NEW YORK -- Excitement is once again running through the leather outerwear business. For fall, established resoures are expanding their offerings, new companies are entering the field, and old standby fashions are performing with gusto.
Whereas recent recessionary seasons meant a lot of narrow and deep merchandising and marketing strategies, fall '93 heralds a leather season that embraces everything -- old, new, fashionable, functional or all of these combined into one.
In addition to new outerwear silhouettes like newsboy and straight bottoms, leather classics like trench coats and blazers will enjoy a return this fall, according to Lili Kasdan, the Leather Apparel Association's managing director. And while three-quarter-lengths haven't taken over the market, they're keeping closer company with the ever popular waist-length styles, she said.
Some consumers may need more coaxing than others before they change lengths, though. Bomber lengths should continue to outsell longer styles, according to Carol Hydovitz, merchandise manager for the men's division of the Doneger Group. 'For Middle America, the average consumer, 60 percent of sales are still going to be in bomber lengths, while 40 percent will be in three-quarter styles,' she said. As far as color, Hydovitz said black will still be number one among consumers, followed by brown. In buffed skins, or pig napa or pig splits, brown will be tops, followed equally by navy, hunter green, golds, rusts and wines, she said. Kasdan and Hydovitz agree that skins to watch for include deercow, ribby lamb and vintage leathers.
Besides lengths and skins, resources this year have given extra attention to fine details, like unusual hardware and interesting linings. One vendor whose line is punctuated with particulars is Santa Barbara, Calif.-based M. Julian's. The line, which emphasizes hip lengths that run from 29-36 inches, uses singular trims like real twig toggles, buttons made of wood slivers, and working compasses on the jacket wrist, which add to the rugged appeal. Jules Weinseider, president, said the company's looks are a spinoff of rugged, country gentlemen styles that have a rustic, refined outdoors feeling.
Longer-lengths combined with rugged looks can also be spotted at Sawyer of Napa, New York, where jackets extend as long as 32-35 inches, according to Len Lazaroff, vice-president, manager of merchandising. 'Not that bombers are not important,' he emphasized. 'It's that the trend is to longer garments. And we're selling garments as long as 50-52 inches. The most popular length is between 31-33.'
Lazaroff said he's finding that rugged outerwear looks are big, even in shearling, which is the firm's specialty.
A new entrant to the leather outerwear market is Kenneth Cole, the company known for its fine small leather goods.
'Each group of jackets has done well,' according to Michael Brescia, vice-president. 'Some of our successful pieces include a slightly distressed, three-quarter-length Spanish lambskin that's belted at the waist. That's from our Air Force group. Our number-one coat at the recent Mode Coast show comes from our Work Wear group. It's a three-quarter-length, down-filled lambskin that is very soft. The acceptance of longer lengths and of leather in general makes it suitable to wear these pieces to the office as well as on weekends.'
Meanwhile, after several years of concentrating on his fashionable, color-block styles, designer Michael Hoban is adding seven new groups of functional leather outerwear to his North Beach Leather collections.
'I haven't done outerwear this strong in a long time because the winters have been warm,' Hoban said. 'Now the weather is back where it belongs. So for next year, I'll have a new men's collection. I took hundreds of hours determining what will be '90s leather outerwear: It will be a lot of hoods, zip-out vests, and two-in-one jackets.'
From a Techno Combat series of three-quarter styles 'to combat cold weather,' to puffy fiberfill bombers, to nubuck and lamb ski jackets, Hoban is covering all bases. 'I'm doing more styles than ever before,' he asserted. 'And every two weeks there will be something new in the stores.'
Synergy Sport International Ltd., a 10-year-old company known for its private-label leathers, is taking its branded division into its second year with an assortment of styles, according to James Baum, vice-president of national sales. Top sellers in the Synergy line have been the shorter lengths, he said, although the company has been doing well with longer styles like lamb field jackets that retail from about $250-$350.
Six-year-old Collezione SA, New York, has broken out art-inspired novelty items for fall, according to Sanford Wax, president. The wool-body/leather-sleeve jackets featuring intricate leather and embroidered artwork (influenced by the likes of Picasso, et al.) did well at the Mode Coast show, he said. The pieces retail for about $350.
Better-quality merchandise is selling well for New York-based G III, according to Fran Boller, sales manager for the men's division. Lambskin, nubuck and fur-hooded garments that retail from about $250 to $350 have been important this season, she said.
'Three-quarter-lengths in general are doing well, as are barn jackets,' Boller said. 'And color is becoming more important in men's. Those we're selling well are spruce greens, navy and saddle colors.'
At Skins by Tora, New York, the 30-to-32-inch barn coat has been important for fall, according to Frank Spadaro, vice-president. 'We have four or five different barn coats in the line and, invariably, they're the key items in every order,' he said.