NEW YORK — Buyers and vendors at the Designers at the Essex House and Nouveau Collective trade shows here this month are counting on their customers to start dressing up and giving thumbs up to pieces like suits and fur-trimmed capes.
“Everyone is very excited about getting dressed again,’’ said Mary Jane Denzer, who owns a designer store by the same name in White Plains, N.Y., while shopping at the Essex House. “When we went to war in Iraq, people stopped dressing up. They held off. If nothing drastic happens, people will be going places and wearing beautiful clothes again.”
In April, Denzer said her monthly sales were almost $400,000 — the strongest April ever for her 25-year-old store.
Denzer and others said business activity is showing signs of improvement as shoppers focus on dressier pieces that tend to be higher priced. Stores last year were more interested in fill-in items that could be used to update their clients’ wardrobes.
Trying to get a jump on fall business, Denzer plans to introduce merchandise in June, a month earlier than most stores. “The faster you get in and out, the better off you are,” she said.
The retailer does the bulk of her buying in Europe but uses domestic resources to round out her assortment. Denzer ordered extra-short evening coats and “wonderful capelets, the perfect look with evening gowns” from David Goodman.
She also ordered “gorgeous evening gowns” from Michael Casey, who was showing at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, though there was not an official show there.
“It’s his 20th anniversary and he’s gone back to what he really does well,’’ she said. “There are wonderful short cocktail dresses and dinner dresses.”
Bill Busse, business manager of Lourdes Chavez, an Essex House exhibitor, said trunk shows are driving sales for many stores. Two years ago his company’s goal was to hold one show each week for the fall and spring seasons. Now they are holding two a week.
Stores like the setup because they don’t have to carry inventory, and designers praise it because their travel expenses are covered by the merchants, Busse said. One change in recent months is that shoppers have to place a deposit on special orders.
Algo of Switzerland, another Essex House exhibitor, also said trunk shows are gaining importance, and overall sales are strong. The company plans to do 30 trunk shows this season, which is a few more than last year, said Linda McMillan, vice president of sales. Last month, the company generated $120,000 in sales at a four-day trunk show at Leonard Rutan in Houston. Algo of Switzerland expects a 40 percent increase in sales this year and plans to open a Los Angeles showroom in August.
Algo was one of the Essex House participants singled out by Marsha Posner, co-owner of JP Associates, a buying office here that represents 30 specialty stores. She gave high marks to Kevan Hall for eveningwear and David Goodman for fur capes. Posner also liked the looks of Laura Couture, Sansapelle and Mark Heister. Each of the designers showed at the Essex House.
“Clothes are looking really happy and that’s giving people a reason to buy,’’ she said. “They’re still in a somber mood due to the war in Iraq and everything else. But that hasn’t stopped stores from doing good business.”
At Nouveau Collective, she found dressy separates from Shani, evening separates from WWW, cocktail dresses at Floores & Floores, and eveningwear from Christine Forte. Posner also liked Bill Blass’ evening separates and Alberto Makali’s dresses and sportswear.
“I found a lot for my clients,” she said.
At Nouveau Collective at the Park Lane Hotel, Warren Hipwell, sales director of Karen Warren, said stores were writing $4,000 orders — double what they did at last May’s show. The only downside was fewer visitors, he said. Those who attended were looking for colorful transitional items like silk charmeuse dresses and separates. Stores were “excited” to get merchandise in August to avoid markdowns, Hipwell said.
Fifties-inspired suits and dresses were popular at Sara Campbell, another Nouveau Collective vendor, said Cynthia Laffie, New England sales representative. The company’s secondary line, Sara Jane, which is aimed at a more whimsical customer, received a lot of interest.
Some buyers were still looking for summer, as well as fall, she said. They were also giving a lot of thought to their orders and were especially seeking tops to freshen up customers’ wardrobes, Laffie said.
“Business in the mid-Atlantic and South is good. In New England, business is just picking up,’’ Laffie said. “They’re chugging along but we wrote more orders than last year.”