NEW YORK -- Call it the comeback kid.
Despite all the confusion and predictions of doom and gloom -- and there's a lot of it out there in outerwear departments -- the leather bomber jacket has people talking again. And reordering. It even has some in a quandary.
'We are a fashion store, so I didn't want to buy the basic bomber at all this season,' said Ben Bublick, co-owner of and buyer for the family-owned The Hang Up Shoppes and The Man Alive, with 24 stores in Michigan.
'But some customers, apparently, still consider it fashion. It's been the real surprise this year. You just can't kill it,' said Bublick.
Many had predicted the demise of the bomber last year with the exception of discount stores, who had good runs with bombers last year. But the trend at discount stores has only pickep up steam this year. And, perhaps unexpectedly, this promotional style, along with zip-outs and toggle coats, is helping other retailers to put some shaky outerwear business on a firmer foundation.
Though generally not the rule, some stores have gone back into the market to look for reorders to bombers. 'We've been chasing around for the last month or so to try to get more bombers in,' said Tom Tomechko, outerwear buyer for Carlisle's, an 11-store chain based in Ashtabula, Ohio. 'That commodity is basically driving our business.'
Vendors claim they are already getting some '92 orders for bombers, and several said they had placed some quarter-million-dollar orders for bomber leathers last week.
Still, the outerwear market is on a consumer spending roller coaster. Two weeks ago, the weather was cold, and promotions worked well to loosen pockets. But last week, the weather warmed up again, and consumers stayed home, said retailers.
'You always feel that somehow, once the weather really turns cold, people will rush out to buy coats,' said Janet Franklin, a buyer for S & K Famous Brands, a 120-unit chain based in Richmond, Va.
Franklin said leather bombers had begun to do well, but that there were no clear indications to necessitate reorders at this point.
'With the new three-quarter-length jackets we have, I thought business would be better, but outerwear is still a major purchase, and I don't know if people are willing to spend that much. They are making do with last year's coats.'
Aside from leather, there are bright spots. S & K has also done well with wool bombers and lightweight outerwear and three-in-one jackets.
J.C. Penney, too, has begun to see some pockets of business. 'Sales have generally picked up over the past few weeks,' said Jeff Coate, outerwear buyer.
'We got a cold streak, and that pushed out business from some big losses to some small gains. Down parkas have started selling, zip-out basics have done well and wool has performed better, although that's still only a small percentage of the total,' said Coate.
'It's still a tough business, but at least I'm encouraged. If this trend continues, we should go from potential disaster to an okay year.'
Best sellers for other retailers include longer-length down-filled coats and anything in leather with a sports logo, said retailers.
And one store reported improved sales with a new type of outerwear -- the heavy sport jacket.
'We put money into sweater coats and blazers, and that added an additional boost to our outerwear department. We started off the season with these and added the coats later,' said Pat Scaccia, outerwear buyer at Bigsby & Kruthers. 'Short wool blousons have been doing well, and 3/4 lengths are good.
'We don't have a ton of styles, but what we do have is selling,' she continued. 'The season is going well for us.'