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Off-the-Shoulder Look Makes Last Stand at New York Fashion Expo

While the perennial cold-shoulder style was finally seen as heading for the exit door at this year's Project Womens event, florals remained as in demand as ever and there seemed to be something of a gap in the going-out tops segment.

Photo: Project Womens: Aiming to gives buyers access to the best emerging and established women’s brands.
Project Womens: Aiming to gives buyers access to the best emerging and established women's brands.
Photo: Project Womens: Aiming to gives buyers access to the best emerging and established women’s brands.
Project Womens: Aiming to gives buyers access to the best emerging and established women's brands.

A dazzling riot of colours and patterns greeted visitors to this year's Project Womens fashion expo. This was partly down to just how well-represented flora and fauna were at the New York City-hosted event, with floral prints (especially in large formats in muted colours) and animal patterns (particularly python-inspired snake motifs) evident on many stands. Simple solid colours were not off the menu, however, with sophisticated East Coast consumers seemingly preferring a more sober, professional aesthetic to the more flamboyant styles popular in other parts of the US.

Many exhibitors also noted a growing demand for dressy 'going-out tops', with consumers often seeking to expand their wardrobe options by pairing more colourful blouses with basic skirts and pants. The perennial cold-shoulder trend was also still in evidence at the show, although there were suggestions that even this long-lived look may be approaching its sell-by date.

Hutch Design, a New York City-based contemporary women's fashion label, was one of many at the event looking to capitalise on the demand for flower-themed patterns. Outlining its positioning, Account Executive Kelsey Curcio said: "We specialise in women's dresses and floral prints are very popular right now. We are not in any major department stores and primarily sell through speciality stores. While we are essentially a contemporary brand, we do bodies for everyone – young and old – and they're selling well across the generations."

Similarly, upbeat with regard to florals was Alissyn Schaer, a Corporate Account Manager with Fifteen Twenty, a New York-based women's edgy streetwear brand. Giving her take on current market preferences, she said: "Bright, happy fresh prints and colour are what's selling for us now – and selling all across the country. Florals and animal prints are especially strong."

One exhibitor better positioned to take a wider view of the market than most was Janice Iversen, a partner in The Suite Showroom, a New York-based agency working with a variety of different fashion labels. Offering a fairly comprehensive take on US consumer preferences, she said: "We are a multi-line rep company and, at this event, we're showing three collections. Essentially, all our lines are about crossover – they're boutique lines. In each line, there's something for both mothers and daughters.

"Animal prints are also doing well – they always sell. Python prints are big, while floral also seems to be on trend. Anything in coral, as well as pleated skirts, in both mini and maxi options, seldom stay on the shelves long."

The popularity of prints was not limited to animal and floral varieties, at least according to Karie Crawford, a Sales Representative with Californian resort wear specialist Alicia Bell. Highlighting their broader appeal, she said: "We follow trends a little and paisley is working really well for us right now. On the East Coast, however, darker always goes well while, on the West Coast, the preference is for lighter prints.

Photo: Rachel Pally: Expanding into linens.
Rachel Pally: Expanding into linens.
Photo: Rachel Pally: Expanding into linens.
Rachel Pally: Expanding into linens.
Photo: Alicia Bell: Resort-wear specialist.
Alicia Bell: Resort-wear specialist.
Photo: Alicia Bell: Resort-wear specialist.
Alicia Bell: Resort-wear specialist.

"Customers tend to opt for a mixture – the same print in different bodies for some, while others like the same body in a range of different prints. Off-the-shoulder is also still hanging on in there."

For The Suite's Iversen, though, many brands were missing a trick, particularly when it came to occasion wear. Expanding on this, she said: "Many of our customers are constantly on the lookout for 'going out at night' tops. They've got their jeans, they've got their black pants – those are the basics – then people want something new that they can pair them with."

Echoing her sentiments was Rennan Joo, a Sales Representative with INA, a Los Angeles-based wholesale fashion supplier. Again, noting the robust demand for tops, she said: "We're a cocktail party dress company and more focused on consumers in their early thirties. At this show, it's tops that buyers are after, well, tops and dresses."

Although the colourful prints on show at the event certainly caught the attention of many attendees, INA was one of a number of exhibitors doing good business with less flamboyant attire. Maintaining this was due, in part, to the more formal tastes on the US north-eastern coast, Joo said: "For us, it's always white and black, although several new colours are also catching on, especially sky blue and yellow."

While this focus on tops wouldn't necessarily be good news for every label, California's Equestrian Designs – a specialist in women's pants and sporty outdoor wear – didn't seem to be suffering unduly. Maintaining this was largely down to the company's philosophy of keeping it simple, Sales Representative Analise Morales said: "At the end of the day, we're showing women's bottoms and, I would say, in New York the preference is for more sophisticated, more practical, more versatile pants, pants that travel well and pants that don't wrinkle.

"While we do follow trends, we are not wholly led by them. We try to keep it pretty basic and it's a philosophy that has seen us meet a lot of returning customers at this show. They're mostly re-filling orders and it's mainly for the basics – simple pants that always sell well."

Vava by Joy Han, a Los Angeles-based classic women's fashion label, was another company keen to cater to the growing demand for going-out wear. Outlining the options it has on offer, Regional Sales Manager Annika Maya said: "We have lots of going-out tops, bar tops, date-night tops and so on, but demand varies considerably on a region-by-region basis.

"In New York, for instance, black is usually the first choice, while brighter colours are more popular in most other places. Here they also go more for solids, while down south the preference is for prints. Overall, though, black is the number-one colour, with 90% of the buyers here opting for it.

"In terms of broader trends, we're still doing a lot of off-the-shoulder, although it's starting to die down a little. This will maybe be the farewell season for the cold shoulder and for big sleeves – they both seem to be on the way out."

Rachel Pally, a Los Angeles-based women's fashion label, was seemingly intent on covering all the bases, with its latest collection featuring a mixture of solids and prints. Outlining how the brand has evolved over the years, Sales Representative, Abigail Dykens said: "Rachel Pally has been around for 12 years and she's known for the kaftan jersey dresses that were very much her signature thing.

"More recently, she has expanded into linens, as well as crepe chiffons and the use of gauze. Among her staples are black solids, a smaller number of cream solids, and the jersey, which typically comes in a print.

"At the moment, I would say dresses and jump suits are what customers are buying. The gauze was also really popular for spring and that did very well."

Overall, there was an air of cautious optimism at the event, with many exhibitors reporting satisfactory – if not exactly booming – business. Reflecting the sentiments of many, Vava's Maya said: "We've lowered our prices a little from last year as people seem to want to spend a bit less – in the $50-and-under price band. We are selling, though, and this event has definitely been a success for us."

Fifteen Twenty's Schaer struck a similar note of cautious optimism, saying: "People are spending money, but only if they find the right product. Our striped dress, for instance, has gone down very well with many of the buyers at this event."

Photo: Project Womens: One of North America’s leading female fashion expos.
Project Womens: One of North America's leading female fashion expos.
Photo: Project Womens: One of North America’s leading female fashion expos.
Project Womens: One of North America's leading female fashion expos.

The 2019 edition of Project Womens New York took place from 6-8 January at the Jacob K Javits Convention Center.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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