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Georgette Growth Remains Real

It’s a new Georgette Klinger.

ggrEvery aspect of the 58-year-old salon and spa chain’s operations — from salon interiors to product packaging — has been overhauled. It will all come together in a soft opening Aug. 1 at the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey. A grand opening is set for September.

The 3,500-square-foot salon and spa, designed by New York’s James Harb Architects, is the first Klinger facility to be opened since The Pyle Group, a Madison, Wis.-based financial services and investment company, acquired the organization in July 1998.

Pyle Group executives declined to provide a sales projection. But industry sources estimate that the Short Hills facility could do in excess of $2 million during its first year of operation.

According to Thomas Pyle, chairman of both The Pyle Group and Georgette Klinger, the Short Hills facility is intended to serve as a model for the chain’s existing and future salons.

Starting in September, the revamped design will be phased into the other eight Georgette Klinger locations in the U.S.: two in Manhattan and one each in Beverly Hills and Costa Mesa, Calif.; Chicago; Dallas; Washington, and Palm Beach, Fla.

The updating is an attempt to widen Klinger’s customer base, said Pyle, who runs the business with Judith Pyle, his wife and business partner, who is vice chairman of both firms. The Pyles’ business partner, Marv Siegert, is president of the Pyle Group and a third owner of the chain.

“These changes don’t mean that the company is trying to appeal only to a younger consumer,” insists Judith Pyle, who said that 35-to-50-year-olds make up the largest part of the firm’s client roster. “We serve everyone from teenagers to grandmothers. Miss Klinger and her daughter Kathryn created a gracious tone — it just needs to be updated a little.”

In formulating the changes, the Pyles drew on their backgrounds in the beauty business. Thomas Pyle has held management positions at Clairol and Procter & Gamble, while Judith Pyle has served as vice president of worldwide marketing for Elizabeth Arden, director of marketing for Estee Lauder and director of marketing for Charlie Fragrance and Cosmetics at Revlon.

To round out the Georgette Klinger management team, the Pyles hired William H. Willis as president and chief executive officer and Eileen Paley as senior vice president of marketing and product development. Willis was president of two international divisions of Reader’s Digest, and Paley has held senior marketing and product development positions at Revlon, Elizabeth Arden and Estee Lauder.

More than a year of research went into the new concept. The team’s first move was to study existing salons, which focus on skin care, but also offer hairstyling, makeup, massage, manicures and pedicures. Next, several months were given over to soliciting comments from current clients.

One of the first things to be changed? The salons’ pale green, white and gray color scheme. “It was somewhat out of date,” acknowledges Judith Pyle. “We decided to update the salon look by using pale blush pink, with touches of white and gray.” That color scheme will differ only in the reception areas, which will be muted yellow and soft gray.

The second change is in size: The facility is about half the size of Klinger’s largest locations. “From speaking to consumers, we learned that smaller is, indeed, better,” said Judith Pyle. “As a result, our new salons will be smaller.”

Proving that size doesn’t matter — that much — was a point of pride with the team, who made sure that every inch of the Short Hills facility was utilized.

Clients enter the salon through a retail area, where they can meet with a skin care adviser for product information. Just past the retail area lies the reception area, and off that space are private rooms for the salon’s skin care consultants. After changing in the locker rooms, clients enter a circular sitting room, a corner of which houses the product dispensary.

Limited space wasn’t the only reason for placing the dispensary squarely in clients’ line of vision: “We made the dispensary visible because we believe it gives clients confidence to see what’s going on there,” said Judith Pyle.

Further conserving space, most of the Short Hills treatment rooms do double duty — facial rooms double as massage areas, for instance. And there’s another benefit: “Not only does it save space, it keeps clients having multiple services from traipsing all over the place,” Paley said.

In addition to creating more intimate spaces, the team is ramping up customer service and paying closer attention to small details. “For instance, we’ve commissioned specially designed jewelry trays for the lockers, and we’ll bring products into the treatment rooms on silver trays as they’re needed,” Paley said.

To track client response to the changes, the team has installed a new software system to track clients’ appointments, service history and retail records. Employees are currently enrolled in updated training programs, focusing on retail and explaining how to create “the personal touch” for clients.

There’s also change happening in Klinger’s management offices, as the team puts the finishing touches on a marketing plan that includes direct mail and magazine and newspaper advertising. While Willis declined to comment on the proposed promotion budget, he noted that the effort will extend to cities where Klinger doesn’t currently operate salons.

Is the groundwork being laid for opening more locations?

Absolutely, said Thomas Pyle, who said that at least 20 salons will eventually be in operation. “I hope we’ll do even more than that,” Pyle said.”In our expansion plans, we’re attracted to strong shopping areas and malls. The future is probably going to be upscale shopping centers.”

To further boost customer awareness and service, the company is also adding to its product line and revamping the packaging. According to Thomas Pyle, the products are a natural extension of the group’s in-salon services, adding that most Klinger salons do at least 30 percent of their overall business in product sales. He declined to give overall sales revenues for the chain or overall product sales numbers.

While the company won’t immediately introduce new products — its last launches were Virtual Perfection Cream, a facial moisturizer, in 1998 and extensions to that collection earlier this year — it has repackaged everything. Gray cardstock is being replaced by white cardstock and pastel accents, with the Klinger name and the chain’s signature lily of the valley logo stamped in silvery gray.

Despite the firm’s recent attention to its product line, there are no plans to expand its reach beyond the Klinger chain, said Paley.

Despite the tinkering the Pyle team is doing with the Klinger chain, the company has come a long way since Georgette Klinger founded her first namesake salon in 1941, said Thomas Pyle. “It’s an amazing brand name, and we’re proud to be a part of it,” he said.

Lingerie Still Growing As Players Introduce Colors

lsgpicNew products and a steady demand for fashion colors and prints are expected to continue fueling second-half innerwear business, say manufacturers.

Many are looking for gains, but they also have plenty of concerns in addition to the uncertain state of the overall economy. Several executives believe, for example, that retailers could take a more aggressive stand with new ideas and concepts, whereas they tend to do only minimal testing. Some say that cautious attitude is affecting manufacturers as well.

Some executives also say they see a current softness in the department store bra business. In addition, retail price promotions remain a sore spot.

Nevertheless, bras and panties, with tailored looks getting an increasing play, are expected to be a leading category over the next six months, although some firms say the growth is coming from volume price ranges, chains and mass merchandiser programs.

Daywear items with a ready-to-wear flavor — camisoles, bodysuits and body blouses, for example — are expected to see additional funding as well. A new breed of casual at-home wear is helping to revive an otherwise quiet robe and sleepwear business, with vendors turning out such looks as layered tunics, big shirts and dressy pajamas.

Foundations executives generally expect sales increases ranging from single digits to 30 percent to push on into the fall and holiday selling seasons. Some foundations and daywear vendors are even anticipating doubling overall business with a broader range of fashion assortments featuring such hot items as camisoles and stretch bodysuits.

Donald Franceschini, chief executive officer of Sara Lee Intimates, a Sara Lee Corp. division, said he believes a “sharpened execution of merchandising, presentation and high-value products that provide a unique, discernible benefit to consumers will provide double-digit growth for retailers and manufacturers in 1993.”

Franceschini noted that the line of Playtex Secrets bodyshapers is a prime example of a product offering a special benefit as a control garment that’s also seamless. After being successfully tested in Europe for two years, Secrets was introduced in the U.S. in March and is expected to reach an annual worldwide wholesale volume of $100 million by 1995.

Franceschini also expects sales growth in the Bali and Playtex brands to continue at 15 percent during the next six months. The Hanes Her Way underwear and bra line and Just My Size line of plus-size foundations are projected at maintaining sales gains of 20 percent.

Larry Karp, president of the Warner’s division of The Warnaco Group, said, “The bra category is still very strong, and we are looking for 10 percent sales increases in the Warner’s and Olga lines, and a 20 percent increase in Valentino Intimo.”

He said increased assortments of fashion are motivating women to step up their bra purchases, in basics as well as in fashion items.

Warnaco, as reported, will also try new distribution channels this fall, as it goes into a test program with an Avon Products catalog featuring exclusive styles from the vendor’s licensed Scaasi line of loungewear and sleepwear.

Tom Wyatt, president of Vanity Fair Mills, a VF Corp. division, stated, “The entire spectrum of newness is driving the business, from high-shine fabrics like Shimmereen to fashion prints and colors. The point is it’s a tough market right now, but the retailers and manufacturers who focus on newness will reap the rewards.”

Wyatt noted that Vanity Fair posted “solid increases” in the first half in total business, and projections are for gains in the high single digits for the remainder of the year. He said Vanity Fair plans major growth in the bra, shapewear and panties categories, with a particular emphasis on volume price ranges.

But despite the efforts made in innovation and more fashion goods, Wyatt accused retailers of being slow to capitalize on these trends.

“If more retailers would be more aggressive about planning — not just testing ideas — their business would generally be much better,” said Wyatt.

Norman Katz, president of I. Appel Corp., said, “We spent a large sum of money on design and we now have 12 designers. We focused on a lot more newness and a broader range of assortments at moderate prices in all of our categories. It’s definitely been a success for us.”

Katz noted, for example, that a focus on novelty cotton knits filling the at-homewear niche has helped bolster the company’s sleepwear business. It began the program last year and has since expanded it.

Katz said a continuing flow of fashion merchandise is expected to generate corporate sales increases of 7 to 8 percent throughout the year. In addition to its Appel robes and sleepwear, the firm makes the licensed Jones New York foundations and daywear and Myonne and Formfit panties.

John Heckler, chairman and chief executive officer of Heckler Manufacturing & Investment Corp., said the firm’s licensed Calvin Klein uderwear line for women posted a 30 percent sales gain in the first half and is expected to repeat in the second half. He credited new products, Klein’s fashion input, and a “considerable investment” in new retail fixturing and packaging for the surge.

Heckler also said he expects the repositioning of the licensed Adrienne Vittadini cotton knit daywear into solids to double the line’s sales to $3 million by 1994. The new look of Vittadini daywear, formerly a print program, was introduced at Bloomingdale’s in March and is now being rolled out to other department stores nationwide.

Mark M. David, chairman of Movie Star, said he expects daywear business in the better-price Cinema Etoile division to double by year’s end. He attributes the projected growth to a demand for stretch bodysuits and camisoles that have a strong rtw flavor.

A major sore point with manufacturers is the frequency of store-initiated off-price promotions in foundations.

Frank Magrone, president and chief executive officer of NCC Industries, maker of Lilyette bras, observed, “There’s still a tremendous lack of consumer confidence out there, and when it’s combined with all of the accelerated sales promotions at department stores, it’s disastrous.” Nevertheless, he said he anticipates a gain of roughly 12 percent in the company’s total bra business for this year.

So far, he pointed out, the company is 14 percent ahead of last year’s figures; he attributed the bulk of that growth to distribution of private label and the licensed Bill Blass line to chains and mass merchandisers.

Marvin Bienenfeld, president of Bestform Foundations, a subsidiary of Ithaca Industries, said his bra business has been running 20 percent ahead of the first six months of 1992. He added, however, that he is projecting it to taper off to 10 percent in the second half, noting the bra business at department stores is “soft.”

“A lot of people think price discount is the final answer,” said Robert A. Brawer, president and chief executive of Maidenform. “I don’t believe that. There’s still room for making brands and doing promotions that appeal to the consumer. We’ll be responding to the pressures the department stores are feeling right now.

Brawer noted that Maidenform will conduct a promotion in August that will give consumers one free bra directly in the store, following the purchase of two Maidenform bras. Maidenform’s Buy Two, Get One Free promotion formerly offered consumers a mail-in coupon for a free bra.

Maidenform will feature another promotion for the first time in the late fall. “Retailers requested it, and it should counteract the dropoff in sales in the late fall,” said Brawer.

In the sleepwear area, Neal Hochman, chairman and CEO of Carole Hochman Designs, said, “I have 95 percent of 1993 booked already. We’re projecting moderate increases, about 10 percent — nothing to brag about. It’s tough out there.”

Hochman added, however, that cotton knits in both the licensed Christian Dior robes and loungewear and Carole Hochman Knits have been the “shining stars” of the company’s business.

Summing up what was on the minds of many manufacturers, Josie Natori, president of Natori Co., commented, “We are being more cautious. I think like everybody else [retailers and manufacturers], we are being conservative with leaner inventories and buying up front from the suppliers. We wait for the orders.

“Everyone is playing it safe — too safe — and that’s especially dangerous for the stores. The industry needs a jolt.”

Is TV Home Shopping Still A Player?

thssA succession of new players and formats is bracing to get into the TV home shopping arena as the industry continues its explosive growth.

By the year 2000, electronic shopping is expected to reach $20 billion, according to industry sources. That’s up from revenues of some $3 billion this year.

R.H. Macy, Spiegel and Nordstrom are among these who have announced plans to launch TV shopping ventures in 1994. Now, The May Department Stores Co. reportedly is eyeing electronic shopping vigorously.

“May Co. has been studying this for a long time and is waiting in the wings,” said Todd Slater, vice president of research of UBS Securities. “They have not announced an initiatives because they’re waiting to see how it works for the other guys. They have very sophisticated satellite technology in place and [in this regard] are way ahead of Macy’s.”

May executives did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Another major player that could emerge in 1994 is Fingerhut Co., the monolithic mail-order company based in Minnetonka, Minn. Fingerhunt’s USA Direct division is said to be intent on launching a new 24-hour shopping network.

According to industry sources, possible partners might include Time Warner, ABC or Home Shopping Network. Last year, Montgomery Ward created a catalog company as part of a joint venture with Fingerhut, called Montgomery Ward Direct.

While this joint venture continues, Ward’s said it will announce a TV shopping service of its own in 30 to 90 days.

The muscle in TV home shopping in 1993 was provided by primarily two players — QVC and Home Shopping Network — each reaching sales of $1.2 billion this year. The infomercial industry tacked on nearly another $1 billion.

Still, this electronic supermall is only in its infancy. It will take on new dimensions with interactive technology, which will be in place in 13 million homes by 1997, according to Bill Harvey, president of Next Century Media Inc., a consultant in the interactive field.

Fare that will be carried on interactive services is currently being tested across the country.

For example, Time Warner’s test in Orlando, Fla., includes Spiegel, Eddie Bauer and other catalogers. Viacom is lining up retailers for its Castro Valley, Calif., trials next year.

“There are 104 differetn interactive test beds,” said Harvey, referring to the regions around the country where interactive testing is being conducted. “A great many of them will make it possible to shop for fashion and beauty items with the same degree of choice that you have been you’re in a store. On HSC and QVC, and have to choose what’s presented to you.” He envisions this becoming a reality some time next year.

AT&T, Bell Atlantic, U.S. West, Nynex and most of the other major phone companies are exploring the fashion aspects to interactive TV shopping.

While QVC chairman Barry Diller has been involved in a Wall Street battle of epic proportions for control of Paramount Communications, he has left a stable management team in place at the home shopping giant’s West Chester, Pa., headquarters.

For four months, Diller and QVC have been fighting Viacom Inc. for the right to merge with Paramount. Last week, Paramount’s board of directors recommended QVC’s bid of $10 billion. Viacom, whose bid was valued on Monday at $9.6 billion, could still come back with a higher offer.

Even with Paramount in tow, industry experts said QVC will continue its expansion path. It has already launched in the United Kingdom and Mexico. According to sources, QVC may be targeting Canada. In addition, QVC will launch Q2 and On-Q, two new shopping channels next year.

Last week, HSN established a new division, Home Shopping Network International, as a joint venture with cable giant Tele-Communications Inc.

“HSN has greater distribution with the worldwide partnership created with TCI,” Slater said. “HSN also announced a deal with the Black Entertainment Channel and is talking with the Disney Channel.”

HSN would provide fulfillment and other services for those channels.

Meanwhile, the infomercials industry blossomed to $900 million this year, up from the $150 million racked up in 1991, according to the National Infomercials Marketing Association. A 1992 figure was not available.

Advertising agencies are starting to steer their Fortune 500 client toward infomercials. Firms such as Estee Lauder, Marshall Field’s and Carter Hawley Hale have produced infomercials, which promises to elevate the venue from its humble beginnings.

Still, infomercials are not as easy as they look. According to industry experts, only one out of 10 suceeds. Yet despite the bad odds, Hollywood had embraced the medium. The three top talent agencies — William Morris, Creative Artists Associates and International Creative Management — have all started infomercial divisions.

And it’s not just aging stars and fading starlets shilling on the tube. Some big names that made infomercials this year include Burt Reynolds. Raquel Welsh and Jane Seymour.

They won’t be seen nationally, however. In market tests, they flopped.

Big Names Staying Well-Dressed

bnswdJust wait until you see Lyn Revson, a superstylish member of the International Best Dressed List’s Hall of Fame, carrying her new “Lyn” bag. It was custom created especially for her by Hermes, the 162-year-old Paris saddler, one of the most famous brand names in the world. Lyn inspired the bag that was unveiled at Hermes’s New York boutique, and it is quelque chose. “It’s simply one of the most beautiful bags I have ever seen,” says another Hall of Famer, Anne Slater, who knows from bags and jewels and sapphire blue shades.

Lyn’s “Lyn,” a poem in red alligator, is classic in silhouette, elegant and distinctive, with a modern surprise. Hermes’ gold Harnais watch is embedded in the closure, and the numerals 12, 3 and 9 are studded with diamonds. The numeral 6 tells you what day it is, perhaps so the bag can keep pace with a woman like Lyn.

When Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermes, the international chairman, presented Lyn with her namesake bag, his toast in champagne went like this: “Lyn is very special to Hermes — she is a true connoisseur and collector. There are only a handful of people to whom we have dedicated a bag, and Lyn, who conceived this special bag, deserves this tribute to her great sense of style. We are proud to have Lyn carry a little piece of Hermes with her.” That is not exactly holding back, would you say?

You yourself can buy the bag at Hermes in the fall. In fact, orders have already come in, and Hermes feels its new baby will join the ranks of the Kelly bag, named for Grace Kelly, and the Birkin, named for actress Jane Birkin.

The “Lyn” will sell for $3,100 in natural calf or barenia leather, $6,050 in ostrich and $8,750 in alligator — -diamonds not included.

It wasn’t exactly “a star is born,” but there was Samantha Boardman, New York society’s beautiful brunette, right in the middle of “The Thomas Crown Affair,” MGM’s remake of the romantic thriller that originally starred Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen.

Actually, it wasn’t Samantha herself appearing in the movie but a photograph of her, along with pictures of models Kate Moss and Christy Turlington, all on view on a bedroom dresser. This, of course, after a steamy love scene between the movie’s sexy stars, Renee Russo and Pierce Brosnan. Of course.

This is how it happened: The producers of the flick were leafing through an issue of Town & Country when they came across a shot of Boardman in a black cocktail dress and a feather boa. “Perfect,” they cried — or something along those lines — -and voila!

Her fans got a first look at Samatha onscreen at a tony screening of the movie hosted by Pamela Gross and Jimmy Finkelstein of LuxuryFinder.com, an online business newly created to provide the fineries and fripperies of life to the fine and the frip. Among the guests were Samantha’s sister, Serena, and her daddy, D. Dixon Boardman, who hadn’t a clue they’d be seeing the new “movie star”; Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia; Muffie Potter; Count and Countess Nuno Brandolini; Ralph Destino; Arie and Coco Kopelman; Wendy and Bill Luers; Perri Peltz and Eric Ruttenberg; Lally Weymouth with Andrew Stein, that sort of thing.

This year, the Rita Hayworth Gala will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its raising millions for Alzheimer’s research. The 1999 party at the Waldorf on Oct. 13 is called “Dancing Into the 21st Century” with the accent on the legendary Rita’s legendary dancing. The evening’s general chairman is Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, who is Rita’s daughter, the gala chairman is Nurit Kahane Haase and the honoree this year is Michelle Herbert. On the gala committee are such as Patricia Hearst, Nancy Corzine, Donna Dixon and Andrea Stark, sweet things and fund-raisers all.

And speaking of fund-raisers, this year Casita Maria will celebrate its 65th anniversary as New York’s premier settlement house designed to benefit the Latin community. The Fiesta will be held at the Plaza on Oct. 19, and everyone is saying it will be something especial because Casita’s Gold Medal of Honor Awards will be presented to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias and designer and philanthropist Bill Blass. Is now about time for a big ole? Jacqueline Weld Drake is the chairman of Casita’s board, and Anne Eisenhower Flottl is the board’s vice chairman. Sweet things and fund-raisers both.

Speaking of sweet things and mega fund-raisers, Nan Kempner and Daisy Soros are the co-chairs of the Society of Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Preview Party of the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show at the Park Avenue Armory on Oct. 14. This will mark the 11th year running of this vetted antiques show, regarded as one of the most successful, important and glamorous on both sides of the Atlantic. It always brings out a fancy crowd, some fancier than others, but that’s life. Last year more than $920,000 was raised. This year the SSKCC hopes to top it. With names like Kempner and Soros, what else?

Holiday Season Stronger Than Expected

hsstIt’s been a happy holiday season for eveningwear departments across the country, with sales figures exceeding last year, according to a check of specialty and department stores.

Retailers report brisk business in a variety of evening looks, as women have dug into their pocketbooks for that special outfit to wear to their holiday parties. Gains have generally been in the moderate range, with some stores posting substantial increases hitting over 10 percent.

The trend seems to be toward the more casual side, as evening separates have been some of the bestsellers.

Retailers say women are often opting for separates over a more formal dress because they offer casual comfort and give them more options as they hit the party circuit. There’s still good action in party dresses, though, merchants say, particuarly easy cocktail dresses in blacks and pastels.

Ellin Saltzman, fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman here, said evening clothes have been selling well this season, especially what she calls “north-south dresses.”

“It’s the little dress that can be worn to a party down in Florida or under a fur coat up in New York,” Saltzman said. “This time of year should be strong for eveningwear and cocktail clothes because of all the parties people attend. What’s made it good is that the vendors have sent new looks this month for resort. That’s really kept things going.”

Saltzman said the action in cocktail dresses and skirts has been in short lengths, while evening dresses are either above the knee or long to the ankle. She said the category has shown strength from vendors such as Chetta B in bridge, Oscar de la Renta in mid-range designer and Herve Leger in the higher end of designer.

“Of course, the little black dress is still a hot number,” she said. “I guess it’s the closest thing to a commodity in the dress business. It’s been a very happy season for party dresses.”

Louise MacKenzie, vice president and general merchandise manager at Henri Bendel here, said it has been a good holiday and resort season, although it started slowly.

“Business got stronger as we got into December,” MacKenzie said. “It’s another example of the customer buying closer to need.”

Evening separates have shown good action at Bendel’s particularly a group of Pamela Dennis straw silk charmeuse jackets over dresses, she said, and there has veen a strong response to illusion insets and layered illusion looks. A resort group of pastel print party dresses has sold well.

“It’s been a great December and a great Christmas in the eveningwear department,” MacKenzie said. “We’re doing a bigger business than last year, with some nice increases.”

Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus, said: “Holiday business has been strong. It actually started early and has picked up nicely in December.”

Evening separates, which Kaner said represent a more casual side of eveningwear, have led the way this season. Important looks include cut velvet tunics over silk chiffon or velvet pants and jackets over dresses or pants.

Kaner cited Han Feng’s signature crinkle silk and velvet outfits, which are being carried for the first time this season, as strong sellers.

“There’s a new individuality to eveningwear, a feeling that almost anything will go,” Kaner said.

Kaner said pants represent the long story at Neiman’s while short party dresses continue to be strong sellers.

“They take you a lot of places,” she said. “I have a feeling you’re going to be seeing a lot more of them, because its an easy look to put together.”

“Velvet has certainly been the story of the season,” said Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor.

Olexa said strong items have included Tenay’s beaded T-shirt dress, Morton Myles’s hunter green velvet evening gown, Niteline’s sequined slip dress, Carmen Marc Valvo’s satin and velvet long party dress and Tom & Linda Platt’s short silk crepe tank dress and poncho.

Benny Lin, fashion director for the Macy’s East division of R.H. Macy & Co., said the best holiday looks have been short, flippy dresses such as baby dolls and slip dresses and “anything with illusion or lace.”

Lin said bright colors have been important in lightweight fabrics such as silk crepes and chiffons, citing key labels such.3 as Laundry, Tahari, Nicole Miller and Rex Lester.

“Evening separates, such as boleros over dresses and tunics over pajama pants, are emerging very strongly,” Lin said.

Sara Davies, fashion director at Nordstrom Inc., Seattle, said: “Anything velvet has sold very well. Evening separates have been very strong, particularly dressy jackets over pants and over dresses, and dressy sweaters and blouses.

Shelle Bagot, owner of The Gazebo, a Dallas-based upscale specialty store, said sales in the eveningwear and social occasion department are up 14 percent for fall and holiday compared to last year.

“Dallas is a very social city with lots of special events,” Bagot said. “A lot of women who didn’t spend money on new outfits the last couple of years have made nerw purchases. There definitely seems to be more consumer confidence and signs of a strong economic rebound in Dallas.”

Long, understated evening dresses in black velvet and white four-ply silk crepe are among the leading looks. Bagot said, with designers such as Pamela Dennis, Bonnie Strauss and Bradley Bayon among the top performers.

Bill Dobson, owner of Lilly Dobson, another Dallas-based upscale specialty shop, said he’s noticed a trend toward “opulent, but not decorated dressing,” using rich fabrics such as velvet, cashmere and four-ply silk in black and jewel tones.

He said palazzo pants and evening separates are hot because of the versatility they provide.

“The drama of Escada’s evening silhouettes” has made this featured collection successful for his operation, Dobson said. “Sales have almost doubled over last year.”

Lilly Dobson has added an instore boutique by Beverly Hills-based designer Fe Zandi, who specializes in opulent eveningwear using Lesage embroidery. Fe Zandi’s simple four-ply silk crepe dress, which is available in over 90 colors at $1,900 retail, has sold so well that it’s continually on special order, Dobson noted.

Another new dimension at Lilly Dobson is an atelier that was added in March, with inhouse designer Micheal Faircloth creating made-to-order special occasion dresses.