Buyers were eyeing jackets. Here, a look from Kello.

NEW YORK — Knowing in these trying times that consumers want simplified shopping, vendors and retailers at five trade shows held here last week said they were attempting to oblige. <br><br>Attendees at Designers at the Essex House, International...

NEW YORK — Knowing in these trying times that consumers want simplified shopping, vendors and retailers at five trade shows held here last week said they were attempting to oblige.

This story first appeared in the October 5, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Attendees at Designers at the Essex House, International Designers at the Waldorf-Astoria, Nouveau Collective, Atelier and Pacific Designers said they were working overtime to keep their customers smiling. Hosting at-home trunk shows, offering more customized pieces and adhering to shoppers’ wish lists were some of the tactics they were using.

After checking out Braeda Horan Designs at the Essex House, Timna Myers, owner of Timna, a Memphis specialty store, said more of her customers are counting on her for specialized attention. “They look to me to put together a look that’s different. They want me to do the whole thing — clothes, shoes, bags. Pins are big, so we’re doing a lot of pins.”

Even though business is 20 percent ahead of last year, shoppers are still being cautious about what they buy, Myers said. Her husband, Malcolm, attributed the increase to his wife’s ability to broaden her customer base by offering unusual pieces.

Timna Myers said she planned to order mostly pants, skirts and tops at the Essex House, Atelier and Pacific Designers. Kay Chapman, Susans, Treadle, Ann McKenna, Kedem Sasson and Patricia Farley were resources she planned to visit.

The show’s organizer, Linda Heister, designer of Mark Heister, said retailers “are not complaining.” Her own company’s special orders and trunk show schedule have increased compared with a year ago. A $900 black jacket with Swarovski trim, an $850 taupe dress with Swarovski trim and a $590 chartreuse French silk faille jacket were bestsellers at Mark Heister at the show.

“To be successful today, you have to focus, refocus and focus again, because business is so challenging. People aren’t dressing up as much, they’re spending more money on their homes and there’s an aging population,” said Heister.

Another show resource, Agostino, reported spring orders were consistent with last year, with a few exceptions, according to Frank Agostino, designer. He said retailers from the Washington, D.C., area were “cautious,” since a change in the presidential administration would signal a mass exodus at the beginning of the year. Pants that can be worn from day into evening were in demand at the show, Agostino said.

Annual sales at the Agostino specialty store in Bryn Mawr, Pa., are ahead of last year even though sales have been spotty in recent months. “July and August were a disaster, but we more than made up for it in September,” Agostino said.

At the International Designers at the Waldorf-Astoria, Sera Kalajian, designer of Sera B., said stores are more cautious about the amount of money they are spending, unless they are from Europe. The healthy exchange rate between the euro and the dollar makes American-made products more attractive to European buyers, she said.

“For the first time, we opened an account in Switzerland. We’re going to make more of an effort to sell overseas,” Kalajian said.

On the flip side, Sera B. “insists” that everything is made in New York. “I don’t want to send anything overseas,” she said.

The brand’s printed silk jackets, which wholesale from $425 to $800, were a big hit with buyers at the show. Kalajian expects shoppers to respond the same way. “They buy a jacket and finis — they’re dressed up.”

Zandra Rhodes showed at the Waldorf as part of the company’s plan to build U.S. sales beyond the current rate of 40 percent, said Ben Scholten, head of design. Well aware that some specialty stores no longer travel overseas, the London-based company wants to help them save a step. In addition, Rhodes has seen a bit of a resurgence, since women are interested in wearing livelier prints after many seasons of dressing in solids, Scholten said.

Another London-based company, Bellville Sassoon, showed off its new bridal collection at the show. Geared for women who are marrying later in life or for the second time, the collection is slinkier and more elegant than traditional dresses, said Oliver Quambusch, sales and marketing director. Harrods, for example, houses the group in its eveningwear department, he noted.

He said he was pleased to see a fair amount of international buyers at the show, instead of just East Coast stores.

At Nouveau Collective at the Park Central Hotel, Lisa Krutchik and her daughter, Susan Reiner, were in search of jackets for their store, Statements, in Miami. Skirts and dresses were also on their list at customers’ requests. Like Myers, they aim to outfit shoppers from head-to-toe, and also offer jewelry and evening bags.

Angel, Olivier Goureau and Linda Lundstrom were among the labels they planned to check out.

Having been in business for 17 years, Statements specialized in accessories until branching into apparel about five years ago. Within the past two years, Krutchik and Reiner have focused on better clothing, and sales have increased by more than 30 percent.

“People don’t mind spending more for quality and for special service,” Reiner said.

Beth Best-Doyle, owner of Moe, a Keene, N.H.-based brand, said she picked up 10 new accounts at the show. Buyers were so interested in skirts that she changed the display in her booth to show off more of them. Different sizes of multicolored polkadots and an Iris-print with retro piping were favorite looks. “It definitely seems like a skirt season,” Best-Doyle said.

After meeting with her retail advisory council, Pacific Designers’ organizer Susan Summa said they are energized about the variety of colors and textures for spring. Limlee, Ocelot, Crea, Ray Harris and Akikiko Izukura were among the standouts at the show.

“There’s a groundswell of hunger, after having been so cautious for the last couple of years,” she said. “I haven’t seen that kind of enthusiasm and confidence in the last four years.”

Shopping at Pacific Designers at the Righa Royal Hotel, Midge Galst-Golner, president of Largesse, a Phoenix-based company that specializes in at-home trunk shows, said she planned to visit Gild the Lily and Kedem Sasson, as well as Sophie Fizl at Nouveau Collective. Having owned a store in Scottsdale, Ariz., for 20 years, Galst-Golner said the trunk show business is better suited for her customers.

“My customer base is more refined. I have customers we all dream of having. She wants special attention, she doesn’t have time to mess around in department stores, and she knows she’ll find what she wants,” Galst-Golner said.

— Rosemary Feitelberg