Ultrafeminine styles like peasant blouses, ruffled skirts and eyelet dresses flavored most offerings at the five-day summer market here, Jan. 11-14.
Retailers also are keeping it simple, turning in stripped-down buying plans and focusing on their core customers.
“We’ve gone back to our main mission statement,” said Robert Keirstead, owner of Dungarees in Brentwood, Calif. “We’ve cut shoes and accessories. We will do that until the economy picks up and we feel we can take broader chances again.”
Although many buyers topped their lists with lace and ruffles, another major trend was not so sweetly nostalgic.
Activewear and novelty denim are the two Goliaths on the scene propelling business, said both retailers and vendors. Activewear, in particular, is gaining momentum through denim-style washes, studs and Americana appliques.
“Activewear is growing and growing,” said Darryl Johnson, who added that his new garment-dyed activewear line, Crown of Hearts, has done $800,000 in eight months in business.
The denim and activewear combination pushed Toolbox showroom owner Marie Kennedy Shaffer’s revenues up 25 percent last year.
“It was my busiest year ever in nine years of business,” she said. Shaffer just took on Sweet Tees, a tops line with coordinating bras whose embellished straps are meant to peek from necklines. A pink fleece top with a studded-strap bra recall Eighties “Flashdance” glam. Wholesale prices range from $18 to $24.
Consumers, following denim’s lead, are showing higher price tolerance for such gussied-up sweats. “She’s paying more than $100 for a sweat outfit without even blinking,” said Guess sales rep Diana Merrick.
Some retailers completely altered business strategies to reflect the change toward casual dressing.
“We started out buying Theory, Diane Von Furstenberg and Rebecca Taylor,” noted Courtnay Page, owner of Therapy, a contemporary boutique at Paseo Colorado in Pasadena, Calif. “Now, we’re sniffing out the casual stuff because our customers don’t want to dress up.”
She bought a bikini and sweats line called H. Starlette, jeans from Seven, peasant tops and miniskirts.
The yen for sporty style also has reached the misses’ market.
Showroom owner Karen George said misses’ customers are crying out for an interpretation of the “Juicy Couture look.” George said that starting with the November market, she’s seen a surge in business on her casualwear lines Weekendz Off and Fitigues.
“That’s when I started seeing the quest for homey, casual comfort kick in.”
While some vendors pursued drawstrings and fleece, others piled on romantic details.
“‘Tis the season to be feminine,” quipped showroom owner Theresa Matthews, showing frilled, dotted Swiss blouses and sweeping skirts from new line Haley Bob. “Feminine and romantic is going to last through summer — at least that long,” Matthews added. “Even my knit companies added lace and ruffles.”
Ivy Parnasius, owner of young contemporary store Pollux in Grand Junction, Colo., said she’s increasing her open-to-buy from last spring to grab embroidered tops, prairie skirts and slipdresses.
Samantha Chang, showing at the D&A Annex in a booth blooming with color, said retailers responded to peek-a-boo sheer blouses paired with printed and sequined mesh camisoles.
Younger customers want feminine looks, said Guess’s Merrick. For summer, the brand reworked top sellers, such as a tuxedo shirt and a butterfly sequin top.
Tree, a line that has been directional in its use of lace, is now applying it as a trim instead of base fabric. The label’s white flapper-style dresses with hits of colored lace were strong bookers, according to Hatch showroom owner Kay Sides.
Despite fears a travel-less resort season would mean slumping sales for those deliveries, retailers in domestic resort and outlying areas reported a bump in business since Sept. 11. They appear to be capitalizing on travelers who chose to stay close to home.
“People don’t want to fly but they still need to get away,” said Pam Gardiner, owner of CC Gallagher on Catalina Island, about an hour’s ferry ride from Long Beach, Calif. Gardiner had her eyes peeled for standout items that could remind shoppers of their getaways. Several vendors said they had decent sell-throughs on resort deliveries.
“We’ve had tons of reorders on resort-casual. Things you didn’t need to be on a trip to wear,” noted Laundry by Shelli Segal sales rep Missy Hoffman.
The brand previewed fall with a palette focused on butterscotch, rouge and white. Bold collegiate stripes were paired with trouser-style pants belted with a men’s wear tie. Hoffman predicted that contemporary denim styles will go looser for fall, showing a trouser-influence in looser legs and cuffed hems.
Sal Minicucci, sales rep for denim line AG Adriano Goldschmied, sees the future differently.
“It’s very light washes if you want a forward statement,” he said. “We’ve hit finishes with a lot of brightness, with a yellow tint.”
Keirstead of Dungarees was among the retailers ordering for Goldschmied. He recently also added Paper Denim Cloth and Blue Cult as new resources.
Most retailers predicted a healthier economy by summer, but stressed they wouldn’t be frivolous with budgets.
“We’re trying not to buy as much,” said Andrea Faber. She searched for lightweight sweaters, washable linens and floral dresses and skirts for her 20-year-old store, Three Bags Full, with locations in San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif. Retro Forties-inspired dresses, hats and straw bags also topped her list.
“We’re buying smaller groups from many different places instead of buying deep from one line,” Faber said.