YOU, WHOLESALE.
Byline: Marcy Medina
The holiday-resort market may prove less than hectic for some apparel showrooms, but for Cary Lowe, it’s a time to break out his party clothes and get ready to celebrate a busy week.
Lowe’s namesake showroom has found a niche with after-five, special occasion dressing, a classification that shines during the holiday and resort market.
“This industry can be a crapshoot,” said Lowe. “There’s always a chance you’ll throw a party and no one will come. But I have a feeling August is going to be very good. A lot of retailers who weren’t ready to buy special occasion in June told me they were waiting for August.”
Lowe’s showroom will doubtless see a good portion of that traffic. There are only a handful of multiline showrooms that specialize in after-five dressing, and few reps have been selling for as long as Lowe has.
“I’ve been in the business since 1980,” he said. “But I still feel like a kid.”
His space is nothing if not fun, he said. “We entertain here. I drag dresses across the floor, and I show every dress in the room. Buyers plan on staying two to three hours. They eat me out of house and home,” he laughs. “But I feel fortunate that they come in because I can remember when it wasn’t like that.”
Lowe got his first job in a multiline accessories showroom in the CaliforniaMart, and three years later, he opened his own dress showroom. “I got entrenched in mother of the bride early, and it set my course,” he said. “But nothing happens by accident.”
He now reps 10 lines in his latest space, a three-year-old, 1400-square-foot showroom. “Out of the five showrooms I’ve had in the Mart, this is the best. Everyone has to walk by because it’s right on the corner off the escalator.”
Roberta and L.A. Glo, two lines from a large Los Angeles resource, cover everything from prom to homecoming to winter formals for juniors. Dresses range in price from $45-$99 wholesale and sell at Privelege, Macy’s and bridal and special occasion stores.
“Women may be able to recycle their jeans and sweats, but they have to spend money on prom and weddings. It’s fantasy.” he said. “They want to feel like princesses. They want to glitter and feel like a million dollars.”
Cassandra Stone, priced at $79-$299, is a contemporary/misses’ line sold in Nordstrom, Privilege and Ames, featuring dresses with matching jackets or shawls.
With regard to predicting holiday trends, Lowe said, “When it comes to eveningwear, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. People like the same things every season.”
But he did note that beading and embellishment have been stronger in recent years, and back in full force this season. Most of the dresses in Lowe’s room, whether they are solid or printed, feature contrasting or same-color beading. Styles are primarily one-piece dresses with jackets, as opposed to the two-piece dressing that dominated the market last year. The most popular winter formal colors, according to Lowe, are black, green, red, purple, plum, burgundy and royal.
Daniela, a line of evening and church/Sunday suits embellished with fur trim, featuring colors and treatments priced at $139-$199, sells in Ames and Marshall Russo in Las Vegas.
En Francais, whose signature slinky fabrication comes in updated misses’ jackets, dresses and evening separates for $99-$149, sells in Nordstrom and Drapers.
Ursula of Switzerland, a mother-of-the-bride and special-occasion leader, is priced at $99-175 and sells at Mon Ami and Preview in La Mesa. Styles range from plain georgette and chiffon print dresses to beaded fringe jackets and panel pants.
Damionou, a line Lowe picked up through word of mouth just in time for the August market, features soft, romantic lace dressing in light metallic threads with a Twenties influence. “It was an area we didn’t have,” he said, “and you can’t beat the detail for the price.” Priced at $199-$375, it sells in Drapers and Nordstrom and is popular for second weddings and cruise.
Alex Evenings, a line of separates for $29-79 and dresses for $79-149, is well known among plus-size retailers. (All of Lowe’s lines come in plus sizes.)
Lowe said he’s hands-on with manufacturers and retailers, constantly asking what they want to see, relaying trends he’s seen and giving feedback on everything from price points to design.
Now, he said, “Retailers automatically reserve dollars to come here. There are many specialty stores that don’t go anywhere else.”
At the other end, many manufacturers come to Lowe, finding him often through word of mouth. “The department store business is changing, and it’s very hard to get into a major store now. Manufacturers are getting smarter, and instead of relying on department store business, they want to be in specialty stores, so they come to me to develop the business because in a showroom the exposure is phenomenal.”
A packed schedule of apparel and bridal shows puts Lowe on the road about 50 percent of the time, but his staff of two full-time reps keeps the showroom open almost every day. And a healthy economy has boosted special-occasion buying. “I’ve found customers have inched up to just under $200, whereas before they wouldn’t come near it.”
Lowe expects to make $4 million this year in volume sales, about a 20 percent increase over last year.
Still, consumers still look for ways to get the most out of their dollars. “There are ways to put a multipurpose spin on it in terms of cruise and dinner dressing,” he said.
Two of Lowe’s lines, NR1 and Night Lights, consist mainly of novelty jackets priced at $129-$199. Two-piece dressing offers pants and skirt options, for more casual and versatile wear. LS Collection, a line of slinky, jersey resort-driven pieces, priced at $65-$145 features micro-pleated skirts with jackets and tunics with art-inspired graphics. It’s been in Lowe’s showroom for eight years, making it his oldest line.
“I try to give retailers every reason why a woman is going to buy a dressy dress,” he said. “I tell them that a jacket and shawl can update a basic black dress and how women can create a wardrobe around one garment. But people know what they want. Either it clicks or it doesn’t.”