With a return to normal activities on the horizon as the number of Covid-19 vaccines distributed grows, retailers from across the price spectrum are seeing positive signs for spring and fall apparel with shoppers opting for bolder colors and high heels, a bellwether of brighter days after more than a year of taking comfort in neutral shades and casual clothing.
“Buying patterns shifted. There were less clutches, and gowns. There was a category shift. People went online, but it reflected this forced-upon change in lifestyle,” said Mytheresa CEO Michael Kliger in an exclusive interview, referring to the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We see pent-up demand in high heels, dresses and cocktail attire,” Kliger said, noting that the continuation of the positive trend depends upon whether charity events come back sooner rather than later.
“Certain brands and shoes such as Jimmy Choo are coming back, but they suffered more,” Kliger said. “Bigger brands such as Gucci, Prada or Saint Laurent, which also sell sneakers, can change buying patterns within the brand. The bigger brands that offer fantastic knitwear, can switch to dresses. Brands that excel in evening such as Oscar de la Renta [and don’t offer other categories, are having a harder time].”
Kliger said Mytheresa has a history of pivoting, and chasing new opportunities, which was useful during the pandemic.
“We’re seeing consumers gravitate toward color as a way of expressing themselves through their apparel, accessories and footwear,” said Doug Howe, chief merchandising officer of Kohl’s. “Shades of yellow, blue and earthier pink tones continue to be popular given the spring season.
“Patterns and stripes are definitely having a moment,” Howe said. “Fun, floral and Hawaiian prints are of interest across men’s apparel, and we’ve seen strong affinity for ditsy florals and multi-color stripes particularly in women’s tops and dresses.”
Howe also cited tie dye’s popularity rise across categories, particularly in women’s apparel, footwear and handbags.
“Sales of dresses are starting to pick up,’ said Daniel Kulle, CEO of Forever 21, noting that the retailer will introduce more offerings for evening. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, we didn’t have that demand. The romantic customer wants to buy here, Kulle said, referring to floral prints, peasant blouses, flounced rompers, and tiered dresses.
Two: Minds, a new multi-brand retailer opening in New York’s Meatpacking District this month, is counting on swift a return to spending, said Jesse Dong, cofounder, and a former buyer at Jeffrey New York, which was closed permanently during the pandemic by owner Nordstrom.
“We’re seeing very good feedback on shoes,” Dong said, which bodes well for spring sales. “We’ve been sending Tastemaker boxes to women who are looking for heels and looking for something to wear to go somewhere. We’re seeing event and tailoring and not so casual wear at the register.”
Consumer sentiment about a Covid-19 pandemic recovery is improving, according to a study by Nielsen, which reported shoppers see increased confidence. Consumers with the most optimism peacked at 61% in the March survey, versus 34% in April 2020, while the more pessimistic group, dropped to 9% in March, compared with 29% a year ago.
“As Americans continue to navigate the pandemic, the future looks promising,” said Brad Kelly, managing director of Nielsen Audio, noting that 82% of those surveyed said stores that were closed have started reopening, compared to 40% in last year and more than half 64% said it’s safer now than last year.
However, some retailers aren’t convinced that consumers are ready to say goodbye to casual clothing just yet, nor do they think the move toward work wear and dressier apparel is close at hand. “It’s clear that the trend is also about coming out of this, although it’s still a lot about comfortable garments,” H&M CEO Helena Helmersson said to Reuters on Wednesday after the Swedish retailer reported earnings.
Judging by recent fall virtual runway shows, many designers are anticipating an end to consumers’ confinement and are using color to raise shoppers’ spirits and goose their own sales.
“Designers are feeling the consumer’s mood and are getting ready to get colorful again,” said Nicole Fischelis, the former VP of fashion direction of Macy’s, and a fashion and art consultant and trend forecaster. “I think we’ve all been so confined and we’re not going shopping, or we’re shopping in our closets. With the weather changing and everything starting to open slowly, you want to buy something fresh and new, and color is definitely a source of attraction and emotion.
Fischelis saw optimism on virtual runways signaled by colors that reminded her of three painters: Wassily Kandinsky, David Hockney and Paul Gaugin. “The importance of art influences is really interesting. You’ll be attracted more by color than by neutrals,” she predicted. “It has to have a flash or a punch. Shades of pink, a lot of green, yellow and a ton of lavender and purple are big. It’s about prints, florals and abstracts.”