By  on September 21, 2009

NEW YORK – A tricky path between safe and surprising.

That was the fine line designers had to walk during New York Fashion Week — and buyers generally gave them a thumbs-up for hitting the mark in a commercial way, even though some criticized the lack of creativity. “They were trying to push forward without being too challenging,” said Tiziana Cardini of Italy’s La Rinascente. “They have taken risks, but in a very smart way. It wasprices. Some store executives said creativity suffered as a result of the strong emphasis on the bottom line. “Instead of having free rein to design whatever you want, you’re [constrained,]” said Kelly Golden of Neapolitan in Chicago. “It showed in the clothes. Fabrics weren’t as elaborate or embellished. The season was very commercial.”

Louis Boston’s Debi Greenberg, agreed, saying, “I find lowering price points to be a very dangerous territory. Designers were price conscious with some pieces. The fabrics were not as good as they were before due to the pricing. You’re changing the product.”

Other retailers took a different view. Stephanie Solomon at Bloomingdale’s said, “I saw commercial, which to me is not safe, it’s smart. I saw experimentation and I saw lots of creativity, more than in other years. All designers are focusing on price, but they didn’t skimp on the beauty of the fabrication and focus of their craft.”

Collections most often mentioned by buyers as standouts included Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Rodarte, Oscar de la Renta, Narciso Rodriguez, Phillip Lim, Tory Burch and Alexander Wang, while several pointed to relative newcomers Prabal Gurung andJoseph Altuzarra.

Retailers found newness in cut-outs and transparencies, shorts, harem pants, color, crisp shirts, ruffled, ruched or tucked dresses, leather and oversize boyfriend shirts. Realizing that a little shoulder pad goes a long way, designers moved away from the aggressive Eighties silhouette to a softer Forties feel.

Here is what the buyers had to say:

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus: “I’m loving all the denim and chambray with denim jackets, skirts and dresses and denim motorcycle jackets, and the amount of color on the runways. Our customers crave color, from shades of blues mixed to greens and a sunset color palette of marigold and terra-cotta mixed with neutrals. It was nice to see the aggressive Eighties girl morph into a softer Forties attitude. I liked the newness of very artistic painterly prints, peep-toe boots under dresses and gymnasium chic with a bit of a nod to Norma Kamali. I’m also loving anoraks, which will replace the women’s trench, the shirtwaist dress and crisp men’s-style shirting. I feel very strongly about shorts, casual and relaxed or worn with a jacket.

“I loved Narciso Rodriguez’s ability to keep his collection very architectural and still have softness and movement and the sleeveless jackets and beautiful dresses in prints. Also, Donna Karan’s take on the suit, Proenza Schouler’s amazing sportif morphed into tribal, Rodarte’s spectacular pieces, Phillip Lim’s beautiful dresses, Richard Chai’s washed leathers in neutrals or faded colors and Marc Jacobs’ effusive ruffles, great safari jackets and coats.

“The customer is buying things she doesn’t already have in her wardrobe. She’s very item driven. Newness is paramount and a price tag that brings a smile to her face is nice. The newness we’ve seen on the runways in New York will help add to the success we’re looking for in this challenging economy.”

Colleen Sherin, fashion market director of Saks Fifth Avenue: “The spring-summer 2010 New York collections exceeded expectations and provided us with a healthy dose of fantasy along with accessible fashion. Key trends included architectural influences, with sharp, clean lines, contrasted by a softer, more sensual way of dressing, with a casual elegance. A chic, natural color palette was dominant in many collections, although bright shots of color are equally important.

“Mini lengths looked fresh and young, and lent themselves to the season’s optimistic mood.Cut-outs and transparencies were seen on body-conscious dresses. Feather trims added a playful touch of whimsy and have become the summer equivalent of fur. Must-have items include the new soft, relaxed pants in fluid fabrications; flouncy shorts, which have become the new skirt of the season; one-shoulder silhouettes; shirts and shirtdresses. The jumpsuit continues. I am especially excited by the artful dresses that we’ve seen, with origami folds and flowers, asymmetric cuts, pleating and draping details.

“Standouts were Vera Wang for the ethereal beauty of the collection, Proenza Schouler for fabulous mixed-media cocktail dresses embellished with paillettes and feathers, Marc Jacobs for never failing to delight, Rag & Bone for chambray shirting and waistcoats, Ralph Lauren for his fresh take on all-American sportswear. Others included J.Mendel, Marchesa, Phillip Lim, Calvin Klein, Thakoon and Oscar de la Renta.”

Ed Burstell, buying director of Liberty of London: “Overall, New York Fashion Week was a little bit hit or miss. Some things were a little forced. Michael Kors doing Space Age, for example. I loved Alexander Wang. He showed some skin, but it wasn’t vulgar. It was a light take on Americana and the perfect spring show. I also liked Diane von Furstenberg and Joseph Altuzarra’s pretty collection with some wonderful details. Since I’ve been [at Liberty of London], part of my mission has been to introduce more American brands. In the last six months, we’ve started selling Wang, Vince, Rag & Bone, Griffon, Marchesa and Opening Ceremony. We also buy Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

“There’s definitely a conscious effort to keep prices down. When you put a lot of that together, you need to come up with an original idea. Things were a little safe and there were not enough risks. When times are tough you need to give the consumer a compelling reason to buy. You need something that changes your attitude. That’s why I was a little disappointed.”

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director La Rinascente:
“The real value of this season is that every designer has been trying to make his or her vision more clear, more precise and more individual without following trends for the sake of it. The common trend is that everybody has tried to be innovative but with an eye on the market. They were trying to find the special pieces that will always be interesting for the customer. Customers are becoming more choosy. They’re going to spend money with an eye toward quality, craftsmanship and ideas. We are all trying to do the best to attract the customer in a smart and creative way. Designers have all opened up the price range. They are making the best out of the conditions they face.

“Calvin Klein did a great show and I liked Proenza Schouler, Narciso Rodriguez, Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang. I loved Marc Jacobs. He has this outrageousness, this courage, which is really unique. He has a brilliant way of putting references together, mixing them up and spitting them out in a very original way. Even if some of his shows are more coherent than others, every season he gives you some inspiration and a unique point of view. This season was a very sophisticated, insider approach. If you know fashion you really appreciated it. We are also following the new designers very closely. New York is really good for that because it offers a real platform for new designers to be seen.”

Stephanie Solomon, vice president and fashion director for women’s ready-to-wear and accessories at Bloomingdale’s: “It was a very strong fashion week. Donna Karan continues to amaze with her ability to evolve her aesthetics. Somehow she hit the right note this season with fabrications and color palette. It’s easier and more casual. You can see the workmanship and appreciate the craft of designing. I felt the same way about Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein; they came to this moment. I love that Marc Jacobs took a romantic approach to dressing. It may have been over the top, but you know there are key pieces in the collection. Calvin Klein’s fabrics were awesome to look at and the architectural designs would let the woman wear the clothes rather than the clothes wear the woman. Phi’s collection was something to rave about; Andreas Melbostad is on a whole different wavelength with novel ideas. We’re so happy that we’re showcasing Prabal Gurung. We plan to pick up Kimberly Orvitz, a new designer on the scene with eight or 10 looks.

“There are really two dresses for spring — one very fitted with texture of cut-outs and another with foldings or ruffles and a not-in-your-face, less overt sexiness. In general, dresses are much more sophisticated. Key items include harem pants and shorts worn with jackets or worn as a suit. I loved all the different juxtapositions that came together with a very peaceful feeling. There was more emotion in the clothes. But it was ridiculous to go to from the tents to Milk Studios and back. It just added to the stress of these shows.”

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