NEW YORK — Is fall looking brighter than initially anticipated?

This story first appeared in the May 7, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Amid some encouraging economic signs in one of the toughest periods in recent history, retailers and vendors struck a cautiously optimistic note at the Designers & Agents show, which ended its three-day run at the Starrett-Lehigh building on Wednesday. While they conceded business is unlikely to return to levels before the economic collapse, many noted some promising activity at retail in recent weeks.

Matthew Culmo, who coowns two By George boutiques in Austin, Tex., said customers have returned in recent weeks, and they are boasting a brighter attitude and a rediscovered desire to shop. “We are looking for some immediates,” Culmo said. “Everybody pared back for spring and summer, and now the customer is coming in. They are definitely shopping.

“In part, women have felt stifled, drilled by the media not to spend,” he added. “Now, they want to get out and shop again.”

Kristina Lyons, who owns the Portobello Road boutique in Chestnut Hill, Mass., with Marina Kalb, said, “We are looking for value without compromising design or originality in craftsmanship. It should be either something well-priced, or something you will have forever. We are still seeing a lot of layering, with T-shirts, and that one great dress you can throw on.”

The fall 2/holiday show is much smaller than its earlier fall counterpart. An area devoted to “green” fashions featured a booth for Inhabitat, an online magazine about sustainable design, which was livestreaming from the show. Brooklyn artist Aurora Robson’s sculptures from discarded plastic bottles, which were lit by solar-powered LED lights, were on display.

Anardo & Skyum, the Copenhagen-based label created by Peruvian Adriana Cachay Anardo and Danish Laerke Skyum Blichfeldt, offered knitwear in organic cotton and baby alpaca. The Peruvian-made line has wholesale price points from $40 to $350. Top sellers included a baby alpaca cardigan with a ruffled feature for $100 wholesale and a baby alpaca dress for $130.

Designer Jennie Liu was new to the New York edition of the show. Liu’s cashmere knitwear collection wholesales from $79 to $139, and Liu said basic colors are selling better than fashion ones. ”Stores are looking for price and style,” she said. “Mostly the basic colors are a good sell, because they are more safe. They buy black, grey, oatmeal and chocolate.”

Designer Minden Chan noted an increase in traffic at D&A. “The most important reason for this is because people were holding out for fall,” he said. “They want to place orders as late as possible.”

He said buyers who saw the pieces before and took notes “now have an opportunity to look at it again.”

Chan, whose dresses wholesale for $200 and cashmere sweaters for $170, had introduced a striped linen jersey T-shirt group in price points from $60 and $70. “That saved a lot of the season for us,” Chan said.

“People are buying later but they are buying,” said Michael Simon, who showed his contemporary line Smitten at D&A. “To stay in business, you have to get out and buy things.”

The show’s number of exhibitors was 20 percent off from last May, and the traffic was 17 percent down. Ed Mandelbaum, who produces D&A with Barbara Kramer, said, “From our perspective, the most encouraging thing about the show is hearing from retailers that business has picked up. We all know it’s not coming back in two seconds but we’re heading in a good direction. Now you can feel light at the end of the tunnel.”