Byline: Shirliey Fung

NEW YORK — Buyers at this week’s Fashion Coterie trade show may have been seeking a wide range of silhouettes, but one thing was certain: they wanted whatever it was they were looking for in lots of bright colors.
Store owners like Susan Collini, proprietor of Susan’s Secrets, a 1,200-square-foot boutique in Shavertown, Pa., said she was looking to get her cues for the season’s hot trends from favorite vendors such as ABS by Allen Schwartz, A.K.A. and MAG, but was also on the lookout for dressy and casual items in anything with bright color, “to get away from the gray,” she explained.
Collini said that her three-year-old business hit a lull in spring and summer selling, but said that sales were up for fall. Her open-to-buy was up 25 percent from last year.
Collini was one of 8,500 buyers, 500 more than last year, checking out the wares of 682 vendors, an increase of 32 exhibitors over last year’s event. The contemporary and designer trade show, produced by ENK International, ended its three-day run Wednesday at the Show Piers on the Hudson in New York.
Susan Coker, owner of a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based 1,200-square-foot boutique called Dina Porter, said her customers were looking for wrinkle-free items with lots of color.
“I have a lot of customers who are doing more traveling than ever since they or their spouse have retired,” Coker said. “They’re looking for great wrinkle-free travel knit, and I’m on a mission to find clothes that won’t wrinkle in the [humid, Southern] heat.”
Coker was spending her 10 to 15 percent of increased buying budget at vendors such as Linda Lunstrom Ltd. and Worlds Apart, where she purchased a baby blue rayon dress for $39 wholesale and cotton terry drawstring pants and tops in lime and fuchsia for $20 each.
“I’m tired of earth tones. My customers are tired of them,” she said, explaining her colorful purchases. She added that only 20 percent of her store merchandise would be in earth tones.
Donna Wesselman, owner of Bella Donna, a 2,000-square-foot, better-to-bridge boutique in Cincinnati, said she liked the bright colors she saw at Olsen Collection and Lafayette 148.
“We’re seeing a lot of kiwis and citruses,” she said. “We do much better [when we buy items] with color. Even though we’re in Ohio, we have a Southern attitude when it comes to color.”
Being from the South, Kaye Davis, fashion director of the Atlanta Apparel Mart, showed that she too had a decidedly Southern attitude toward color. She was not at the Coterie to buy specific items, but to find new design talent to introduce to retailers in her region.
David said she liked the bright patterns and solids she saw at first-time exhibitor Jack Mulqueen.
“He’s right on as far as color and style. I like the bright rich colors, especially the reds,” she said about his silk blouses. “His pieces can add color to the suiting that’s out there.”
Leather in softer skins and colors will continue to be a hot item for spring and summer, buyers said.
David Lazar, vice president of Searle, the four-store, Upper East Side Manhattan operation Searle, said, “Our leather and suede business is amazing. It’s one of our strongest areas. It will be for spring and summer, as well.”
Lazar’s open-to-buy was up 20 percent mainly because the store will be trading up in price points.
He was also in the market for sophisticated knits with little or no embellishment.
“The knits at [Italian resource] Avon Celli look amazing,” he said, adding that he also liked the ones he saw at Acrobat.
Like most of his compatriots, Lazar was upbeat about color.
“Black seems to be the slowest seller in a city inundated with black,” he said. “I will sometimes pass on an item that is only offered in black.”
But even as some buyers are looking for cleaner lines on clothing, the embellishment torch is being passed to the accessories category.
Catherine Abdalla, owner of Brother’s, a 9,500-square-foot store in Lafayette, La., liked the striped and dotted straw bags from Annabel Ingall that sold for $80 and $95, respectively.
“It’s basically a question of what not to buy,” said Abdalla about the fuchsia, orange and pink straw purses. “My open-to-buy for handbags is up 10 percent. They’re so novel and interesting. People are tired of wearing basic black and brown.”
The show’s international bent was the story that emerged alongside color. Coterie has become increasingly global since it made its debut in 1986. This year, international vendor attendance increased 3 percent over last year’s fall show. Close to 25 percent of the designers showing are now from outside the U.S., with the bulk of that number hailing from Europe. Even more foreign manufacturers would like to exhibit, but space is an issue.
“We’re at capacity,” said Elyse Kroll, executive director and founder of ENK. “We can’t accept anymore international companies at this time, but we do know that there is more interest.”
Renato Nucci, the president of the Women’s Ready-to-Wear French Foundation, who was also an exhibitor, said the strong dollar is one of two reasons for the increase of French vendor interest. The second is that “once the penetration of the European market is completed, you have to find a new market,” he said. “The American market is very difficult, but very big when you arrive.”
This year, 45 French vendors exhibited and 27 Italian manufacturers were on hand.
While the numbers were similar to last year’s (42 for the French and 29 for the Italians), the Europeans are now occupying bigger booth spaces at the event and the waiting lists of vendors who want to show has grown for both countries.
Buyers are responding positively to the European influx.
Carolyn and Jay Wagenseller, owners of Carjay’s Boutique in Coral Gables, Fla., bought a crocodile print, ruche-front stretch shirt that was $33 at price and the matching $48 charmeuse skirt from French vendor Follies Paris at Hotline Showroom.
“The perception of a French label has a value to it. I can’t describe it. It’s an essence that’s French. The material has quality,” Wagenseller said. “If you have two of the same shirts and one has a French label, our customer will take that one. There is perceived value and actual value.”

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