Don’t underestimate the potential of this market round. It may be summer, but savvy retailers, manufacturers and stylists know to keep an eye out for fall signs of heat.

Walk the showrooms. Walk downtown. And get in a car, bus or, yes, subway and walk the thriving shopping neighborhoods popping up throughout Los Angeles.

Melrose Avenue (east and west of Fairfax), Santa Monica Promenade and Beverly Boulevard (see Scene, facing page) are petri dishes of fashion experimentation ready for the examining.

The specialty boutique category has exploded in recent years, challenging even those of us who make a living keeping tabs on such matters.

It’s also creating a challenge for retailers who now have to be ever more creative to vie for consumers’ loyalties and pocketbooks. Windows have become wittier and engaging and displays more inviting.

In turn, designers are pushing the limits — of imagination, resourcefulness, price points, delivery times — to win the attention of buyers and consumers. The crop of young, innovative and locally based designers now raising the choices — and the bar — is unprecedented.

Certainly, during the four-day market in downtown, a first stop is the one or more of the handful of buyer breakfasts and fashion shows scheduled this week.

Two fashion shows, along with meet-and-greet cocktail receptions, are set to run in the CaliforniaMart’s Fashion Theater. On Friday, check out the trends for summer 2001. Saturday is the Pacific Coast Travelers event; find them during market on the 13th floor. (See Market Calendar, page 4, for details.)

A year into its new ownership, the CaliforniaMart is prepping for a new era of its own.

Karen Mamont, promoted to coordinator of markets, trade shows and special events prior to last market, reported that the CalMart is planning to gut the 13th floor for what she calls “a more open exposition space.”

The overhaul would better facilitate the exhibitors of the CalMart’s two niche shows that are already testing the building’s limits — the Los Angeles International Textile Show and ENK International’s Pacific Champions (both are staged in April and November).

In October, the three-day Textile Show, exhibiting some 350 domestic and international vendors, sprawls through over 200,000 square feet of space in the Fashion Theater.

Should the Textile Show find luck on level 13, ENK will benefit from the extra space in the Fashion Theater. Its Pacific Champions show — host to some 50 exhibitors — has also outgrown its designated area. A producer of upscale trade shows as the Fashion Coterie, Accessorie Circuit and Intermezzo, ENK is in discussions with CalMart officials to add a third show in 2001.

CalMart’s Mamont lobbied the return of the California Designer Awards, tentatively slated for April 1 at the Park Plaza Hotel (the landmark is also owned by CalMart owner Judah Hertz). This year’s proceeds will benefit the UCLA Congenital Heart Disease Center.

Across the street, the New Mart is also keeping up with the demands of success. Now at 100 percent capacity — and with 30 companies on a waiting list — the building is undergoing the “white-glove treatment,” said general manager Ethan Eller. Renovated bathrooms, stairwells and hallways, plus the installation of high-speed elevators, are among the improvements promised.

As for the buzz on trends, from the state’s economic forecast to the economic viability of HotPants, it’s all in the following pages.

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