NEW YORK — As they get ready to start showing early fall merchandise, bridge dress manufacturers are buoyed by solid spring-summer bookings, some good early spring checkouts at retail — considering the weather and other natural calamities — and a general feeling that the economy has turned the corner.

Soft, easy silhouettes are shaping up as important elements for early fall, in fabrics such as silk, textured wovens and lightweight knits.

While short lengths remain important, hemlines are a little more conservative for fall, and some longer looks are expected to make a comeback.

Cynthia Rowley, designer and owner of the firm carrying her name, said there is strong reorder business on early spring merchandise like slipdresses, sleeveless sheaths and two-piece knit dresses.

“If that continues, it bodes well for fall,” Rowley said. “For fall, I’m polishing everything up, looking for a sleek, pared-down look, with a little shine to the fabrics.”

Among fall items Rowley is working on are “short and flirty dresses;” long is represented by pantsuits. Lightweight wool knits, tweeds, lace and polished rayon twill are important fabrics.

Bud Konheim, president of Nicole Miller, said 1994 seems to be “frozen in time” because of the California earthquake and weather conditions, but he’s “very bullish, even though its based on seat-of-my-pants bullishness.”

“What business we’ve gotten for spring is in all-new silhouettes,” Konheim said. “There is a feeling that women are interested in shopping again and packing their closets with new things.”

For fall, Konheim said close-to-the-body stretch looks will continue to be important, as well as illusion looks and a general styling that’s “soft, subtle and classic.” A concentration on new fabric developments will continue for fall, particularly in lightweight cloths and textured novelties.

Short lengths will still prevail for Nicole Miller, but not as short as the micro-lengths of spring, Konheim said..

Tom & Linda Platt will continue refocusing on “very simple, clean and modern clothes” for fall, said Tom Platt, co-owner and co-designer.

“The concept of a dress as just a product category is out,” Platt said. “The walls have been torn down. Dresses are part of an overall design concept. We produce a line with a specific design theme that happens to have a lot of dresses in it.”

Platt said business at retail has been good for spring, with a good response to bright colors.

“We were working on a fall color palette of traditional colors such as burgundy, eggplant, gray and navy, and I came in last week and threw away all the color boards,” Platt said. “The product was developing without a personality. Now we’re working on a wide range of colors such as brights and pastels because that’s what the stores tell us they want.”

Early bookings for summer-early fall have been good, with shirtdresses a leader, Platt said. Another promising area is short dresses in silk or wool crepe.

When Tom & Linda Platt are doing gray, it’s in tones like heather and textures like pebble crepe. Howard Bloom, president of Chetta B, said he expects a good early fall season, even though spring has gotten off to a slow start because of severe winter weather in the Midwest and Northeast and the Southern California quake.

“I’ve got good bookings for spring-summer,” Bloom said, “but the wild weather is driving everybody crazy. Unfortunately, the stores just don’t make up the lost business.

“And you can forget about California. I’m just thankful for the South, where we’re doing some good early spring specialty store business.”

For early fall, Bloom said he’s counting on “soft, short, flippy, young and sexy” silhouettes in fabrics such as silk georgette, silk chiffon, wool gauze, wool and rayon crepe, and stretch velour.

Bob Pitofsky, president of the MMCF division of Mary McFadden, Inc., said he’s seeing “outstanding spring trunk show business,” particularly outside of the Northeast,” with overall bookings up 25 percent over last year.

“We’re starting to preview early fall, and we’re getting terrific response to a more modern and updated point of view we’ve given the collection,” Pitofsky said. “There’s a less constructed look to the line, with softer shoulders using fabrics such as lace, and silk chiffons and georgettes. There’s also a greater interest in two-piece dressing, with skirts that have movement. “We feel fall will be a very good season,” Pitofsky said. “The economy is getting better and there’s a general feeling that people are ready to spend more.”

Robert Bronstein, president of the Richard Warren division of The Warren Group, said good checkouts on resort and early spring linens and silks “should set the momentum for the rest of the season and through early fall.”

“We’re making an effort to refocus on luxe looks for the bridge customer,” Bronstein said. “This means more of a wear-now collection relying heavily on silks and crepes in silhouettes that are easy, adorned with beautiful details.”

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