Romantic peasant blouses and diaphanous cotton voile dresses, ubiquitous in summer groups, will give way to an equally nostalgic fall of cozy, alpine sweaters with pom-pom tassels; wheat-colored corduroy; smock tops; sweater dresses; bleached and bell-legged denim; striped pants, and duster jackets trimmed with straggly, fake fur.
“Everything is ‘retro vintage,”‘ said Op vice president of design Nat Norfleet. “Lucky for us, we’ve been around long enough to have real vintage.” Showing its Classics line, which reinterprets archival pieces, Op was among exhibitors turning to factory-worker or uniformed-attendant style for sexy workwear looks. The brand lines a corduroy jean-style jacket with muted, plaid flannel.
Earl Jeans showed a micro-weight wool cut like men’s Henley tops and faded, plaid flannel shirts — all in a body-conscious fit. Roxy offers uniform-style collared shirts with bits of embroidery. DKNY Jeans has a T-shirt with a close-up of a sepia-toned deer and military-style patches embellish sweaters.
Specialty store buyers jammed into the Dickies booth, looking for a junior interpretation of authentic workwear. They placed orders for low-rise versions of the signature flat-front work pants in hard-looking brights and punky plaids. Logoed sleeveless hoodies and a “Nurse Betty” khaki shirtdress also booked well, reps said. The line, licensed to Apparel Limited Inc. in Los Angeles, has surpassed $10 million in 18 months and is on track to double revenues in 2002, said a spokesman for the brand.
Other Dickies licensees reported strong growth. Stephen Holt, president of Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Yak Pak, picked up the handbag license in 1997, when he noticed both sexes wearing Dickies. He sold 125,000 units of the Dickies $7 pouch bag to specialty stores last year.
Not everyone had workwear on their list. The handful of buyers trailing Bebe president John Parros said they planned to pass on it in favor of batik prints. Anticipating a strong spring, their main focus was getting merchandise into stores quickly. “That’s our big challenge. We want it now. Yesterday,” said Parros. “We won’t do business with vendors if they can’t deliver.”
Buyer Katerina Deslis, whose business at her Salt Lake City shop jumped by 20 percent thanks to the Olympics, also is struggling to get merchandise into her store quickly. “We should have prepared for it more,” she said. She picked pieces from Miss Vintage and Soye for Amour Rendezvous.
Against an overall homogeneity of denim and peasant looks, specialty store buyers rewarded vendors who anted up something different. At the Las Vegas Convention Center, in an expanded booth awarded best of the new streetwear section by show organizers, Baby Phat showed a line that remains a paean to luxe femininity. Designer Kimora Lee Simmons, a former Chanel model, dripped pearls off a lace-and-denim skirt and hung pearl ropes, watch-fob style, from the pockets of leather pants.
And Paul Frank Industries unveiled an expanded young women’s line, with many items — including soft argyle sweaters, polo shirts and kitschy collegiate styles — complementing the men’s line that bowed at the show. The women’s collection aims to enter young contemporary territory, said designer Annie Younger, without letting go of its junior and tween fans. In a nod and wink to conspicuous logoism, the line created a pattern featuring Julius the monkey that resembled Gucci and big button jackets that had a Marc by Marc Jacobs feel.
Meanwhile, Dragonfly, owned by Edward Dada and Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, introduced a rock ‘n’ roll junior line to complement its seven-year-old men’s wear label. The Anaheim, Calif.-based line contains Harlequin-patchwork corduroy pants, studded hoodies and numerous references to the Kiss star, such as leather pockets on denim and leg-seaming detail on cords. Dada expects the junior line will bow at $3 million. The $20-million firm generates the bulk of its sales from selling band-licensed T-shirts of Bob Marley, The Doors, The Grateful Dead and others to retailers like Hot Topic.
Celebrity collections are nothing new, but the cachet of fame continues to draw buyers. Superstar skateboarder Tony Hawk hawked his namesake clothing, and “American Pie” star Shannon Elizabeth touted junior brand New Breed Girl.
‘N Sync’s Chris Kirkpatrick spent a day promoting FuMan Skeeto, his line of casual T-shirts developed with partner Danielle Raabe. The pair opened mom-and-pop accounts to supplement existing relationships with Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s. “Music is my love, but this is another expression,” said Kirkpatrick. “It’s fun to dabble in this.”
Fashion insiders said the line could use some “dabbling” at the consumer level as well, noting many young customers don’t know just who is behind it.
Andy Hilfiger, president of Sweetface Fashions, which holds the master license for J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez, celebrated a solid day of order writing at the Playboy party last Wednesday night. If he had one gripe with the state of business, it’s that retailers aren’t advertising enough. “They need to get people in their stores,” Hilfiger said.
In the misses’ category, vendors aimed for soft, hand-crafted looks, such as Animale’s loose sweaters fastened with kilt pins or leather buckles. New York-based Side Effects showed a jacket, sweater and skirt set patched together from suede pieces and a nubby knit. Tuxedo shirts also were popular from a variety of misses’ vendors. Ecco jazzed up the traditionally white staple by doing it in raspberry with glittering jet buttons.
But Robert Getz, owner and buyer of the 102-year-old Getz Department Store in Marquette, Mich., cautioned fellow retailers against putting all their eggs in a tuxedo-ruffled basket. “There is no one item these days,” he said. “You still have to have a balance and a mixture of items.”
That combo remains key at Tommy Bahama, which is working overtime to diversify its offering of soothing Hawaiian prints without alienating its core customer. The upscale resort brand bowed handbags and watches in its enormous plantation-style booth. Both licensees have charted a slightly younger course for the Seattle-based enterprise.
Despite a show that seemed mellow on traffic and even moreso on the party scene (many popular long-running fetes, including Lucky Brand’s concerts, were canceled this go-round), exhibitors said overall they were pleased with orders.
“We came into the show with a morose attitude,” said Blanc Noir president F.G. Gozashti. The outerwear brand had a rough fourth quarter, and he’d been considering pulling out of the show to cut costs. But WWDMAGIC turned out to be one of the busiest for his brand, he said, estimating appointments were up 50 percent.
Lesser-known labels and lower-priced lines also had their day in the sun. Retailers claim it makes good business sense to tantalize consumers with three or four big-name brands that establish store credibility and then have lower-priced finds available to seal a sale. “The customer comes in and says, ‘Oh that’s cute and it’s here so it must be good,”‘ said Kelly Richards, buyer for Walla Walla Clothing Co., a department store in the Washington town of the same name. What’s more, she noted, the lower-priced items have better margins.
That was clearly the m.o. among buyers cruising the aisles at the Off-Price Specialist Show, which, after seven years in parking lot tents around town, finally secured indoor space at the Sands Expo.
“Brands are still important,” noted Stacey Dansky of R. Siskind & Co in New York, on the fourth day of the show’s five-day run. She ranked DKNY and Polo among the discounter’s top sellers. “Buyers are always concerned about price — we do a lot of exporting to Japan, Korea and Mexico — but they’re also really concerned that the logo product is legitimate.”
Vendors and buyers at OPSS benefited from having WWDMAGIC upstairs. Although traffic dropped off some once MAGIC started, many retailers who had never visited the 15-year-old Off-Price show ventured below in search of saving a buck.
Among the first-timers was Helena Cho, owner of Tygress, a three-store chain in Venice, Calif. “I’m really happy with this show. I’m finding brands without paying full price. I’m thinking if I strategize it right, I should be able to triple my store’s sales.”
While she declined to name names, she contemplated treated jeans at a booth filled with Lucky Brand, Silver and Levi’s.
The Off-Price show was able to move into its new digs with the relocation of the Edge to a wing of the LVCC, behind the streetwear and action sports areas.
Although combining the youth-oriented areas under one roof appeared to work and instilled an energy not evident in other parts of the larger show, many Edge vendors complained that business was significantly down without the once-upstairs traffic from WWDMAGIC.
“As it gets later in the day, our buyers are finding us. But I don’t really think they’re very informed as to where we’ve moved,” griped Danielle Sciocchetti, product merchandiser with Fine. The Los Angeles company, which is split between its own campy properties of Scary Miss Mary and French Kitty and a licensing division with Sanrio, saw better business at its booth at WWDMAGIC.
And not everyone was sold on the club environment featuring deejays from morning to closing, cocktail bars and, nearby in the action sports area, a skate ramp.
“Is this supposed to be ASR?” asked Rude A. Castelo, a middle-aged punk rocker, referring to the surf show. He usually shops the Boutique Show in New York for his Baltimore store, Sticky Fingers. “You can’t work with all this music, the noise. There’s too many distractions.” While he lamented the lackluster offerings, he bought up the vintage-looking metal charm bracelets and key chains by Los Angeles maker El Dorado. “They’re striking and priced well,” said Castelo.
Overall, WWDMAGIC drove home the point that it’s a small world. Retailers from around the globe clamored for the same key items that keep the junior and contemporary markets humming in the U.S.
Banu Alan, a buyer for Ags Ltd., a chain of eight shops in Istanbul, Turkey, said low-rise denim is in “huge” demand there. “We’re looking for every cut and fabric,” she said. “Even stripes.”
Directly contradicting media images of burkas and traditional Muslim attire, sexy styles are even in demand in the United Arab Emirates.
Buyer Nicola Zunckel described the city of Dubai as “very fashionable, very sexy and very brand conscious.” Zunckel carries XOXO, Quiksilver and Unionbay in her 10 Studio R stores. At the show, she wrote sizable orders for see-through tops, T-shirts and anything ruched or puckered.
“The women are wearing these under their robes,” she confessed.
– Katherine Bowers and Kristin Young with contributions by Rose Apodaca Jones