NEW YORK — Finding “dressy casual” clothes, shopping with specific fickle customers in mind and keeping an eye out for easy-to-pack vacation clothes were priorities for buyers attending Designers at the Essex House.
Retailers and show resources collaborated about ways to drum up business during the four-day event, which closed here at the hotel on Central Park South Aug. 9.
Linda Heister, vice president of Mark Heister, said, “People are putting a lot of thought into the way they are doing business. They are paying attention to what people want. Let’s face it, business is not easy these days.”
Ruth Hill, owner of the Seattle store by the same name, said she visited designers such as Mark Heister, Kevan Hall and Catherine Regehr looking for items for individual customers.
“The reason that I go to the Essex House is because designers are able to meet specific, unique requests. I see it as going to a dressmaker,” she said. “I like to be able to say yes to my customers. People like the option of ordering what they want.”
Kevan Hall’s new fur collection was something that caught Hill’s eye. Licensed to Michael Pappas Furs, a Los Angeles-based company, the 15-piece fur line features colorful, novel pieces. At a two-day trunk show last month at Valentina’s, a specialty store in Milwaukee, many shoppers purchased two or three items, with a $1,995 embroidered and beaded lamb capelet, a $795 raccoon throw with woven suede insets, a $2,995 razor-cut chinchilla jacket and a $495 silver tip fox jacket being their favorites. Another standout was an $8,900 cocoa-colored lamb coat, according to Jeffrey Moss, sales director for Kevan Hall.
In terms of Hall’s cocktail dresses, eveningwear and separates, buyers were energized by the vibrant colors and ballerina-length dresses, he said. An $825 kelp-colored cocktail dress and a $940 pink and orange taffeta and organza gown with a delicate rhinestone buckled belt were bestsellers, along with black-and-white combinations such as a $950 strapless ballerina-length dress with a white top and a black skirt, Moss said.
Several stores told Moss that their clients are tiring of summer and are ready to shop for fall. To capitalize on that, some are looking to offer complete eveningwear looks instead of just dresses, Moss said.
Being a full-service eveningwear store has been a winning strategy for Hugo Nicholson, a Toronto boutique, said co-owner Carole Rosenstein. “It’s not just about the dress. The customer can always find a dress. She also needs the shoes, the earrings and the appropriate bag,” she said.
At the Essex House, Rosenstein found “beautiful gowns, very girly dresses and pink chinchilla” at Kevan Hall; “brocade tops, burned-out velvet pants and jackets” at Zonda Nellis, and “nice tops and great pants” in unlined silk at Mark Heister.
“Retail in general is difficult. The customer is very jaded. Everything is out there for her. You have to figure out how to be better than the next one and to find the right clothes for your customers,” said Rosenstein.
At Mark Heister, a Chicago-based resource for day-into-evening and special-occasion separates, Linda Heister said, “Frankly, this show has been about clothes clients can buy and take away on vacation with them. This is a huge issue at this time of year for stores in colder climates. They want to get ahold of as many dollars as they can before their ladies leave [for winter homes.]”
Mark Heister’s new mosaic group and an unlined silk group of interchangeable pieces were hits. Pants wholesale at around $280 to $390 and tops range from $450 to $490. An orange caftan with a crystal neckline at $590 was another winner with women heading to the islands or winter homes in Florida, Heister said.
With a Sophy Curson store in Philadelphia and another in Ft. Lauderdale, Susan Schwartz is tuned into snowbird shoppers. She noted that many of her shoppers are searching for dressy-casual pieces and she canvassed the Essex House for “dressy tops” for them to pair with trousers and long skirts they already own. Mark Heister, Sansapelle and Kevan Hall were key show resources for her.
“Everyone has a closetful of evening pieces, but they would like to add a dressy evening piece they can wear for holiday or beyond,” Schwartz said. “Clients are taking a more cautious approach [to buying]. But when they need something, they buy it immediately.”
More shoppers called her to purchase items they had tried on “months ago,” but until now had not had reason to do so, Schwartz said. Having been in business since 1929 and having had a Ft. Lauderdale store since 1942, Sophy Curson prides itself on customer service. “We’re the kind of store that doesn’t exist any more,” she said. “For some of our customers, it’s more of a nostalgia trip.”
At Lourdes Chavez, a special-occasion resource at the Essex House, retailers were interested in holiday deliveries even though the show was billed as “early spring.” In its sixth year in business, the Los Angeles company is building its presence in the Northeast and upper Midwest, said Billy Busse, business manager. Cocktail dresses, especially little black ones wholesaling for $495, were popular at the show, he said.
Annual sales have increased by 25 percent primarily due to Lourdes Chavez’ trunk show business. This year, trunk show customers have been buying two or three items compared with one or two a year ago. They also tend to buy evening gowns, which are higher-ticket items, Busse said.
“At first, customers are cautious. They want to see that the product [ordered at trunk shows] has the same quality, is delivered on time and the fit is good,” Busse said. “Then they will order more.”