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LOS ANGELES — If you bead it, they will come — at least that’s what retailers attending the renamed Los Angeles Majors Market servicing both the junior and contemporary categories are banking on this spring.

At a time when merchants have come off a so-so back-to-school selling season, and face an uncertain future with the expiration of quotas by the end of the year, they recognize the need for extra pizzazz to woo the ever-important teen dollar.

And while junior companies keep reinventing themselves to satisfy retailers’ demands, the name of the junior game is still how fast they can deliver product to market, a key concern with recent backups at West Coast ports.

“We have it under control as of today,” said Allen Questrom, chairman and chief executive officer of J.C. Penney & Co., regarding issues relating to the port congestion and quotas. “We’ve really tried to anticipate problems, though, with the end of quotas, things could change, of course.”

Michael Neel, divisional merchandise manager for juniors and teens at Filene’s, said his company is taking things on a “case-by-case basis.”

“If it’s a hot item, we’ll wait for it, but if it’s not and it’s going to take a month to receive it, we may have to cancel orders,” he said.

For most retailers, those hot items were anything bejeweled, sequined, embroidered or otherwise embellished as seen both at the Directives West fashion show and the Barbara Fields Buying Office trend presentation. Buyers said they would be putting their money where the girly detail is, whether it was on the lace-back sweater from Charlotte Tarantola, the embroidered halter from Single or the layered scarf skirt by Walter.

“The customer is really reacting to specialness,” said Arlene Goldstein, vice president of trend merchandising for ready-to-wear for Saks Department Store Group. “And the brooch really heralded the return of adornment.”

Goldstein, who said her motto is “choose extraordinary over ordinary,” was on the hunt for anything unique and feminine.

Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises, a business segment of Saks Inc., said earlier this month that it plans to close eight Saks Fifth Avenue stores and three Off Fifth stores — five of which are located in California. Despite the announcement, Goldstein said that it didn’t affect her division, which oversees 241 department stores including Proffitt’s, Parisian and Carson Pirie Scott, and that the company remains “very bullish” about business.

This story first appeared in the October 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Buying agent Roy Robinson from Glendale, Calif., said he sensed that retailers were “still cautious in how they are planning [their orders],” but that the most noticeable trend in buying behavior was the emphasis on originality and construction over value.

“Everyone has upgraded — from Federated to PacSun,” he said. “It’s about quality, not price.”

As a result, junior firms were eager to feed the hunger for better product with new concepts.

Higher-end denim was the ticket at Hot Kiss and Swat Fame’s Speechless brand, as denim makers have sought to fill every niche in the price spectrum.

The denim offering from Hot Kiss is 2Kiss, featuring 15 styles from cuffed capris to lightweight, creased trousers made fancier with details, such as an embroidered waistband, red pocket lining, a red label and signature pocket embroidery in a K.

It will wholesale from $24 to $27.50, with retail price points hitting $69 to $89, said ceo and founder Moshe Tsabag. With plans to double the output in November, Tsabag said 2Kiss can pull in $10 million to $15 million in first-year wholesale volume.

The cocktail party he hosted Monday evening attracted buyers from Gadzooks, Filene’s and its parent company, May Company Department Stores Inc. — a good sales indication.

“The response has been strong because retailers are looking for that denim jean that’s under $100,” he said, noting Rampage picked up 2Kiss.

See Thru Soul by Speechless is another line of better denim aimed at $69 to $89 retail that has amassed strong sell-throughs since its June deliveries to Nordstrom, Dillard’s, Von Maur and Rampage, according to president Mitchell Quaranta. Made in China, the line is subject to strict quality control, he said.

“With denim, it’s all about the fit, and we’ve received shipments that our designer didn’t like and we sent them back,” he said. “We’re really trying to make a contemporary jean here, so we have to act accordingly.”

Seizing on the soft dressing trend were two new lines: Ultra Pink, with its seersucker blazers, oxford shirts with ribboned plackets, men’s wear slacks, rounded collar shirts and eyelet camisoles with bows, and Lily’s, a line of young contemporary dresses and sportswear featuring pastel Pucci-esque print full skirts, prairie skirts, Empire-waist dresses and delicate silk habotai camisoles with pintucks and beading.

“We’re trying to be the Alvin Valley, the Theory, the Tark 1 of the juniors world,” said Joel Presser, president of Ultra Pink, which in the last decade focused on private label manufacturing after a strong ride as a juniors label in the Eighties. “We’re back because the market is telling us that it wants good product and is willing to pay for it.”

Better offerings at the show included detailed cardigans, junior suiting, full skirts and playful preppy looks such as tennis dresses and mini argyle sweaters. Vintage was still a key trend for buyers, who planned to blow it out for spring.

‘We’re still going with feminine looks and brooches, shrunken jackets and the whole vintage look,” said Millie Vargas, junior separates buyer for Dillard’s. “Bohemian is also big, and we loved the gauchos.”

But a few retailers, such as Knoxville,Tenn.-based Goody’s Family Clothing, were holding back on buying heavily adorned pieces.

“Our store is pretty Middle America,” said Rosalind Parneix, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s for Goody’s. “But our customer loves color, and spring is really our time to shine.”

High on her list of must-haves for juniors were bouclé and shrunken jackets and bermuda shorts, which were also driving sales at Los Angeles-based La Belle and New York-based DNA It’s In Your Genes.

La Belle, which was showcasing striped jackets, lab coats, walking shorts and piqué skirts with bow details in seaworthy colors of deep blues and jade greens, also broadened the mix with La Belle social dresses and a misses’ line called La Jolie. Micheline Lanzetta, the company’s vice president of sales, said beaded halter gowns, ombrés with chiffon and all-over glitter looks in burnout lace are key styles for the fancy frocks, which shipped for fall delivery and wholesale from $23 to $42. Stretch jacquards, preppy shirt dresses in stretch sateen and dainty cardigans paired with sheath dresses were among the highlights of La Jolie, which wholesales from $21 to $39.

Apparel Holdings Group, maker of Periscope and Caribbean Joe, showed DNA It’s In Your Genes, a two-month-old junior line on track to register $25 million in first-year sales, according to Ross McConnell, executive vice president. McConnell said the company is repositioning Periscope to target midtier chains such as Kohl’s, while DNA will target better department stores.

The brightly colored line offers everything from bermudas and skorts to denim jeans and madras blazers. But, it tries to provide value-added details, offering turned-back cuffs and contrast piping inside jackets.

Said DNA sales executive Abigail Wasserman, “To build a brand you have to stand out.”