NEW YORK — Whether from large specialty stores or small boutiques, retailers will be heading to the Fashion Coterie later this month to get a jump on fall, a focus on direction and to look for fresh new talent.

They already have some clear ideas as to what they expect for fall. They’re talking about:

  • Continued interest in soft dressing generally, although some say they would like to see more variety.
  • More structured silhouettes in suits, which could be one exception to the soft, drapy trend.
  • Another round of popularity for short skirts.

Buyers will be looking to the Coterie for new ideas as well, and to help confirm direction before heading off to see the collections in Europe.

The Coterie, produced by ENK Productions, will take place Feb. 20-22 at the Plaza Hotel. It will feature 270 collections from designers in Belgium, Holland, Ireland, France, Italy, Great Britain, Finland, Canada and the U.S.

Buyers and vendors alike note that the recent spate of bad weather has soured business for the start of the year, but at the same time the usual enthusiasm that comes with the start of a new season is expected to give the show a lift.

“I always like the Coterie,” said Toby Lerner, an owner at Toby Lerner in Philadelphia. “It gives me a preview as to what some of the American collections are all about. I get ideas for direction, although it’s a bit early for me to write orders.” Lerner said the show gives her a sense of things before going to Europe. She usually finds items at the Coterie, she noted, while she reserves Europe to shop for collections.

“I need both for a good mix in the store,” she said.

For fall, Lerner said she is hoping to find more variety than she saw at the spring show.

“Spring seemed so short and drapy,” she said. “I need things for real women.”

That means structured and unstructured merchandise that is both short and long. Lerner said she was also hoping to find special occasion dressing.

With an open-to-buy up only about 5 percent, Lerner said she would like to keep costs under control.

“I think the economy is getting better, but I think it’s best to stay a little conservative,” she said. “The weather has really hurt my business. The year has had a difficult start, but on the other hand I hope there will be a rebound effect — women will come out of the woodwork. They are going to be hungry for something new to look forward to in their closets.”

Francesca Horsely, manager of Anik’s two Manhattan boutiques, echoed the same sentiments about the dismal weather.

“It’s been rough going lately,” she said. “It’s been slow because of the weather. Our stores are having major sales because no one is going out shopping.”

“I go to the Coterie to see new designers and see what’s going on. Being here, I don’t really need to go too far to go to a showroom,” she said.

Weather and the economy being major factors in business, Horsely said her open-to-buy was about the same as last year’s and price points will be an issue. Horsely said she will look for dresses, suits and sportswear in prints, textured fabrics and soft dressing.

“Basically most of my buying is in Europe,” said Mary Jane Denzer, owner of her eponymous boutique in White Plains, N.Y., “but I love to go to the Coterie to see what’s new and exciting and pick up new items. If I see something wonderful, I’ll write an order. Essentially it’s a searching expedition.”

Denzer said she sees a return to “reality dressing.”

“I think people are tired of dressing like a theatrical production,” she said. “Real things are what I’m looking for. The weather has been catastrophic. We had to close the store for two days. I feel very up about going into the spring season in spite of the fact we’ve been off to a bad start.”

Moving to a larger space this fall, Denzer said her open-to-buy will probably increase slightly.

“The Coterie is a place to find new young designers and to get direction for the season,” said Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. “It’s also one of the first shows to see fall.”

Fischelis said that although Saks has already established a general fall forecast, she still goes to the show with an “open mind,” expecting to find some new and fresh things.

While manufacturers expect to do business at the show, many use the Coterie as a way to fine-tune their lines while gaining new accounts and reinforcing established ones.

Isabel Ardee, a suit resource here, will be showing at the Coterie after a three-season absence, according to Peter Lione, national sales manager.

“We didn’t think the show was so important in the past,” he said, “but we realized it really was. The Coterie is an incredible PR venture. We see a lot of customers, we get to preview our line in three days and know exactly where all our business is coming from and what colors are important. Even if retailers don’t write an order, it’s a reminder to them that we’re here.”

Lione said that there is a resurgence in structured suits. He said that Isabel Ardee is moving away from wide-leg pants toward narrow leggings and lots of flippy and short skirts in Japanese fabrics like striped triacetate in eggplant, black, navy, brown and dark green. The firm also is showing a transition dress group in georgette solids and prints.

“My company has been doing the Coterie for the past six years,” said Nadine Marder, president of Ninety, a sportswear resource here. “I’ve always done well there. It gives me a better selection of better stores, and the Plaza makes it really easy to work there. I always go back where I’ve been successful.”

Narder said she is hoping to increase her orders by about 25 percent over last year on the company’s fall line of retro suits and jackets in mahogany and ochre with embroidery and other detailing.

Karen Erickson, an owner of Showroom Seven, said she plans to do some serious business at the show.

“I always have a business goal, and I plan aggressively,” she said. “I hope to have an increase over last year of between 30 and 50 percent. I will be happy if I book $4 million on Ghost.”

Along with Ghost, Erickson will be showing Lianne Barnes, Eva Branca and Maura Daniel.

She also noted that Coterie provides a dress rehearsal for the runway shows some of the lines put on in April.

“I’m very optimistic about the show,” said Ellen Mullman, sales manager for Tamotsu. “We’re coming off a very good year and the Coterie kicks off the new year. It gives us feedback on how to make the line more commercial.”

Mullman said soft dressing would continue to be strong and revealed that the company is using silk and viscose for the first time along with some knits, including chenille.

Calling the Coterie more of a looking show than a writing show, she said, “We hope to do the same as last year. I don’t think this is a growth season. Growth is nice, but I’m trying to be realistic. The weather has been a disaster. People aren’t going out shopping. They are strapping on their Timberlands and renting videos.”

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