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NEW YORK — What’s fashion’s summer sizzler? It starts with T and ends with shirt, with cargo pants a close second.

According to a spot check of specialty and department stores around the country, T-shirts, as well as cargo pants (notably from Joie), have driven summer business, coming in first and second, respectively, as the season’s top categories. Other hot items this summer have been miniskirts, floral pants, sundresses and bustiers.

This story first appeared in the July 24, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

And price is not a determining factor — shirts for less than $30 are on fire, but so are miniskirts and dresses at all prices, pants for $200 to $300, $1,200 Prada handbags, which have a waiting list, and $6,000 Chanel jackets. Summer business apparently has more to do with latching on to a hot trend.

Retailers around the country were asked to name their best-selling item or category this summer. Here’s what they had to say.

Jim Famalette, chief executive officer, Gottschalks, Fresno, Calif.: “Overall, it was the junior tops business. Novelty logo screen-printed T-shirts, at $15 to $20 — that’s probably been the strength. We’ve chased items there. Once you find something of this type that’s working, you want to beat it to death. And the business environment of late hasn’t lent itself to those kinds of things.”

Luciano Manganella, owner, Jasmine Sola, Boston and five locations in New England: “Michael Stars is still the best performer in T-shirts, particularly the solid shirts.” The retailer sold 400 units of a crewneck baby T-shirt at $24, while 250 units of the three-button Henley sold at $34. Overall, the store sold roughly 3,600 Michael Stars T-shirts in various silhouettes.

Ann Stordahl, senior vice president and general merchandise manager, Neiman Marcus: “Cargo pants. It started with resort with a D&G style for $295, and the big performers of the season have been the Blumarine satin at $950 and Joie’s satin cargo at $210. They continue to sell and have been reordered. We have sold thousands and thousands of cargo pants.”

Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale’s: “The best-selling item is cargo and/or utility pants, from the Y.E.S. department up to designer.”

Stacy Pecor, owner, Olive & Bette’s, three units in Manhattan: “T-shirts. For July, our number-one vendor has been Jake’s Dry Goods, which are printed T-shirts at $28. The bestseller was of New York City. We’ve got one with Maine and a lobster on it. [The company] did custom colors for us. So far, we’ve sold $18,000 worth in July, and $128,000 for spring-summer. In Michael Stars T-shirts, we’ve sold $238,000 worth for the season. They did custom printing and colors for us. T-shirts and shoes are definitely driving our business right now.”

Jaqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising, Saks Fifth Avenue: “The bustier, in all different areas: intimate, contemporary and designer. The only place where we didn’t sell them was men’s. Women are wearing them as foundation underpinnings, and under a suit, and just straight out as a bustier. It was one of our short-list items in our catalog.” She said Saks carried an exclusive bustier from Lejaby for $150 that sold out in the first delivery, and had an 80 percent sell-through in the second delivery. Saks also featured the bustier in their windows. Other bestsellers were the Dolce & Gabbana black georgette bustier for $740, and a Ralph Lauren antique cream light-blue floral beaded cotton corset for $1,995.

Izzy Ezrailson, president, Up Against the Wall, 19 units, Washington: “We’ve had to reorder a sepia-toned Bob Marley T-shirt. It’s our most inexpensive item at less than $30. It’s by far the best item. We sold 99 one week and 167 the week before. In all, we’ve gone through about 1,800 of this T-shirt alone.”

Julie Routenberg, owner, Potpourri, Atlanta: Cropped pants, with T-shirts by Glamour Toujours, especially with asymmetric sleeves and necklines, unusual prints and feminine lace trim, retailing around $70.

Bill Kruder, casual sportswear buyer, J.C. Penney: A leading seller since spring has been a mini cotton twill skort with a wrap-around skirt and D-ring closure for $24 by St. John’s Bay. “The ‘missy-mini’ has been blowing out.”

Rich’s-Macy’s-Lazarus-Goldsmith’s, Atlanta: T-shirts with cap sleeves and a single letter monogrammed in the right-hand corner, by Cha Cha Vente, retailing at $28.

Cathy Cross, owner, Cathy Cross, Northampton, Mass.: “What is so hot and continuing is novelty T-shirts. We get a delivery on all styles of Sweet Tees every single month.” The store sold 70 units of that brand’s “Poppy,” rayon sleeveless shirt for $48, and 70 units of Mimi & Coco’s pointelle tank with lace trim at $33.

Jennifer Arrendale, owner, Blue Genes, Atlanta: C&C California T-shirts, featured on Oprah’s summer list of favorite things, have sold “hundreds” of T-shirts retailing between $40 and $50, with a waiting list for reorders in the store. C&C T-shirts come in blue, green, red and charcoal gray, in soft, thin cotton, and can be layered over each other or worn over thicker Ts.

Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s, Barneys New York: “The number-one seller for summer would have been the Joie cropped cargo pants in a variety of colors such as pink, stone and fatigue. They retail for $130.”

Oren Hayun, principal, Planet Funk, 10 units, Los Angeles: “It would probably be the cargo silhouette applied to bottoms, tops and jackets, basically cargo-inspired looks applied to different bodies. That was the main trend. Joie and Da-Nang were strong in cargo ($150 and $200). For the most part, it was paired with sexy tops. It’s pretty much still around, too, because not much else is emerging. There has been a lack of trends for the last couple of seasons.”

Hecht’s, Washington: “The cargo style as it applies to women’s sportswear, shorts, capris and skirts is driving the business,” said a spokeswoman. “There are lots of different versions but most have pockets and are functional and some have drawstring bottoms or buttons. All are under the cargo umbrella and utility category. We placed reorders. Average price range is $19.99 to $29.99.”

Rosalind Parneix, vice president and divisional merchandise manager, misses’ division, Goody’s Family Clothing, Knoxville, Tenn.: Pants, especially capris and floods, paired with knit tops, such as polo shirts and T-shirts.

NYFO, Norfolk and Richmond, Va.: Brightly colored printed skirts by Loco Lindo, cut on the bias, knee-length and just below the knee, retailing for $78. They’re paired with fitted tank tops or camisoles, from a variety of resources.

K.K. Weinberg, owner, James Davis,Memphis: Floral printed pants from Dolce & Gabbana, Piazza Sempione, in bright pinks, blues, greens and yellows, retailing from $285 to $300. Hundreds of pairs of floral pants sold and they have been reordered.

Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman: “Our number-one bestseller for spring is the embroidered Chanel jacket, selling for $6,000. We’re doing a huge Chanel business and did $3.1 million in our Chanel trunk show. It comes in different color groups. They are black and white with different embroidery on them.”

Durand Guion, women’s fashion director, Macy’s West: “We did very well with halter necklines this summer — any sort of halter details worked very well in the dress world. Sundresses were very important. They became the summer uniform worn with flip-flops, replacing cropped pants. Skirts and minis were strong, too. Prints — anything with dots, stripes, and florals — have been selling across the board.”

Stefani Greenfield, partner, Scoop, six units, New York: “The Juicy Couture terry smock dress. Kate Hudson wore it in the New York Post. Sarah Jessica Parker wore it throughout her pregnancy. It sells for $85 and comes in all colors. We’ve sold 680 units. Girls are wearing it as a tunic, with jeans, and over a bathing suit, running around the Hamptons in flip-flops. I own it myself in four colors.”

Ron Herman, owner, four Ron Herman stores, Southern California: “RH Vintage. It’s been huge. It’s a line we’ve developed and we produce it all ourselves. The shirts and sweats go for $50 to $200, jeans are $90 to $250. Yeah, I have Seven, Paper Denim & Cloth, Juicy Couture, Chloé and Stella. Tell me where you can’t buy the same thing? We have spent more time and consideration on our merchandising and environment And that had driven sales. Twice a month, we redo the whole store, and that includes making fixtures, changing carpets, making furniture. That’s how you get repeat business.”

Ed Burstell, vice president and general manager, Henri Bendel: The mini has been selling across different categories and departments: including miniskirts from Development, Mary Quant, Alvin Valley, Diane Von Furstenberg and Plein Sud, and minidresses from Anna Sui, Patricia Field, Daryl K and Michael Kors. In designer, a combination of miniskirts and minidresses have been selling from Blumarine, Anna Molinari, Luella Bartley and Andrew Gn. Also, the short suit from Nanette Lepore and Rebecca Taylor. The best-selling minis retailed from $148 to $398.

Patricia Field, owner, Patricia Field: “Our own set of miniskirts, from denim to knits to ruffles. Young girls haven’t had this yet. They retail from $45 to $75 and carry both the House of Field and Hotel Venus labels.”

Carrie Peters, contemporary and designer buyer, Tootsies, Houston: The miniskirt was the hot seller at Tootsies’ four stores, contributing to a 50 percent jump in skirt sales from May through July. Top styles were Pucci and Missoni-inspired prints by Tootsies’ private label along with minis by Trina Turk and Nanette Lepore in the $95-to-$225 price range. “Skirts have become a favorite, and they were always a struggle before,” observed Peters. “Now there is not a lot of growth in pants, but a lot in skirts.”

Sarah Easley, partner, Kirna Zabete, SoHo, New York: “We’re doing a huge business in Danielle Pergament’s thick leather watchband that lattices up like a corset called Cuir. The response has been phenomenal. It sells for $240. You can wear it as a bracelet or put a watch in. It’s fun if you have your grandmother’s watch, or a Cartier tank or one from Canal Street. It updates your watch. It’s our number-one seller in July. We sold 250, and it’s still going strong.”

Macy’s four Washington-area stores: Career suitings are the top summer item, with Tahari the number-one vendor, reflecting a resurgence in this category, said a spokeswoman. Labels such as Karen Kane and David Dart are doing well.

Sue Palombo, store manager, Saks Jandel, Washington and Chevy Chase, Md.: “In sportswear, a coated linen rain jacket is the bestseller. In our Yves Saint Laurent boutique, fitted viscose dresses and shirts and jackets are driving business, and in eveningwear, tiered chiffon dresses are the best-selling items, hands down.”

Lisa Vanderweil, owner, Crossing Main, Hingham, Mass.: Milly’s turquoise skirt with sequins, retailing for $210. “Milly has done a beautiful job for us. We were in Nevis on our honeymoon and women were stopping me in the lobby, asking me about my skirt.”

Hernando Santamaria, owner, Alo, Cambridge, Mass.: “Trina Turk and Tahari were the best-selling dresses this summer. Thankfully, Tahari recut one dress and we reordered it in a different color. We also went through two sets of reorders on [Tahari’s] Elie dress.” Trina Turk’s Kimora A-line dress in a paisley print sold for $200; Tahari’s Kayla paisley-print dress in turquoise and geranium was $238, and Tahari’s Elie slip dress in crinkle silk with lace trim was $298.

Franca Buchbinder, sales consultant, Akris, Boston: “We did a novelty silk and tweedy burlap material that was very successful. The jacket was long with no pockets, to elongate the bustline.” A raw-silk “burlap” blazer in taupe sold for $2,390, a double-faced lightweight wool blazer sold for $2,990, and a berry red sheath dress was $1,990.

Victoria Jackson, owner, Byzantine, Dallas: The hottest item has been an ivory skirt with multicolor embroidery, beading and sequins by Nanette Lepore for $205. “They sold as fast as they came in, and we reordered it four times. Customers didn’t think twice about it —they just loved it. We had a waiting list for it each time we reordered.”

Bob Benham, owner, Balliet’s, Oklahoma City: Prada leather handbags from $600 to $1,200. “We’re selling them out of the receiving room — we can’t even get them to the Prada boutique in the store,” said Benham. “We’ve sold out of the red and orange to the piece, and we’ve already sold out of the green and red for early fall.”

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