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But buyers from major chains, including Macy’s and Dillard’s, said they left the California Market Center last week largely disappointed in their search for creative design and innovation in back-to-school and fall collections from junior and women’s brands. The color palette was familiar — dominated by purple and gray — and so were the skinny jeans, sweater dresses and Eighties-influenced styles that were prevalent.
“I just haven’t seen anything too different” at the three-day show that ended last Wednesday, said Kathy Nguyen, a buyer for Macy’s East.
A period of economic turbulence is “not the time to be safe,” said Mark Galvan, an active sportswear buyer for Dillard’s, based in Little Rock, Ark. “It’s the time to be special. Everybody seems to be playing it safe, and safe doesn’t sell.”
Peter Vahjen, merchandise manager for Dillard’s better sportswear and contemporary division, said when the economy is weak, vendors should aggressively pursue fashion to position themselves to grab larger market share when retail makes a comeback.
“Things that stand out will sell,” he said.
In the current climate, every effort to differentiate a brand counts, even if it’s an affiliation with celebrities who aren’t known for their fashion finesse. As Bongo Jeans’ new spokesmodel, reality TV personality Kim Kardashian signed autographs for buyers, while YMI introduced actress Aimee Teegarden from NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” as the face of its fall ad campaign.
In a fashion show on opening day, Directives West, the Los Angeles-based buying office owned by The Doneger Group, featured animal-print designs from Melanie “Scary Spice” Brown’s sportswear label, Catty Couture, as well as an activewear line from Jillian Michaels, a physical trainer on NBC’s weight-loss program, “The Biggest Loser.”
Celebrities factored into the junior category beyond marketing. Brands noted that clothes worn by the likes of Kardashian and Miley Cyrus, the Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana,” strongly influence teens’ choices. For instance, the emergence of rocker and biker motifs such as skulls and guitars are “based on the success of Hannah Montana,” said Richard Clareman, president of Montebello, Calif.-based All Access Apparel, which produces brands that include Self Esteem, Belle du Jour and L.A. Kitty.