Byline: Holly Haber

So, maybe last New Year’s Eve wasn’t the big night to end all big nights, after all. Retailers and manufacturers of eveningwear say they are confident that holiday business in 2000 will better even the stellar millennium-driven gains of last year.
A night out drinking, dining and dancing is still something that women dress for, and plenty of parties and inaugural bashes are expected to fuel double-digit gains in social occasion dressing. But the big ballgown of last year will be superceded by glamorous evening separates such as leather bustiers, wrap blouses and beaded pants, along with embellished cocktail dresses, brocade suits and slinky, sexy gowns with open backs.
Vivid colors in the orange-red and fuchsia families, as well as gold, have caught buyers’ eyes — so has scattered beading or paillette embellishment and the mixing or layering of luxurious fabrics such as satin, charmeuse, shantung, chiffon, organza, velvet, open knits and lace.
“The millennium was a moment in time, but we don’t feel we captured all the volume we could have last year, so we feel comfortable with an aggressive posture this year,” said Mary Tucker, divisional merchandise manager for ready-to-wear for NM Direct, the catalog and electronic commerce division of Neiman Marcus Group. For evening, Tucker is investing in beaded and lace separates, vivid red, purple and fuchsia hues, and alluring fabrics.
Neiman Marcus stores also plan to out-party their millennium business, which racked up double-digit gains in eveningwear. The inspiration: celebrating “The Good Life.”
“We are opening a store in Palm Beach in November and that is my theme throughout eveningwear and couture — clothing for cruises and visits to second and third homes,” said Ginny Hershey, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of couture, evening and bridal. Separates, cocktail dresses and suits will be the emphasis at Neiman’s, along with soft dresses that have movement and flounce.
“There are a lot of sexy but feminine shapes with bare shoulders and a lot of color, especially blues and turquoise,” said Gerald Barnes, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for Galleria dresses, suits and St. John. “There is still interest in texture and layers of prints and a lot of geometric looks. I also see continued interest in the dance length that stands out from the body a little bit.”
At Carolina Herrera, the hottest item for resort is the shirtdress, according to William Hamilton, vice president of sales development. Bookings are double the same period last year, he noted.
“We’ve had great success with the cotton poplin daytime dress worn as a chemise or belted, and the cocktail version in silk shantung gives the same versatility. Every account bought both these styles.” Slim fitting silk crepe and chiffon halter gowns also have been popular, Hamilton added.
John Maguire, eveningwear buyer at Tootsies, is investing in items like beaded evening pants, embellished sweaters and lace dresses. “Last year they bought a lot of glamorous gowns, and this year they won’t need that, so we’re buying more for entertaining at home,” he suggested. “Last year, we added 18 percent in this category, and this year I’m planning it up 10 percent.”
Badgley Mischka reported holiday bookings are ahead 30 percent. “I think evening is back,” said Murphy Lewis, vice president and director of sales and marketing at Badgley Mischka. “People are positive about the millennium and where we will go. They want color and beads and playful styles and to be feminine — I do too.”
The company has booked a lot of cocktail dresses and gowns scattered with crystals, embroidery and paillettes in melon, pink and fuchsia hues. Asymmetric hemlines, halter tops and lace pants have been strong. “We launched a new line of evening separates with Saks exclusively and they are blowing out of it because it’s of the moment,” Lewis noted. “It’s where things are going right now.”
Bookings at ABS are raging ahead at more than twice the volume of last year, according to Craig Falk, vice president of eveningwear. Orange and magenta have been draws for top sellers like peau de soie gowns, two-piece pants ensembles with rhinestone and godet trim, Seventies-inspired blouses with ties and wraps, leather and suede items as well as brocade suits.

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