On the runway in Dallas, a look from A.B.S.

DALLAS — Buoyed by a few months of improved sales, buyers shopped enthusiastically for bright colors, miniskirts and feminine styles at the five-day spring market that ended here Oct. 27 at the International Apparel Mart.<br><br>“We are...

DALLAS — Buoyed by a few months of improved sales, buyers shopped enthusiastically for bright colors, miniskirts and feminine styles at the five-day spring market that ended here Oct. 27 at the International Apparel Mart.

This story first appeared in the November 12, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We are ecstatic,” said Brad Hughes, who operates four showrooms of contemporary and bridge clothing. “We had the best market we’ve had in four years, in attendance and mood of the retailer. We are 10 percent ahead of last year as of Monday, with 50 percent of the paper out. The retailers were aggressive in first- quarter purchasing and placed immediate reorders for key lines. It’s all about items — color, print, novelty and short skirts.”

“This has been better than usual,” said Cynthia O’Connor, who shows better accessories here. “People are doing good business. A lot of the mediocre competition got eliminated and the eye is much more to quality now. No one is buying black. People want to be noticed.”

“Spring looks the best it’s looked in years,” said Gregor Simmons, who runs an eponymous buying office. “The designer trends happened in bridge, contemporary and better looks right away —not a season later. Tara Jarmon looks directly off the runway.”

The Dallas Market Center boosted the energy higher by throwing a cocktail party on four of the five floors in the World Trade Center, which will house the new fashion mart opening in March. About 1,300 people sipped pink sea breezes and sampled hors d’oeuvres while checking out the space for FashionCenterDallas, which is under construction.

“The new building is terrific,” said designer David Meister, who was nominated for a Dallas Fashion Award. “It’s a great venue to showcase fashion. We love the floor plan and all the windows and light. Buyers are going to love it, too.”

“We expected tenants [at the party], but we had a lot of retailers come,” said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the DMC. “The exhibitors get so excited when they see their spaces, and a lot of retailers were saying they can’t wait to get floor maps.”

During market in the International Apparel Mart, which will close after the January edition, buyers were upbeat about the holiday season and many increased their spring budgets slightly.

Floral prints and details such as D-rings, stitching, piping, ribbons, flowers and bows caught buyers’ eyes, and many said they were investing more in flirty skirts than pants for the first time in years. Buyers continually praised the vivid palette, ordering yellow, orange, pink, lime, red and turquoise, along with subtle mixes of brown with pink or pastel blue. In accessories, key trends included chain jewelry, layered necklaces, bangles, hoops, ringlets, initials and brightly printed handbags with white backgrounds and trim.

“I have never seen the market look better,” said Bobbie Baldridge, buyer for Tres Mariposas in El Paso. “Dresses are great, and we’re looking for minis because we’ve done really well with them. We love the ladylike, Audrey Hepburn looks, and Kathlin Argiro had a great denim pinstripe.”

Cindi Browning, owner of Chantal’s in Colleyville, Tex., an upper-middle-class Dallas suburb, said business had taken off since July when she moved to bigger quarters in a new center.

“By the time we get it out of the box, it’s gone,” she marveled. “We have trouble keeping enough inventory.”

Browning stocked up on Parameter’s flirty pleated short skirts in pink, white and blue, WWW’s shirts sparked with crystals and Glamour Toujours’ shredded white top with scattered touches of gold, metallic-printed knit tanks in pastels, and red and white floral-print knit tops.

Wendy Gardeur, owner of Ballin’s in New Orleans, was writing an order for Di Vita’s orange silk dupioni striped shirt and matching solid pants and a crisp white microfiber trenchcoat.

“I had the biggest September in the history of my business,” said Gardeur, who opened in 1981. “I think people have more confidence. They held back for a while, and now everything in their wardrobe looks old and they’re ready for something exciting. Also, the manufacturers have gotten more precise and are picking good things. It used to be you had to look through so much mediocre stuff.”

Jane Webb, owner of The Webb Clothing Co. and C/K Co. in Oklahoma City, plans to combine her two stores in a larger venue by yearend, so her spring buy was up 10 percent.

“My customers want smooth novelty but not cheesy,” she observed. “They want smart, sophisticated and different — no one is replacing a black suit.”

Webb favored Tahari’s “wearable, not trendy” utilitarian styles, Chaiken’s prints and Di Vita’s white leather jacket with black piping, tan leather jeans jacket and tobacco suede zipper skirt.

Coley & TAG’s white pearls on taupe thread layered with silver hoop necklaces caught the eye of Pam Lott, who was shopping for Carriage House Fine Clothing in Gulfport, Miss. Describing her store as “soft, sweet and girlie,” Lott said she loved the preppie combinations of pink and green in the market. As she concentrated on accessories, Lott ordered J. Tiras’ initial leather handbags and jeweled leather cuffs by Rachel Abroms.

“Monogramming is huge for us,” she said, gesturing to the J. Tiras initial animal-print handbag under her arm. “I love this because I carry practically no inventory and they sell themselves. People have stopped me all the way from the airport about this bag.”

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