DALLAS — The price was right on feminine, detailed fashions at last month’s market at FashionCenterDallas.

This story first appeared in the April 10, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Vendors ramped up design with intricate tucking and draping and reduced prices 10 to 20 percent to give cautious merchants a reason to buy at the four-day event that ended March 15. Some offered discounts and free shipping to encourage fall orders.

Buyers whittled budgets by 5 to 20 percent because of the recession, but they showed greater willingness to experiment with new resources, especially those offering creative styling at affordable prices.

“A lot of designers have done their homework, and a lot of sleepy lines look fresh and new,” said Bob Benham, owner of Balliet’s in Oklahoma City. “I’m sure we’ll pick up Michael Simon’s novelty sweaters — the black cardigan with ribbon trim was beautiful. Donna Ricco looked great and we’re going to see Votre Nom for the first time in a while.”

Carol Hoffman, who shopped the market for her namesake buying service, said, “There was clearly an evolution of product. You could see a more sophisticated approach to fall dressing. The designers took great care in uplifting the customers’ mood with vibrant color and details.”

However, most buyers withheld some of their fall budgets in order to respond nimbly to emerging business and fashion trends.

“I have a lot of people buying closer to delivery, more than ever before,” said Allyson Cooke, owner of the Launch contemporary showroom.

“We see that the buyers are placing about 50 to 60 percent of their fall on order, especially with European vendors, and then holding off to complete the buy as they get closer to need,” Hoffman said. “The consumers are now buying when the weather changes or when they have specific needs.”

Traffic was slower than last year, but the Dallas Market Center saw an increase in international buyers and a consistently high level of buyers new to the marketplace, who represented 15 percent of attendants, said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer.

“Our loyal retailers will serve as the backbone of economic recovery, and in order to stay ahead of the competition, they are sourcing smarter and seeking resources and information only available at market,” Morris said.

Retailers responded to purple, plaid, ponte and tweed, and an abundance of pintucking, pleating and draping. Sportswear, including skinny skirts and pants, knitwear and item jackets, returned to the forefront. The dress — belted, sheath or tunic — was still important for easy wardrobing.

Kerry Bruno, owner of Asby’s in New Orleans, and Machelle Williams, owner of Machelle’s in Midland, Tex., both planned to pick up Fumblin’ Foe, a new line of contemporary sportswear wholesaling for about $50 to $80. Among the looks were a caramel metallic ottoman tiered jacket with lantern sleeves and an oatmeal drawstring blouson top with tonal embroidery and sequins.

“My customers are buying moderate prices that are 20 to 30 percent lower than last year, things with perceived value,” Williams said. “Desigual, a new line from Spain at Scott Harner, has great colorful novelty jackets, coats, tops and dresses [wholesaling] for $85 to $125. A year ago, it would have been twice that.”

Bruno said, “I have had so many more people ask for sportswear in the last six months. BCBG [Max Azria] has great skirts and sweaters, and everything is under $100 wholesale. It fits, and it sells and sells.”

Hallie Phillips, co-owner of Belle G, a contemporary store in Meridian, Miss., said, “Companies have come down on price. If you can pass that on, then everyone can work together and we can come through this. Retail is not for the fearful.”

Phillips and her buyers were focused on items such as Velvet Heart’s silk dip-dyed tunic, Lani’s tie-dyed peasant dress and Rice’s wrap sweaters with leather trim.

Several designers and principals visited the show to court clients personally. Josie Natori stopped by to meet independent retailers and hear feedback about Natorious, her knit-driven line that was exclusive to Saks Fifth Avenue last year.

She plans to offer more “luxury casual” styles in the resort collection.

“There is a whole niche for casual clothing that is not jeans and doesn’t look like a jog suit or pajamas,” Natori said. “The Baby Boomer is underserved. I’m intent to make sure [Natorious] fits size 16 and I’ll do plus sizes eventually. There is so much focus on size 2 or 4 and that is not reality.”

Christian Kane, who co-stars in the TNT show “Leverage,” promoted the classic bikinis he created with stylist Heather Robinson under the label Maverix.

“I always wanted to do lingerie, and we’re starting with swimwear to put some product out there that was good quality and still affordable,” said Kane, explaining that he and Robinson also intend to introduce upscale lingerie.

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