JUNIORS: HOT SPRING

Byline: Kristi Ellis

LOS ANGELES — They came to shake off the ghost of spring and summer past and unearth new items to reignite the junior business.
Treating shorts and surf-related items like a bad case of swimmer’s ear, top-level retail management and buying teams found alternatives and homed in on flood pants, denim, fleece, sexy Eighties-inspired styles, touches of glitzy glam, vintage rock ‘n’ roll and screen-printed T-shirts at the four-day junior and contemporary spring 2001 market here, which ended Friday.
Despite the oversaturation of board shorts and T-shirts this past spring and summer, retailers were optimistic about the future and capitalized on the momentum from an uptick in business in the past couple of months.
“We are in a pedal-pusher, flood pant, denim cycle and the key here is low-rise,” said Sandy Potter, a partner in the Directives West buying office, which held the main fashion show on Tuesday morning, featuring more than 150 designers.
The roster of attendees at the Directives West fashion show read like a “Who’s Who” of major retailers across the country. It drew approximately 700 buyers, top executives and industry representatives, from such stores as Burdines, Rich’s, Bloomingdale’s, The Bon Marche, Charming Shoppes Inc., Carson Pirie Scott, J.C. Penney Co., Sears, Roebuck & Co, Parisian’s, Liberty House, SteinMart, and Macy’s East and West, among others.
The Barbara Fields Buying Office also held a fashion show on Tuesday morning, which drew about 200 retailers.
Potter said that two of the strongest spring trends in the junior market are denim and screen-printed T-shirts emblazoned with astrological signs and logos.
“The biggest single category is denim,” she said. “There is a lot of newness including frayed edges and belts, and that is driving business.”
Active bottoms in fleece and cotton nylon are also strong front-runners for spring.
Femininity also has its place. Potter pointed to pretty florals, skirts, blouses, bare slipdresses, high-low hems and ruffles.
Retailers had a two-pronged mission while in town. Their primary goal was to preview and place reorders and early spring orders. Second, they visited some West Coast retailers to study assortments and fashion trends.
“Business started out slow this spring and summer but September was fabulous,” said Linda S. Shaps, director of product development and trend direction for Charming Shoppes, a chain of 1,200 stores that operates stores under such names as Fashion Bug, Catherine’s and Modern Woman.
“Juniors was our best business in September and we are really excited about next spring,” she added.
Shaps was joined by a team of buyers representing juniors, misses’ and plus-size categories.
“We are taking an aggressive approach with our spring plans,” she said.
The most important issue is an array of color, which will be the “driving force,” according to Shaps. She said that the company is also banking on prints, ranging from geometrics and dots to stripes and Chevron prints.
The majority of the chain’s junior business is private label but the store does carry two outside brands: LEI and Mudd.
“Denim is definitely a force in our business,” she said. “We see continued newness in colored denim as well as in khakis and twills, which will all be important for spring.”
She added that alternative lengths in pants “will be a key message for spring.”
One of the biggest questions is whether or not animal prints will continue.
“As a fashion direction, I think it is playing itself out,” Shaps said, adding that the stores will only carry colored python prints.
Shaps and her buying teams also visited the Glendale Galleria to pick up ideas from West Coast stores.
“There is definitely a difference between assortments on the East Coast and West Coast,” she said. “The whole printed skirt business is much bigger here, as is two-piece career dressing.”
“A lot of what we see here reinforces what we want to do and how to execute spring,” she added.
Bill Bigler, vice president and fashion director at Macy’s West, said that buyers for juniors, contemporary, dresses and children’s wear were prowling the market to review, reorder and place additional orders for spring.
“Casualization has turned around,” he proclaimed. “A lot of people who didn’t care how they looked last year are returning to refinement and dressing up.”
Macy’s West, which operates 86 stores, will capitalize on the changing trends and focus on tailored suits, separates and career dressing for spring, Bigler said.
Another important element is leather, which “has been incredible in all classifications of the business including men’s, women’s and children’s,” Bigler pointed out.
He noted that the junior business has been “very good” and will be driven by short shorts, miniskirts and bare knit tops.
“A new interpretation of animal prints” will also be important, he said, observing that “pure animal” is waning.
Pucci-inspired prints and bold graphics are also key elements of the business.
It’s more or less an idea-scouting trip for Liz Sweney, president of the women’s division for Penney’s 1,046 stores across the country. Her buying teams for juniors, misses’, special sizes and casual-career came to look at new resources, visit existing vendors and shop stores in Los Angeles, she said.
“We went to shops in Santa Monica and on Melrose to get some fashion direction,” she said.
At the CaliforniaMart, retail attendance soared over last year.
“We didn’t expect it to be as busy as it actually was,” said a CaliforniaMart spokeswoman.
Attendance on the first day of the show doubled over last year, she said, although she would not divulge. The attendance figures for the full four-day show weren’t available at press time.
The Mart also sold out its temporary space, primarily to junior manufacturers, on the 10th, 11th and 13th floors.
At the New Mart, approximately 20 percent of the lines are junior oriented, said Ethan Eller, general manager of the property.
“Our building doesn’t get the full effect of the traffic because we have a reputation of being primarily a contemporary resource destination,” he said. “We don’t promote this market heavily because the bulk of our tenants don’t participate.”
Nonetheless, the New Mart drew its share of traffic. The spring market gave some junior manufacturers who had chased the surf business the chance to show retailers a new direction.
Blanc Noir was forced to dump board shorts after they tanked at retail, according to F.G. Gozashti, founder and principal.
“This was one of the more challenging springs in the last several years but back-to-school looks strong,” said Gozashti.
He noted that he had anticipated a 25 percent increase in the third quarter over last year, but business remained flat.
“You have to be very careful with your bottoms programs,” said Gozashti. “You can’t go out and show board shorts and Hawaiian prints, which is why we are focusing more on our casual shorts.”
Gozashti said that the BNCI moderate price line will account for the majority of business at the market here.
“We have to land a majority of our flagship programs here with the majors who are just previewing at this show,” he said.
He said he’s getting behind street/casual shorts in cotton nylon, knit tops and shorts, “attitude-related” fleece jogging jackets and floods.
XOXO has wrapped its name around the sexy and feminine styles that are driving business today.
Its licensed denim division, XOXO Jeans, generated a significant portion of the business at the show.
“One new direction that is emerging in denim is the low-rise profile with a 2 1/2 to 3-inch waist band,” said Moses Strathern, a sales rep. Among the most prominent details are zippers and pin tucks.
Strathern said that dark denim with white stitching, coated denim and 9 3/4-ounce crosshatch denim are key.
Denim skirts, either asymmetrical or cut on the bias, are standouts, along with wide-leg pants with cuffs, he added.
The denim collection for spring covers a wide range of related separates tied into specific influences such as Eighties’ glitz and status prints, the flashy days of Seventies’ disco and Las Vegas kitsch.
Among the key nondenim items in the line are frayed denim bottoms and skirts, muted tie-dye T-shirts, Hermes- and Pucci-inspired prints, jaguar and leopard prints and varsity logo sweaters in metallic glitter, according to Strathern.
“We are booking whimsical T-shirts such as a bronze bulldog head with a rhinestone collar on a muscle shirt or dollar signs in gold with little pearl studs,” said Strathern.
The Fashion Industries Guild capped off on Saturday with its 44th annual Man of the Year award dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
In addition to honoring this year’s recipient, Milo Revah, co-owner of JNCO, there was a special tribute to past honorees including Maurice Marciano, co-chairman and co-chief executive officer of Guess Inc.; Robert Margolis, ceo of Cherokee Inc.; Jay Kester, president of Harkham Industries; Maurice “Corky” Newman, former ceo of Sirena Apparel Group; Steve Maiman, owner of Great Escape; Gregg Fiene, ceo of Lola Inc., the maker of XOXO; Larry Hansel, ceo of Rampage; Dorothy Schoelen, designer of Platinum by Dorothy Schoelen; Marcia Israel, a founder of Judy’s retail chain; Karen and Lonnie Kane, co-owners of Karen Kane, and Barry Sacks, a founder of Chorus Line Corp.
Proceeds from the event will complete the expansion of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

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