Bloomberg News

Neon Fashions Challenge Black as 4% Apparel Growth Seen: Retail

February 02, 2012

Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Brace yourselves, black-fashion addicts. Color may be making its biggest comeback since the 1960s.

Women’s clothes, handbags and shoes appearing at chains from Bloomingdale’s to Nordstrom Inc. are more colorful than usual for a spring season. The collections to be unveiled when New York Fashion Week begins Feb. 9 may push the trend into fall.

The multicolored palette will help spur a 4 percent gain in women’s apparel sales this year, faster than the 2.5 percent increase to $109.6 billion recorded in the 12 months ended in November, according to NPD Group Inc. It will generate faster bag and shoe sales, too, the Port Washington, New York-based market research firm said.

“Designers recognize that dramatic change is what drives growth,” Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst, said. “When the recession is coming, you get conservative. When the recession is happening, you start designing with bold changes. Then it takes a year for it to hit the market.”

Women’s apparel dominates the floors of U.S. department- store chains. At Nordstrom, it represented about a third of the chain’s estimated $10.7 billion sales in the most recent fiscal year.

Industry watchers have predicted a color comeback before, only to be proved mostly wrong by black-garbed fashionistas.

Lisa Pak, proprietor of a Manhattan boutique called Patron of the New and a devotee of all things black, is a skeptic.

“My shop’s spring orders reflect my and my clients’ taste: We all love black,” she said.

Fashion Stranglehold

Black has had a “stranglehold” on fashion for more than 30 years, according to David Wolfe, creative director of Doneger Group, a New York-based fashion forecaster. In the early ‘80s Japanese designers including Yohji Yamamoto invaded Paris with their all-black collections, he said. Then came so-called Heroin Chic, and black became hip.

“When the general public finally latched on to the notion that everybody can be cool, black was locked in,” Wolfe said.

Still, two trends may reverse black’s momentum, Wolfe said. Consumers suffering post-recession blues need a lift, and Latin America culture, with its colorful emphasis, is influencing American tastes, he said.

Bright colors have risen in the Pantone Color Institute’s twice-yearly top-10 color ranking since 2009, pushing neutrals down, said Leatrice Eiseman, its executive director. Tangerine Tango orange, Solar Power yellow and Bellfower purple topped the list for this spring. The ranking included only two neutral shades, Driftwood and Starfish, which rated ninth and tenth, respectively. The Carlstadt, New Jersey, firm polls designers to make its forecasts.

Cobalt Blues

Wolfe, 70, hasn’t seen designers fall this hard for color - - from bold cobalt blues to soft peony pinks -- since the Pop- driven ‘60s and the time in the early ‘80s when French designer Christian Lacroix was important, he said.

Retail websites already are touting their spring colors.

Macy’s Inc.’s Bloomingdale’s showed what it called “totally shocking” items with “color-charged punch,” including a Marc by Marc Jacobs leather messenger bag in “electro blue,” white and black for $498. “Get some color,” Gap Inc. urged, touting neon-green bordered scarves for $29.95.

At Nordstrom, demand for extra-colorful items appeared last fall and is growing even faster into spring, said Jeffrey Kalinsky, the Seattle-based chain’s executive vice president of designer merchandising.

Kalinsky says he’s optimistic that more women have developed the same kind of confidence in wearing color that celebrities have exhibited, as Natalie Portman did with the hot pink Lanvin gown she wore to the Golden Globes.

“Who wants to walk into a party and fade?” Kalinsky said.

Amanda DiLauro, 25, a marketing coordinator in Manhattan, says she loves black because it has a couture-like aesthetic and brings maturity to her wardrobe.

Still, she said she’s “loving the neon accessories this season. I’m thinking of pairing hot pink accessories, like belts and bangles, into my spring styles, but definitely not all.”

--Editors: Robin Ajello, John Brecher

To contact the reporter on this story: Cotten Timberlake in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at

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