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Cold-Shoulder Look Remains Hot in Post-Election US Fashion Sector

As the North American fashion industry finally regains its mojo following its pre- and post-election jitters, New York's Intermezzo Collections finds it dusting off old classics and pondering the import of the sourcing sensitive consumer.

Photo: Flower power: Floral prints prove to be a hardy perennial of the US fashion scene.
Flower power: Floral prints prove to be a hardy perennial of the US fashion scene.
Photo: Flower power: Floral prints prove to be a hardy perennial of the US fashion scene.
Flower power: Floral prints prove to be a hardy perennial of the US fashion scene.

Broadly upbeat, the gathered fashionistas at New York's Intermezzo Collections event claimed the industry was largely back on track, following something of a hiatus in the past 12 months as the election season held forward planning more than a little in abeyance. With normal service now resumed, the 'cold' shoulder look was seen as still proving popular with consumers, while sundry embellishments, including floral prints with lace and embroidery highlights, were the talk of the more southerly states.

Traditionally, US elections trigger a slackening of sales, as buyers and consumers postpone their spending plans until this inevitable period of political and economic uncertainty settles down once more. The 2016-17 election and inauguration season proved to be no exception, with many exhibitors at the Intermezzo event commenting that business had only really started to pick up in early spring.

Noting the clear uptick marked by the tills in the fashion sector once again starting to ring, Katie Popiel, Director of Sales for Duffield Lane, a Michigan-based manufacturer of nautically themed women's clothing, said: "This has been a good event for us. We are definitely experiencing something of an upwards trend."

While many noted this recent upturn in business, some were more concerned at what they saw as a fundamental shift in the underlying sales structure throughout the whole sector. In particular, it was felt that the volume of sales conducted via traditional buyers is in irrevocable decline, even as the direct-to-consumer online sales channel grows in importance across the US.

Acknowledging this, Alexandra Thompson, a Senior Designer for Persifor, a Connecticut-based resort-wear brand, said: "While consumers are spending, wholesale buyers are not buying in the way they used to. E-commerce is definitely the coming trend."

Perhaps reassuringly, even amid these changing consumer buying habits, many fashion trends are proving to be relatively reliable long-term bets within the US fashion sector. Most notably, the exposed cold-shoulder look remains a clear consumer favourite and proved to be a staple of many collections at this year's event.

One of the many to pay tribute to the enduring appeal of this particular style was Sally Hernandez, a National Account Executive for Super Apparel Inc, a New York-based womenswear retailer. Cutting pretty much straight to the point, she said: "Off-the-shoulder is still a very big trend indeed."

In terms of patterning and fabric, however, it was pretty much universally acknowledged that floral prints still rule the roost across the US. Acknowledging their undoubted ubiquity, Hernandez said: "Consumers simply love floral prints. They are what they now expect from us across the board, from California to New York."

Photo: Classic looks: Seldom out of style.
Classic looks: Seldom out of style.
Photo: Classic looks: Seldom out of style.
Classic looks: Seldom out of style.
Photo: Consumer concerns: Sourcing sensitive.
Consumer concerns: Sourcing sensitive.
Photo: Consumer concerns: Sourcing sensitive.
Consumer concerns: Sourcing sensitive.

While noting the continuing consumer appetite for floral prints, Thompson also maintained that certain regional preferences are now emerging, saying: "While our particular product is very print and motif-based, in the south east there is a greater enthusiasm for foliage – pinks and greens sell a lot better there than they do in the north east. For our part, we do very well with navy blue and light blue locally."

Identifying another abiding trend, James Zhang, Co-owner of Pennsylvania's Alexa by Jenny James, said: "There's still a lot of demand for embellishments, particularly with regard to embroidery, lace and fringes. At this show, in particular, the buyers have been going crazy for anything lacy, while demand has also been huge for silk and cashmere."

Largely echoing Zhang's sentiments, Hernandez said: "No matter which direction you walk, you can't miss the embroidery and tassels. And, while lace is still an important trend point, pearl treatments are the coming thing."

Overall, it just wouldn't be a US fashion event if there wasn't a sizable contingent pushing graphic-heavy tee-shirts. This time round, this particular honour went to New York's Ilene Oran & Co. Bravely setting out to sell the trend within the trend, Sales Representative Emily Kuba, said: "Right now, tee-shirts with female empowerment slogans are flying off the shelves, as are our range of looser-fitting items."

It would seem that even this sector, however, is subject to regional preferences, with Kuba saying: "The West Coast is a bit more laid-back, so our line is just perfect. While the East Coast is starting to get it a little bit more, tee-shirts – and graphic tee-shirts in particular – are really still more of a West Coast thing.

"In the case of the southern region, which tends to be a little more price-conscious, the fact that our line is a bit more expensive was always going to be an issue. Overall, though, it's still fair to say that the south is always a year or two behind, so maybe they haven't quite caught up with the price or even the overall concept of graphic tee-shirts just yet."

With many of the exhibitors at the event also clearly targeting the extensive US independent boutique market, it was no surprise that many staples and several time-served classics were widely available. Even this relatively robust and traditionally hardy sector, however, was not immune to the ever-expanding tendrils of the fast-fashion section, though not every supplier was a willing convert.

Proud of Duffield Lane's willingness to maintain its more bespoke approach, Popiel said: "We favour very nautical, preppy, timeless pieces – items you can pull out of your closet season after season. We're quite happy to stay classic, rather than be drawn by too much of the fashion-forward approach.

"Essentially, we're happy not to be trend-driven. While we have incorporated a number of fringed items this year, we largely stick to a more classic look. Our customers are really looking for something timeless."

Sounding a similar note, Thompson said: "At Persifor, we tend to opt for the same silhouettes and the same bodies each season. We regard these as blank canvases for us to go to work on, subsequently filling them out with prints and embellishments.

"The classic staples' customer values versatility and ease when selecting garments. For us, our client base always tends to be a little conservative. It's always women buyers buying for a female clientele.

"Typically, they want items that are low maintenance, wrinkle resistant and that they can wear during the day when picking up their kids, running errands or buying groceries and then into the early evening, where they want to be able to easily transition into the cocktail hour look."

Irrespective of trend or market niche, however, many US consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive when it comes to product sourcing, with environmental impact and ethical manufacturing a major concern for a growing number of customers.

Highlighting this, Megan Tierney, Founder of Louise & Eleanor, a California-based handmade handbag brand, said: "Customers are now far more aware of how and where items are manufactured. This is now an important part of their purchase criteria and that is not going to change."

Photo: Intermezzo Collection 2017: The US fashion industry flexes its post-election muscles.
Intermezzo Collection 2017: The US fashion industry flexes its post-election muscles.
Photo: Intermezzo Collection 2017: The US fashion industry flexes its post-election muscles.
Intermezzo Collection 2017: The US fashion industry flexes its post-election muscles.

Intermezzo Collections 2017 took place at New York City's Jacob K Javits Convention Center from 6-8 August.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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