ATLANTA — Buyers came to the fall market at the Atlanta Apparel Mart this week buoyed by improved spring business and ready to buy.

A-line skirts, military looks and easy knit dressing were heralded as key fall looks, and there was an overall interest in new fabrications and textures. The biggest complaint from the retailers continued to be a lack of color, although many said that neutral and dark clothes were more acceptable for fall.

Buyers added that romantic, flowing, layered looks had been accepted for spring, but said they were glad to also find more tailored, sophisticated dressing, particularly for career and more mature customers. Easy, casual dressing, both for career and weekend wear, were hits, as buyers shopped for complete outfits with novelty appeal, rather than basic items.

Despite the upbeat mood, traffic was erratic, coming in waves, according to sales representatives. Many reported slight increases in bookings, with the majority of buyers leaving paper. Due to the rebound in business this spring after problems with the weather earlier this year, retailers shopped with slightly increased open-to-buys.

Attendance at the six-day market, which ends today, was flat with last year, according to Peg Canter, general manager of the mart.

“We’d hoped for a 3 to 5 percent increase,” she said. “I can’t point to any one reason, except that there are fewer retailers out there, and possibly we were a bit late, so they may have already gotten a start on fall.”

Canter said that retailers’ seminars, which drew 150 people Saturday and 210 on Sunday, were bright spots, as was attendance at the mart’s fashion shows.

Many sales reps thought traffic was not up to a typically big April market.

“It wasn’t as great as we expected,” said Sylvia Overcast, principal with Sylvia Overcast, a multi-line better sportswear firm. “Our dollars were up because people left paper, but attendance was spotty and hard to figure out.”

“Thursday and Friday were frightening,” said Tim Philbin, Southeast sales manager for Craig Clovis, a multi-line accessories sales firm. “Some retailers said they were just getting fall clothing in and would be back in June to do the bulk of their fall accessories buy.”

Among the retailers, Mary Annacelli, owner of Shop of the Ragpicker, a better-to-bridge boutique in Winston-Salem, N.C., was emphatic about the lack of color.

“My budget is up, and I’d spend 50,000 more dollars here if I could find lines with color,” she said. “Last season, I had to resort to buying cotton cashmere separates in neutrals and taking them home and dyeing them coral, purple and royal myself. I shouldn’t have to do that.”

Annacelli cherry-picked items from a wide range of lines, and sought out smaller lines, such as Vantage Point and Richard & Co., that aren’t as widespread in department and discount store competitors.

She bought easy knits from Joan Vass and Chava, and bright silk dressing from Ann May. She lamented the lack of special occasion dresses with simple, clean lines and little embellishment.

Unique items and smaller lines also appealed to Rachel Gottfried, owner of Wild Orchid, a better-to-bridge women’s shop in Boca Raton, Fla., who looked for immediate and fall goods with a budget up 10 percent, based on good spring business.

In addition to small novelty lines such as Doctor Design, she also searched for lines with designer looks at a price, as well as incentives and promotions.

“Perceived value is very important to my customer,” she said.

Gottfried bought jackets and long rayon print skirts and camisoles from David Dart, knits from Fitiques, Joan Vass and Sabu, and dresses from Alexander Brown and Rafia. In sportswear, Gottfried looked for lines with pieces to mix with other lines.

“My customers want complete outfits and easy looks,” she said. “Restricted suits and trousers and blouses don’t work anymore.”

John Fulmer, president, and Veronica Joseph, women’s buyer, for Muse’s, an Atlanta men’s and women’s specialty shop with four stores, shopped with a budget increased 10 percent and an eye on revamping its women’s department.

“We’re going from a more mature, traditional look to a sophisticated, career fashion look,” said Joseph. “We’re using lace camisoles or Lycra tops and fun accessories that would have been too fashion-forward in the past.”

Muse’s will narrow the number of resources it carries and buy more complete outfits, rather than items. Joseph listed Russian tapestry brocades, riding jackets, military looks and novelty fabrics, such as high twist yarns, wool boucle, corded silk and new blends as key fall trends. She bought Tahari dresses and suits heavily, as well as Barry Bricken and British Khaki sportswear.

Casual, soft dressing and knitwear has boosted business for Jim Adams, owner of The Carriage House, a better-to-bridge women’s boutique in Decatur, Ala.

“Two years ago our clothing started to shift from structured to soft, a trend that has come to a head this spring,” said Adams. “Our basic business is also gone. Nobody wants another gabardine pant that they already have in their closet. People want to see outfits that offer a reason to buy.”

One of the few buyers that didn’t complain about the lack of color, Adams bought forest green, browns and grays, with color accents. “We’ve always been a neutral, non-print store,” he said.

Adams bought capsule groups from sportswear resources like Isda & Co., David Dart and Leon Max and dresses from Chetta B, but cited a void in simple, tasteful occasion dresses. He also had a problem, with the exception of Karen Lawrence and William Pearson, finding good mother-of-the-bride dresses.

Adams shopped with a slightly increased budget, due to a recent surge in business.

“We buy more resources and rely on multi-unit sales. Buying takes a lot more work,” he said.

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