26 Jan 2017
Loose Fits and Muted Colours Set the Scene on the L.A. Catwalk
For this season, busy working women wants easy-to-wear, simple fashions, although their conscience may steer them towards more environmentally friendly styles, according to exhibitors at the Designers and Agents fashion show.
Loose fits, clean lines and muted colours were everywhere at the Los Angeles Designers and Agents (D&A) fashion show. While many at the event were keen proponents of the easy-to-wear, simple fashions favoured by the majority of today's time-pressured working women, geometric prints were not without their own fanbase.
Despite the US West Coast's reputation for down-to-earth, laid-back younger fashion tastes, many exhibitors at the D&A event favoured clean, sophisticated lines. Across the show floor, muted tones and raw fabrics were a common sight, while prints tended towards the geometric, with a few notable – and colourful – exceptions.
Sustainability and environmental awareness were also championed by a number of exhibitors, with certain sections of the US consumer base seemingly now taking an interest in more than just style and fit. As with any American garment show, tee-shirts were must-have items, especially those bearing particularly eye-catching slogans.
One exhibitor finding favour with simple cut, loose-fitting apparel was Massachusetts-based Artemesia Handmade. Assessing the market overall, Wendy Akroyd, the company's Founder, said: "Our collection is easy wearing and casual, featuring the kind of linen natural fabrics that will be popular in spring and summer 2017.
"What's working well at this show, though, are our easy-wearing tunic-style dresses. I think that women today – especially mums – like to put on just one thing, match it with a great pair of shoes, and just go. Dressing up takes too much time. That's why hair is easy. That's why everything is easy."
For Los Angeles-based Westward Showroom, certain items were must-haves, while a number of individual pieces signified the popularity of simple designs. Predicting the trends likely to prove popular for the remainder of the year, a company spokesperson said: "For us, dresses will always be great sellers, as will be high-waisted denim. This year, high-waisted jeans are going to be very on trend.
"You're also probably going to see a culottes pant wherever you go here. The robe kimono will also be really big for spring."
It was the simpler styles that were also doing well for Doffer Boys, a Maryland-based knitwear business. Breaking down the items currently in demand, Nikki Kime, one of the company's roster of designers, said: "Linen tees, especially striped tees, are selling well. While they're 100% linen, they are actually a sweater knit. Even though they may look like tee-shirts, they have actually been manufactured to a far more refined standard.
"Another collection that is doing well for us is our silk trim. This is a very fine merino and cashmere range, with everything having a silk trim. People love the navy and black combo largely because, although it's basically black, it still has some colour."
For Doffer Boys, as a knitwear-maker, pitching the correct weight of garment for each season is a particular concern, even in Los Angeles with its relatively mild-year-round climate. Explaining how the company tackles this particular problem, Kime said: "In spring and summer, we tend to use a lot more blended yarns, cotton and linens, largely because the cashmere market is a little tough in the warmer seasons.
"Perhaps surprisingly, our fall and winter collection, which is 99% cashmere, does very well on the West Coast. It is always popular in Southern California, not just in Seattle and Portland – the colder cities – which always surprises us. It does get cold at night here and people wear cashmere in the mountains – there is always that niche.
"Our East Coast buyers want it early, while our West Coast buyers don't want it until October or November. In terms of inventory control, that is a bit challenging for us."
US street fashion is dominated by tee-shirts, most notably those with bold or humorous slogans. Flying the flag for this particular item of attire was Florida's South Parade.
As with every other aspect of fashion, certain slogans go in and out of style over time. Acknowledging this, Tania San Miguel, South Parade's Creative Director, said: "Certain phrases and slogans are working well for us right now – 'I don't do basic' for one. Then there is 'girl squad', which is also having its moment of fame."
Although an evergreen fashion in the US, the tee-shirt market is crowded and competition is fierce. Sustaining a good price point depends on more than just backing the slogan du jour. Explaining South Parade's own approach, San Miguel said: "We really focus on the quality of our materials. It's 50% prima cotton and 50% modal, so it's very soft and that ensures we stand out. There are so many graphics tee-shirts out there, but our fabric allows us to step it up a bit."
Although many at the show majored on either plain fabrics or geometric prints in muted colours, one colourful exception came courtesy of Seoul-based Samantha Sung. Samantha Sung, the eponymous company's Founder and Chief Executive, said: "I am known for my use of a variety of different prints and colourways. My customers tend to like tie-dyed prints, especially the more Italian-inspired ones, and they always like florals. My best-sellers have always been tie-dyed sweaters and dresses."
As well as a choice of tie-dyed colours and styles, environmental awareness and sustainability is of growing importance to some American consumers. One of the many clothing lines to have embraced this particular trend is New York's Threads 4 Thought. Explaining the company's eco-friendly philosophy, spokesperson Kara P said: "Our collection is wholly sustainable. Everything is made in either India or L.A. from 90% sustainable organic cotton.
"We have a couple of boutiques that come to us specifically for sustainable items, but the product and the aesthetic also has to be right. In general, sustainable items are a little more expensive, especially when it comes to the use of organic cotton.
"At this show, though, it's dresses that have been most in demand. Overall, though, everybody seemed to like the fabrics used for our jerseys, while our lace has also gone down well."
Another New York exhibitor looking to capitalise on the move towards more environmentally conscious clothing was Noorism, a dedicated recycled denim brand. Summarising its somewhat altruistic approach to the fashion business, Founder Noor Zakka, said: "Everything we sell is made out of old vintage jeans. We buy them in bulk, take them apart and re-sew them into new designs.
"Five dollars from each of our sales is also donated to a water charity. I think that's important as the fashion industry is such a large polluter."
Although product consistency could be seen as something of a challenge for a line relying on recycled raw materials – especially in terms of colour – Noorism has turned this to its advantage, offering consumers a selection within each line. Explaining how this works in practice, Zakka said: "I have three shades – light medium and dark. When we select the jeans for any given item, we try to match within a certain amount of tolerance to a particular shade."
As with any US-based fashion event, the varying tastes of consumers across the different regions was a common topic of conversation. For Akroyd, she was only too aware of the more relaxed dress sense on the sunnier West Coast, saying: "I think L.A. is a little bit younger and hipper. It's not that New York isn't hip, it's just that L.A. wants everything to be a bit easier and more casual, whereas in New York it's all a little more structured."
South Parade's San Miguel, meanwhile, had a slightly different take on things, saying: "The California market is a little bit more laid-back in attitude and in terms of everything that is worn compared with New York.
"We can see the differences in the buyer – they want to dress up more over there. Here it is a little bit more casual. Our tee-shirts, though, can go both ways – you can dress them up or you can dress them right down."
The Designers and Agents Show 2016 was held at the New Mart Building in Downtown Los Angeles from 17-19 October.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, Los Angeles