NEW YORK — Dealing with cost-minded shoppers in these uncertain political and economic times is no small feat, according to attendees at two New York trade shows, Designers at the Essex House and Atelier.
At Essex House, Philippe Goetschel, vice president of design and production for Algo of Switzerland, said, “The stores are saying how difficult the retail business is. They are saying that business is very slow and there are no people in their stores. It’s everywhere. We see it in Switzerland and the whole of Europe.”
To that end, more stores are requesting trunk shows, which serve no risk in terms of inventory, he said. “There are so many collections that are trying to do the same thing. Fashion is not easy,” he said. During business trips, he has noticed that Zara “is absolutely the one store that is crowded with shoppers in every city.” Hermes and Louis Vuitton also appear to have more shoppers than most, he said.
At Algo, buyers favored a python jacket that retails for $3,980, a reversible mink and cashmere coat at $7,590 and a lightweight Gore-Tex-lined trench at $2,490.
With a specialty store and wholesale operation in Englewood, N.J., Paulina Savarese said many of the buyers who reviewed her signature collection complained that business has been quiet. “Everybody has the same complaints,” she said. “And everyone is looking for something exciting and new. I see it in my own store. People have become more casual in the way they dress. They are just spending money for special occasions.”
Adhering to buyers’ requests for daytime dresses, Savarese has introduced an assortment of bright-colored ones that wholesale from $400 to $450. Sleeveless and short-sleeve styles were most popular, with an emerald green one being a bestseller, she said. Despite buyers’ reservations, Essex House orders were placed by about 12 stores compared to seven or eight last February, she said.
Periodically extending her own store’s hours and offering Champagne and cheese are among the tactics she is trying to keep shoppers coming back. Trunk shows are also becoming more important, Savarese said.
At Atelier, Ricki Peltzman, owner of Upstairs on 7th, was in search of more youthful, fitted lines for one of the three stores she has within the same Washington, D.C., building. By updating that element of her company, she aims to attract new customers beyond the current base of “confident women over the age of 35 who like to wear clothes with a little flair.”
With a number of clients who work in the White House, the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, she said her business continues to see gains, as was the case last year with 12 percent growth. “Here’s the thing — I live in the capital and the government doesn’t go out of business,” she said. Ray Harris is a popular resource for colorful sportswear, Peltzman said. Annemieke Broenink was another must-see, since Upstairs on 7th has sold 1,500 units of her Latex necklaces.
At the show for the first time, Jennifer Rubin, co-owner of SonnieGane, a plus-size specialty store in Pompano Beach, Fla., was looking primarily for pants and tops. Catering to tourists, many of whom are Canadian, the retailer has seen sales slow recently due partially to the weakened Canadian dollar. Other out-of-towners, such as those who have just returned from cruises, are also being more conservative about spending, she said. “It’s been a strange season but we’re doing OK,” Rubin said.
To try to entice them, SonnieGane has marked down older merchandise by up to 40 percent, Rubin said. Staffers are also trying to e-mail shoppers and post more frequently on the store’s Facebook page, but Rubin said, “We’re not doing that as much as we should.”
At NY 77 Design, Alec Izarov and Artem Mitroff said buyers were interested in pants and other separates. Many were repeat customers, since a general trend among retailers is go-with what you know instead of trying new brands. Buyers have been more interested in polyester items and are staying away from wool ones, since shoppers think it can be itchy and aging. Working in those parameters, the company wrote about 15 percent more orders compared to last February’s show. With tops wholesaling from $79 to $135 and pants starting at $125, the company is not seeing any caution among buyers in regard to price.
Atelier Designers’ director Susan Summa said retailers were looking for accessories, item jackets and collections with European-looking touches, such as textures, asymmetric hemlines and experimental color. Even though consumers are apprehensive about the U.S. presidential election and they’re distracted by following the developments on their smartphones or TVs, Summa said, “The stores know that people are always going to shop.”