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A show-within-a-show aims to draw more contemporary vendors to Chicago.

CHICAGO — As the demand for contemporary fashion grows, so will its presence at StyleMax, the Midwest’s largest women’s apparel market, at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

In October, market organizers plan to introduce what they’re calling a show-within-a-show, Pure Contemporary @ StyleMax, a larger, remerchandised area featuring some 200 new contemporary lines across 40,000 square feet.

“Contemporary is not going away,” said Susan McCullough, senior vice president for apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. “It keeps getting stronger and stronger. That’s what’s selling. Things are skewing younger.”

By building a show-within-a-show, market organizers are hoping to attract more lines from New York and Los Angeles and spotlight the booming category.

“We’ve been building toward this,” McCullough said, noting that Pure Contemporary will have its own identity, illustrated by a special logo, lounge, music and graphics.

At April’s StyleMax, market organizers launched a soft opening of Pure Contemporary, spanning about 15,000 square feet and including 30 new booths with about 100 new lines.

“Manufacturers have captured the attention of the consumers,” McCullough said. “Denim suits people’s lifestyles and there seems to be no end to the demand for $200 jeans.”

The larger, revamped contemporary area is just one of the improvements to markets at the Mart this year.

Organizers will present a new, expanded Accessory Zone at August’s StyleMax, which runs Aug. 12-15 on the Mart’s seventh floor. The expanded

collection of accessories has been moved to a central location on the StyleMax floor. Handbags, jewelry, belts, footwear and other accessories will span about 30 percent of the show floor in August, accounting for about 30,000 of the market’s 100,000 square feet and representing a 10 to 15 percent increase in accessory space from one year ago.

StyleMax once again will run in conjunction with Men’s Wear Collective, held Aug. 13-15 on the Mart’s eighth floor. The two shows coincided for the first time in February, providing buyers the opportunity to shop both markets.

“We think the first effort went pretty well,” McCullough said. “To have them together, there’s more excitement and more energy all over. We think it was beneficial because a lot of men’s wear stores carry women’s. But it takes a while for it to catch on. We have to get the word out more. I think we can do a better job marketing.”

This story first appeared in the June 21, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

McCullough expects more buyers to take advantage of the combined opportunity in August, partly due to marketing efforts targeted at men’s and women’s stores. “I think it will be better utilized,” she said. “We’ll see more crossover in August.”

The August market, which focuses on holiday, resort and early spring fashions, also will spotlight clothing from some of the city’s top emerging designers. For a second year, market organizers will provide discounted booth space for some 20 select local apparel and accessory designers participating in one of the city’s premier fashion shows, Chicago Is Red Hot.

“The feedback was great,” McCullough said. For many designers, participating in last year’s August StyleMax represented their first trade show experience.

“If we’re going to get behind young designers, it really needs to be in a business environment,” she noted.

Participants attend a seminar called Trade Show 101, and the overall experience helps new designers decide if they need sales representation or production help, and if they can sell to retailers, she said.

Buyers benefit, as well. “It’s certainly unique merchandise,” McCullough said, “and it’s certainly worth seeing, especially for boutiques looking to differentiate themselves.”

Additional market features include a 15-minute seminar, “How to Maximize Shopping StyleMax,” at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, in the seventh-floor Market Suites buyers’ lounge. Also Saturday is “The Collections” fashion show at 6:30 p.m. in the eighth-floor Atrium. Wine and cheese will be served prior to the event, which features better, bridge and designer apparel.

Daily presentations of “Style Watch” from 12:15-1:15 p.m. in the StyleMax Café feature a complimentary lunch and informal modeling.

On Sunday evening, The Apparel Industry Board hosts Red Hot Chicago Emerging Designer Incubator Preview from 5:30-6:30 p.m. The event, showcasing top local apparel and accessory designers, includes cocktails and informal modeling.

Come October, Chicago’s Merchandise Mart will host the nation’s largest and longest-running bridal market, featuring some 300 lines representing the top manufacturers of bridal gowns and bridesmaid, flower girl, prom and special occasion dresses.

Highlights include fashion shows, special events and educational seminars with industry experts. The market’s popular Designer Studio returns to showcase high-end collections, giving buyers a designated area to shop these exclusive lines.

Capping off the four-day affair, Oct. 7-10, will be the Distinctive Excellence in the Bridal Industry awards on Monday, Oct. 9, at the Field Museum. John O’Hurley, of television’s “Seinfeld” and “Dancing With the Stars,” will host the black-tie gala, which begins at 7 p.m. with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, followed by dinner, dancing and the awards presentation.

Finalists for the 2006 DEBIs include Eve of Milady, Henry Roth, Jim Hjelm and Paloma Blanca for designer bridal gowns; Allure, Casablanca, Maggie Sottero and Mori Lee in the category of moderate bridal, and Bill Levkoff, Jim Hjelm, Jordan and Watters & Watters for bridesmaid dresses.

Ladybug Collection, Mori Lee, Sweet Beginnings by Jordan and Us Angels are finalists for flower girl fashions. Daymor Couture, Jade by Jasmine, Jovani and Montage by Mon Cheri are vying for the special occasion title, and Alyce Designs, Jovani, Mori Lee and Tiffany Designs are finalists in the prom category.

For headpieces, finalists include Bel Aire, Edward Berger, Malis-Henderson and Winters & Rain. For accessories, the finalists are Coloriffics, Dyeables, Salon Shoes and Touch Ups by Benjamin Walk.

Nominees for distinctive newcomer include Emerald Collection, Justin Alexander, Matthew Christopher and Raylia Designs. Finalists in the couture category are Lazaro, Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra and Vera Wang.

Prior to the DEBIs, the market offers seminars and events, including “The Gilded Age” Market Party Oct. 7 at 6 p.m., followed by the spring 2007 bridal fashion show at 6:45 p.m. in the eighth-floor Atrium. The “Prom Perfect” fashion show will be held Oct. 8 at 8:30 a.m., with a continental breakfast available at 8 a.m. in the eighth-floor Atrium.

That night, the Condé Nast Bridal Group hosts “Bridal Happy Hour,” a cocktail reception from 6-7:30 p.m. in the South Lobby. The following morning, Daniel Lagani, vice president and publisher of the group, will present “American Weddings Study 2006” at 8:30 a.m., beginning with an 8 a.m. continental breakfast in the Mart’s Conference Center, second-floor pedway.

Also set for October is the year’s final StyleMax, running Oct. 28-31 and featuring spring 2007 fashions and the expanded section, Pure Contemporary @ StyleMax.

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