BIZ COOLS; LEATHERS STAY HOT
Leather jackets were the runaway best sellers during a week that saw overall men's business soften.
Sweaters, collections, denim jeans and the perennial Christmas accessories items were also among the coast-to-coast best sellers.
Top-selling brands included:
* Casual pants from Levi's Dockers;
* Jeans from Girbaud, Guess and Pepe;
* Collections from Claiborne, Union Bay, Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein, and
* Outerwear from Nautica.
But, retailers report that total men's wear sales have tailed off a bit from the fervor of the Thanksgiving weekend.
DALLAS -- Leather jackets, turtlenecks, five-pocket jeans and Christmas accessories are leading the way for department stores in the Southwest. Retailers who reported lackluster sales results for the Thanksgiving kickoff say activity picked up this past weekend.
The men's area at Maison Blanche is currently running 5 to 6 percent ahead of last year, according to Skip Chustz, vice-president and general merchandise manager, who noted the store has 'backed off promotional activity.'
Leather jackets at $250 to $300, five-pocket jeans from Guess and Girbaud, turtlenecks, updated dress shirts from Geoffrey Beene, Perry Ellis and Claiborne, Dockers, young men's novelty sweaters from Michael Gerald, flannel shirts, double-breasted suits, novelty suspenders and ties have been among the best performers.
'Two big surprises are Clairborne sportwear and Union Bay for men,' said Chustz. 'Two disappointments are fleece and sweaters other than cotton and novelty patterns from Claiborne and Henry Grethel.'
At Scarbrough's in Austin, leather jackets at $200 to $450, Crossings sweaters, turtlenecks from Jockey and Cross Creek, Girbaud jeans, camel's hair sport coats and accessories are the top sellers, according to Larry Levi, men's divisional merchandise manager.
'Better sportswear is going great guns,' says Levi. 'The skinny cowboy Girbaud jean at $56 is selling like there won't be anymore.'
He added, 'Stocks are clean, so I don't see that there will be a need for more promotions than are planned.'
For J.C. Penney, athletic apparel is one of the top selling categories, according to Ralph LaRovere, vice-president in the men's division.
'In men's sportswear, our best sell-through has been with Dockers, not only the bottoms but the shirts, sweaters and jackets; fashion fleece and Bugle Boy for men's bottoms. We can't keep leather jackets in stock.'
At Neiman Marcus, neckwear, leather outerwear, cashmere sweaters and better sportswear are leaders, according to a store spokesperson.
DENVER (FNS) -- Leather outerwear and sweaters were among the favorite items with shoppers at men's specialty stores in Denver and Seattle.
Denver's economic slump was not a factor in post-Thanksgiving business at Grassfield's here. Owner Max Grassfield believes customers have finally forgotten the oil bust which hit this city in 1983 and lingered on ever since.
'Our sales have been excellent since Thanksgiving. We'll be having a record year this year -- it's about time. November was our 11th consecutive month of steady increases. I don't feel we need any special promotions to get the customers into the store this Christmas season.'
Among the hottest sellers at this specialty store were black-patterned tricot St. Raphael sweaters, he reported.
Craig Andrisen, owner of the two-unit Andrisen Morton operation here, said this year's top-selling item is the company's own line of lambskin leather coats.
'This is the second year in a row that Andrisen Morton has carried the coats. Some are smooth lambskin and some are downfilled,' he said.
Andrisen added that Thanksgiving sales were 'not that great' for some men's specialty stores in Denver. 'That's more for the department stores,' he added. 'But our sales are definitely up from earlier in the year and we're not planning any special promotions.'
In Bellevue, Wash., Dick Brown, president of Albert Ltd. said although it is a little early to tell what is going to be the hottest item this season, he is already noticing that Irish handknit sweaters in camel and off-white with red/teal and blue/teal accents have gotten off to a fast start.
'The day before Thanksgiving was very strong,' he pointed out. 'Then the Friday after the holiday, we had a 20 percent increase in sales for the day. Saturday we had a 10 percent increase, and Sunday was even.'
Brown said he 'absolutely will not' schedule any special promotion during the holidays.
'Let the department stores do that,' he said. 'I don't need to do it.'
NEW YORK -- Despite strength in leather outerwear and such staple items as furnishings and sweaters, retailers in the Northeast posted generally flat sales last week. Stores remain optimistic, however, and are expecting a strong finish to the season.
Ira Segel, president of Mr. Sid in Boston, said customers were 'not breaking the doors down' to shop, adding that sales for the first two weeks ended Nov. 30 were up only 2-3 percent over last year.
Charles Chappell, 3d, of Chappell's in Syracuse, N.Y., said the malls are busy with lots of lookers, but sales are not reflecting the traffic.
Joel Friedman, general merchandise manager of men's wear for Boston-based Jordan Marsh, agreed, saying sales have 'not opened up' as they usually do.
At Barneys New York, sales increased 5 percent last week. To further boost business, the store will launch a sale of 20-50 percent off for the final two weeks of the shopping season.
The cold front that moved into the Northeast last week has continued to help outerwear sales. Both Chappell and Friedman said leather outerwear and top-coats are selling along with such cold-weather accessories as gloves and scarfs.
Mr. Sid's Segel said, 'The cold weather has definitely been beneficial to the sale of sweaters and outerwear.'
He added, 'People are being cautious with their purchases. They're buying more practical, purposeful items as gifts.'
At Chappell's, turtlenecks and Dockers are among the hottest sellers.
The young men's area is particularly 'explosive' at Jordan Marsh, Friedman said, singling out denim and college-logo fleece items as top performers.
Accessories and sport furnishings are selling well at Barneys New York, a spokeswoman said. Armani, Ferre, Hugo Boss and Barneys private label sweaters, shirts and ties are the top movers.
Looking ahead, Friedman is optimistic. 'Each week the numbers get better,' he said.
Chappell agreed, 'We're looking for a strong finish -- the bulk of Christmas business will be in the final weeks.'
CHICAGO -- Retail sales continued their sputtering pace in the Midwest last week with most stores reporting business was either flat or up in the low single digits.
Still, leather outerwear, sweaters, and collections were among the hottest-selling men's wear items.
More than one executive said the coming week will be crucial. 'We're waiting and hoping,' said one buyer. 'If it doesn't open up soon, we'll have to start promoting.'
At Columbus-based Lazarus, 'We had a double-digit increase and are pretty much on plan,' said men's vice-president Chris Cupples.
In sportswear, Cupples said, 'Dockers across the board continues to be absolutely wonderful.' Knits -- by World Island and others -- are 'up dramatically,' and flannel and solid twill rugged wovens are doing well.
Another standout is leather outerwear by Gant, Members Only and the store's private label programs. 'We did about $1 million in leather last year but this year will be over $5 million,' he said.
At Chicago-based Marshall Field's, men's senior vice-president Mike Zaccaro said the week was 'soft' but sales started to pick up over the weekend.
Top sellers include collections by Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein, contemporary denim by Girbaud, Pepe and Guess, and outerwear. 'Leather is still very strong and we're selling a lot of high-fashion down by Nautica,' he said.
Zaccaro said the store has 'juiced up' a few promotions. 'The bottom line is that we don't want to be looking at this stuff on Jan. 1,' he said.
At Jackson, Mich.-based Jacobson's, sales were 'better than last week but not all that exciting,' said men's vice-president Lou Landman.
At Kansas City-based Halls Swanson, 'business was pretty good,' said men's buyer Wayne Mertel. Top sellers so far are dress shirts by Hathaway and Valentino, fancy neckwear by Talbott and Countess Mara, and collections by Boston Traders and Nautica. In sportswear, 'knits are the driving classification' while leather and fancy down outerwear by Nautica continue to lead the way.
ATLANTA -- Retailers in the Southeast are facing the possibility of forced markdowns as sales slowed in the second week of the Christmas selling season.
Despite the slowdown, jackets and cotton sweaters were among the best sellers in the region.
Men's wear sales at McRae's were up only 1.3 percent last week, with strength in better sportswear, outerwear, and young men's tops and bottoms, according to Gene Phillips, general merchandise manager for men's wear.
Hot items include all Gant merchandise; Arrow's polyester/cotton woven plaid sport shirts; chamois and flannel shirts from Arrow; leather bomber jackets from Mirage; Bugle Boy's fancy young men's merchandise, and fancy twill bottoms from Bugle Boy and Cotler.
Phillips noted that men's wear as a whole is planned to be up only 2.8 percent for December, because the chain had a record November and December last year.
At Parks Clothiers in Savannah, Ga., president Martin Brody reported his hot sellers include cotton pullover crewneck sweaters from Lord Jeff, Nautica, Flying Scotsman, Izod and Lion Knitting Mills; a lightweight plaid sweater jacket from Pendleton, and solid color sweatshirts from Duckhead.
Brody said sales on the weekends have been 'fabulous,' but they slow during the week. 'It seems as if people are waiting until the last minute to buy, and they want it on sale.'
He added, 'We don't want to go on sale before Christmas, and we're not taking drastic reductions, but we had to do more price promoting this year. It's become a trend.'
Phillips is also concerned about price promotions. 'The question is, when do we take the markdowns? Do we wait until the last minute? We haven't stepped it up yet, and we don't plan to step it up earlier than usual,' he said.
Unlike Phillips, Larry Greer, divisional merchandise manager for A.V. Wray, Shelby, N.C., said he has increased promotional activity. Sales at this retailer are flat overall.
His hot items include all-cotton sweaters with leather trim or computer or intarsia patterns from London Fog and Jantzen.