Though trade shows are vital, they are also intense experiences. Vendors, retailers and buyers end up rushed, stressed, even frazzled. That’s why CLASS, held from Feb. 2-3 and now in its third season at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, is not a trade show in the traditional sense. Sure, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, Fred Segal and Kitson are among the powerful buying forces in attendance. And yes, meetings take place and exhibitors include powerhouses such as Earnest Sewn, Ted Baker, Fred Perry and William Rast. But this is not the typical Vegas pressure. CLASS is uniquely laid-back Los Angeles.

“We’re really coming into our own,” says Jason Bates, CLASS’ creator and organizer, citing the relaxed, comfortable setting as one of the reasons for the show’s 25% growth this time around. “Our brands flow and we understand our buyers’ needs. We look for a good brand mix that’s relevant for this market and designers who are leading the trends, not following them.”

Cutting-edge CLASS exhibitors such as menswear labels Huffer, footwear innovator Toms, luxe leather goods by Ben Stu and quirky womenswear brand Odd Molly are drawn to the show as a way to spend more quality time with important buyers whom they might miss or steal mere moments with at the bigger Vegas exhibitions. Fluevog Shoes wholesale director, Mike Belgue, feels the entire vibe of this smaller, more selective show differs from the others on his schedule, including the CLASS bananas and green tea cart that comes around offering vendors a healthy pick-me-up.

And if that little extra attention to vendors and attendees (including smoothies created on a bicycle-propelled blender) is not enough, there are also spa treatments, surf lessons, a special offsite CLASS bowling night, free pictures on the Toddland mule statue, groovy music and art. Aaron Kramer’s cork chair and popsicle-stick lighting fixtures meld into the atmosphere while fellow artist Peter Goetz shows his strikingly beautiful photography. Meanwhile Parrot reflective photo frames are striking next to elaborate throw pillows by former commercial photographer, Lisa Pearl. The eco-friendly CLASS also strives for a carbon neutral footprint, offering visitors artistic yet environmentally intelligent rain gardens and even living plant art by Big Red Sun.

But fashion is still the number one priority at CLASS, as its approximately 500 retailers and over 100 exhibitors can attest. While bold prints rule the spring/summer collections (see for example bathing suits by Trina Turk), sophisticated dots and subtle plaids dominate the fall selections. WeSC showed an irregular houndstooth check on men’s and women’s sweaters, a whimsical update of the ’70s classic print. Ludwig continued the plaid theme while Moods of Norway menswear went with a retro dot. Modern Amusement did a good job keeping its line youthful yet structured, adding some charcoal and jewel-toned denim to the mix.

House of Harlow, jewelry designed by Nicole Richie, makes its boho, ethnic debut with textural, rich pieces that are surprisingly affordable while, at the other end of the spectrum, Lulu Frost’s recycled Victorian shoe buckle bracelets and vintage African beaded necklaces drew attention.

No Los Angeles show would be complete without comfy tees like those from Kinetix, denim lines such as Naked & Famous, cool leather jackets such as those by Orthodox, tweed hats, Kangol’s Japanese jersey, and hot bags by J Fold and others.

Though growth seems inevitable for this show, arguably the hippest kid on the West Coast show circuit, Bates says it’s tricky and he plans to “grow only with purpose. If a brand is relevant, we’ll add them but we are not feeling forced to grow. Exhibitors must be compelling.”

—Rebecca Paiement