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Serious Shoppers Pack O.C. Trunk Shows

Fashion: Devotees can pick and choose from an entire collection before it hits the stores. 'You can buy things that you can't get at any other time,' one customer says.

May 29, 1997|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Monica Kline emerges from a dressing room in Neiman Marcus clad in a salmon-colored Armani pantsuit two sizes too big. "Fabulous," pronounces an attentive saleswoman.

Kline's not worried that the suit practically swallows her up. Here at the Armani trunk show, held recently at the Neiman's in Newport Beach, she can order the suit in her customary size 2.

That's just one reason Kline prefers to shop trunk shows. Small sizes go fast in the stores, she says. At the show, she can order items in her size weeks or months before they hit the floors.

Trunk shows are for those, like Kline, who take their fashion seriously.

"I'm an investment buyer," says Kline, of Newport Beach. "I really take time and I study clothes."

The shows offer a chance for devotees of Armani, Escada, Calvin Klein, Chanel and other designers to pick and choose from an entire seasonal collection before the garments get shipped to stores. They allow shoppers to act as clothing buyers, ordering pieces from the line that their local retailer may have passed up.

"I love trunk shows because you can buy things that you can't get at any other time, because stores can't buy everything," Kline says.

June is the peak of trunk show season. It's when samples from fall collections go on tour before shipping begins in midsummer. Some pieces that customers order this month won't be available for sale until October.

Among the stores at South Coast Plaza staging trunk shows during the month: Escada (Monday), Chanel (June 6) and Calvin Klein (June 12 and 13).

Unlike fashion shows, trunk shows are all business. Although they might feature a small runway show or, more likely, a couple of models circulating among shoppers to show off the new looks, most people come to trunk shows to buy rather than be entertained.

"They're not just there to look-see," says Amy Rosi, spokeswoman for Escada in New York City.

Because they attract customers strongly committed to a line, trunk shows can ring up big sales.

Last month, the House of Escada's premiere trunk show for fall-winter '97 at the Lilly Dodson boutique in Dallas rang up $2 million in sales in just four days. One customer bought 73 pieces, running up a $57,650 tab.

"Trunk shows are very important to us," Rosi says. "They've been a bellwether of our success."

Escada sends trunk shows of its fall-winter and spring-summer collections to almost all of its boutiques and retailers that carry the line. The shows account for about 20% of its annual sales.

"Trunk shows have a loyal following," Rosi says. "These women come to all of them. They can buy what Escada brings to the show and they can place future orders against delivery of purchases that the store has made. We call it flagging against the delivery. It's an opportunity to buy things the buyer didn't get for that store."

Many trunk shows have stock that customers can buy on the spot and inventory that must be ordered. Pieces can sell out, and customers will vie for a particularly hot item. There might be just two ball gowns ordered in each size, so not everyone will get one.

"It can get intense," Rosi says.

At Neiman's recent Armani trunk show, no-nonsense shoppers riffle through rolling racks bearing the fall collection, touching the fabrics and studying the understated colors.

The clothes have been touring the country. They arrived from San Francisco and were unloaded from their trunks and pressed that morning. All 196 pieces are a sample size 6 or 8, but women of every shape whisk them into dressing rooms anyway.

Georgiana Hixson of Laguna Niguel has found three suits she's deemed "workable," but she'll wait until she gets home and studies her wardrobe before deciding which to buy.

"I'll take notes and then call the store later," she says. "I don't buy impulsively."

Ted Bolivar, West Coast retail coordinator for Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni, assists shoppers with purchases. Trunk shows typically have one or two company representatives on hand to explain the look the designer intended and to show how pieces work together.

With the serious air of an accountant, Bolivar fills in sizes and colors on his order forms. He tells customers if a jacket comes in a different color or whether it comes with a pant or skirt.

He helps them find the right size, directing one woman into a larger jacket because "Mr. Armani wants a drapier look."

One woman approaches with a brown jacket in tow.

"Can I wear black with brown?" she asks.

"Oh, we do that a lot," he assures her.

Bolivar updates the shoppers on the latest trends. Long, riding-style jackets and kimono-style tunics are in, he tells them. Both looks are being worn with skinny pants.

While big-name designers such as Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani don't usually turn up at trunk shows, shoppers occasionally get lucky. Last June designer Richard Tyler visited Nordstrom in South Coast Plaza, schmoozing with shoppers at a trunk show that followed a runway show of his fall collection.

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