LOS ANGELES — Business was on more solid ground at the California Mart last week than it was at the last major market here.
That one, of course, was derailed by the Jan. 17 earthquake, but the Fall I market that just ended was marked by fast action and good spirits. Buyers came armed with budgets that ranged from even with a year ago to 30 percent ahead, and many showroom owners reported sizable orders were written.
“This is the best market we have had in three years,” said Peter Jacobsen, co-owner of Creative Concepts, a multiple line showroom featuring California designers. “The last market was good, too — until the earthquake hit. People didn’t stay away long, though.”
According to mart officials, the five-day stand, which ran through April 26 and also featured well-attended bridal and plus-size shows, attracted 20 percent more buyers than a year ago.
Fashion shows were packed. The mart’s evening fashion event, “Symbols,” held a week ago Saturday, attracted about 700 guests to the Variety Arts Club. They included Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who made a short speech praising the local apparel industry, asserting that the rest of the country looks to this city for “what’s new and what’s next.”
The big trends being sent down the runways during the market week included updated soft suits with cropped jackets, flippy skirts or tapered trousers; leather, shearling and fake fur items, and sportswear with workwear influences such as carpenter pants and apron dresses.
When it came to leaving paper, retailers seemed particularly fond of knitwear and leather outerwear. Comfort and color were their key concerns.
Connie Sigel, owner of Excessories, a Dallas boutique, searched the Mart for textured knitwear — silk knits or reembroidered knits — in intense shades of plum, teal and slate. Shopping wholesale price points of $25 to $100, she also looked for tapered pants, short fitted jackets, cropped sweaters and ankle-length skirts. Sigel reported an open-to-buy up between 30 and 35 percent.
“Business is fabulous,” she said. “Texas is staging a comeback. People are more comfortable spending money now.”
Jon and Julie Snyder, owners of Mr. S Clothing, a men’s and women’s boutique in Vernal, Utah, favored knits too. Natural fiber wovens, including items in linen and rayon, were also on their list.
The husband-and-wife team, who were looking for goods wholesaling from $30 to $100, preferred soft, neutral colors such as gray, tan and oatmeal. Contemporary sportswear by local resources Antony Moorcroft and Rialto caught their eye, as did denim from Buffalo and knitwear from Ballinger Gold.
The Snyders said they had increased their fall budget by 20 percent, citing an influx of Southern California transplants into their area. “Because of the riots, floods and earthquakes, a lot of people are replacing their expensive homes out here with cheap property in Utah,” Jon Snyder said. “They’re putting the rest of their money in the bank or shopping.”
Doris Bothell, owner of Andoras Fashion Boutique in Bellevue, Wash., said she liked silk suits with tailored pants or above-the-knee skirts and shorter, body-conscious jackets. Shopping for items wholesaling up to $1,000, she was also interested in wool military-style jackets and cossack coats with velvet trim in cadet blue and army green. The retailer thought that shearling and fake fur items were fun, but planned to buy only a few pieces. Lines she favored included Judith Ann, Suzelle, Bogner and Cynthia Steffe.
Andoras’s 1994 sales were double what they were this time last year.
“Women do need new clothes and, for some time now, they’ve been buying everything but clothes. They may be conservative in their dress, but not in their spending,” Bothell said.
Bothell spent too, increasing her open-to-buy 30 percent.
Sandi Nickel, owner of Chestnut Run, two boutiques in Aspen, Colo., and Santa Fe, N.M., looked for outerwear at an average $200 wholesale. She liked bomber jackets in leather, suede and shearling by G-III, and paired them with chenille sweaters by B Sweaters in gold and malachite green, as well as short suede and leather skirts by Jon Michael. Her open-to-buy was flat, she said.
Sandy Lewis, owner of Parlour and Pantry, a women’s apparel and housewares store in Porterville, Calif., was another retailer on the hunt for leather jackets. She zeroed in on easy knit and denim items at up to $150 wholesale as she kept her open-to-buy even with last year.
Informal gowns were the headliners, as bridal buyers shopped the 250 lines concentrated on the mart’s second and 13th floors. Instead of big, traditional weddings that involve glitzy gowns and a lot of planning, retailers said, couples from this area often opt for no-frills ceremonies in Las Vegas. Among the varied silhouettes, off-the-shoulder necklines continued to be a favorite look.
Joyce Williams, owner of Kay’s Bridal Shop in Castro Valley, Calif., said she was happy to find informal bridal and mother-of-the-bride dresses at up to $150 wholesale. Her sales are 3 to 5 percent ahead of a year ago, she said.
Shellie Regos, buyer for Here Comes the Bride in San Diego, said she was also finding everything she wanted, mainly sheaths and mermaid-style dresses in silk for less than $1,000 wholesale.
“Brides are 30 to 40 years old these days,” she said, “so more informal looks are big. This doesn’t mean the gowns lack sophistication. A popular look right now is sheer, a la Vera Wang. Matte satin and silk shantung gowns are coming into their own, too.”
With sales up slightly, Regos kept her open-to-buy unchanged.
Bright colors and flowing silhouettes were in demand at the concurrent Los Angeles Plus-Size Market. The market, featuring 330 lines, was highlighted by a Saturday morning seminar and evening fashion show, which drew 50 and 300 people, respectively.
While exhibitors offered soft silhouettes — including palazzo pants, long tunics and Empire dresses — in fall shades of forest green, burgundy, charcoal, camel and ecru, many buyers preferred these items in brights. Despite reported sales increases, they also kept their budgets in check and bought items instead of collections. Most said they were happy with the selection on hand.
“It’s hard to find nice styles for big women, but this year is better than most,” said Wanda Shanks, buyer for Dot’s Boutique, Oakland. Shanks wanted bright sportswear in sizes 4 to 24 and looked for goods in the $15 to $95 wholesale range. With sales at least 30 percent ahead of a year ago, she raised her open-to-buy slightly.
Melissa Davis, buyer of Seaside Associate Store, a women’s boutique in Seaside, Fla., also favored bright colors in basic silhouettes, as she looked for immediate offerings of cotton pants and camp shirts. Citing healthy sales, she said her open-to-buy was up 5 percent.