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Benjamin Spillman

In life's many walks, togs talk

28 August 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Don't be fooled by acres of sport coats, dresses, slacks and shoes on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

MAGIC, the most influential trade show in the fashion industry, really isn't about clothes.

It's about advertising.

Manufacturers are advertising to retailers. Retailers want clothes they can sell to consumers. And consumers want something that advertises themselves to their bosses, friends, families and lovers.

"People always want to be noticed," said Sally Lohan, West Coast content director for Worth Global Style Network. "That is what fashion is all about. You want to tell your story."

With about 4,000 exhibitors showing off 5,000 brands to approximately 120,000 attendees from 80 countries there's enough material at the Men's Apparel Guild in California show for a library of sartorial stories. The event runs through Thursday and is closed to the general public.

In addition to the inside of the convention center, the MAGIC Marketplace includes men's, women's and kids' divisions as well as a division for material and other sourcing products and separate shows called PROJECT and Pool that feature more exclusive items and fashion from up-and-coming suppliers.

Unlike the runways of Paris and New York, clothing at MAGIC is one step away from going to retailers, which means fashion on display this week in Las Vegas will soon be in stores, closets and on regular people.

Lohan is scouting the fashion at MAGIC to produce a cultural snapshot that will be distributed online to subscribers that include everyone from clothing industry pros to automotive designers.

Clothing, she said, is a window into the heads of individuals and the hearts of entire cultures. That makes fashion an important industry for anyone who wants to understand people.

"It goes way beyond clothes," Lohan said. "This is really tapping into that mind-set."

Making an article of clothing essential to a particular lifestyle breathes life into what is essentially mass-produced fabric, thread and dyes.

It's why manufacturers and wholesalers at MAGIC dress up their lines with back stories that use everything from fictional characters to icons that depict different cultures or lifestyles to which consumers aspire.

Designer Bill Lavin still remembers how an offhand comment to a trade publication made the phones ring off the hook from callers who suddenly wanted to buy articles from his Leather Island collection.

"If you wear my shoes to a club you are going to get laid," is what Lavin said he told the magazine.

The shoes are essentially dressed up versions of Chuck Taylor All Star and Vans sneakers and retail for around $100 or more.

Lavin enhances the soles to provide more support and decorates the outside with pop culture tributes to reggae, jazz, blues and rock music culture, among other influences.

He also sells belts and other accessories featuring similar tributes. The sneakers, however, were the stars of the Leather Island display at MAGIC.

Whether they will be too fashion forward for typical male consumers remains to be seen. Lavin said sometimes his designs get ahead of consumer taste, especially that of American men.

"It takes about six years for an American guy to catch up with what is happening in footwear," he said. "Celebrities get what I am doing but it is a small club."

Edgy isn't the only lifestyle for sale at MAGIC.

Jared Henzlik and a business partner left the Polo company two years ago to start House of Carrington, a company that makes lines inspired by English gentlemen of the 1920s and 1930s. Picture a more stylized, less American version of what's on sale in a Polo store.

Henzlik said the men even created Andrew Carrington, a fictional character based on diary entries by his partner's wife's grandmother. The idea, Henzlik said, is that men and women can wear clothes to make them stand out from, say, a crowd of Las Vegas tourists without appearing to try too hard.

"Nowadays things are getting so casual," he said. "There is a time and a place for cargo shorts and a knit shirt but it is not everyplace."

Another fashion firm is tapping directly into the culture of old school Las Vegas to sell a line of jeans. Jack of Spades jeans are lightweight, fashionable and available in 11 colors.

What sets them apart is the flexible fabric that appeals to older consumers but colors and stitching in the shape of a card club that keeps them from looking stodgy. They also come with tags that include a fictional story. The High Roller line, for example, tells a story of an epic five-month poker battle that took place in 1949 at Binion's Horseshoe.

The story is crafted to pique the interests of wannabe Las Vegas card sharks.

"They want to be a high roller even if they are not," said Ardie Ulukaya, who showed off the jeans at MAGIC. "That is the person we are after. This is a gambler's jean."