PARIS — Retailers praised a safe-but-solid Paris fashion season based on polished French chic while pushing sharp pricing and the “wow” factor to the top of their buying agendas.


“It is now apparent that the wealthiest women are taking price into consideration,” said Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director of Henri Bendel. “The customer is king again and is demanding substance, quality and great designs for her money.”

Budgets for the fall-winter season are being pruned by up to 30 percent, sources said, putting the onus on designer vendors to deliver compelling fashions and terrific value — or be left in the dust.

Some retailers estimated prices were down roughly 10 percent across the board at a time when steep discounts are needed to coax spending. “Many houses are focused on price and trying to deliver great quality at a price: not trading down. That’ll be encouraging for the customer to shop. It’s an important strategy,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “Where the product is right, we’re there. When it’s not, it won’t be in our stores.”

Collections garnering wide praise from retailers included Lanvin, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Haider Ackermann, while Eighties- and Forties-style dresses, leather leggings, strong-shouldered jackets and sweater coats were cited among key items.

Shortcomings in Paris included a preponderance of black and gray clothes, and a dearth of fashion jewelry, a hot category at retail.

“We are focusing on core brands that can still give us excitement and have the desirability for a customer to want to buy,” said Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford, citing Givenchy, Lanvin and Balenciaga as examples. “I have to feel like, ‘I’ve got to have this’ in order to buy. It’s solely about desire; it’s not about need.”

Here’s what buyers had to say:

Andrew Keith, president, Joyce Boutique Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong: “There was a refined sobriety to many of the collections. Tailoring was key, and the focus was more on investment classics, with designers focusing on innovation through fabrication, finishes, inventive cutting and draping. We didn’t see many designers taking risks, preferring to concentrate on fine-tuning the brand positioning. We are allocating our budgets to those brands that can deliver a point of difference and desirability for today’s customers. Although we are looking at an overall reduction, we have kept budgets open for new and emerging brands that provide a compelling new vision. Brands that managed to deliver perceived value will be most successful at retail for us. The collections that we felt were particularly strong were Balenciaga, Comme des Garçons, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen.”

Ed Burstell, buying director, Liberty, London: “Paris designers played it on the safe side — with a few notable exceptions being Nina Ricci, Alexander McQueen and Comme des Garçons. It’s odd given the economic climate as customers are only buying the exceptional pieces — ones that can evoke an emotional response. The best apparel messages were interesting dresses in every shape, color and fabrication, and investing in great outerwear. The biggest disappointment was the Eighties influence…again. My top collections were Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. Liberty will be carrying more fashion from Paris next season. Our customers want to see fresh design that is not overly commercial or overly distributed. You have to look under every rock — and that includes every trade show, big and small, and every multibrand showroom. This strategy is extremely effective for us, with over a dozen new resources being added for fall across all fashion categories.”

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