By  on October 9, 2009

PARIS — Retailers welcomed more realistic pricing from fashion houses here, as well as the shift from aggressive, Eighties-style power dressing toward more salable feminine designs.

“Everyone has gotten the message in the market that prices are something to look at. The customer is looking for beautiful price-value,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus.

While most buyers’ budgets remained flat, business sentiment has improved and attendance at the shows was good, as stores from Russia and the Middle East, as well as independent retailers, returned to Paris.

Utility chic and pretty, feminine dresses — seen as a reaction to the gloomy economy — were noted as the key trends emerging from most collections. Widely praised shows included Balenciaga, Givenchy, Chanel, Lanvin, Haider Ackermann and Stella McCartney.

Phoebe Philo’s debut at Celine also won plaudits, with buyers praising her stylish, timeless tailoring. “Celine was elegant and grown up, however, Ungaro was neither,” said Ed Burstell, buying director at Liberty of London.

Still, some retailers liked the “Los Angeles look” of Emanuel Ungaro’s brightly colored minidresses, reflecting the input of artistic adviser Lindsay Lohan. In fact, shorts and micro mini silhouettes appeared in every collection.

“In terms of trends, everybody needs to start hitting the gym because there is a lot of leg showing,” Burstell added.

Most collections marked a clear return to femininity with frills, pleats, flounces, lace and transparency. Rather than bright colors, the emphasis was on soft ice-cream shades, from whites and nudes to khakis.

Lightweight leather clothing, wedge shoes, tribal looks, shorts and more relaxed pants were noted among the other emerging trends for the spring-summer season, as well as lingerie details, as shown at Dior.

Here, a rundown of what buyers had to say:

Erin Mullaney, buying director, Browns, London: “For spring, the houses focused on commercial viability, most likely due to the fact that they were having difficulties in their own stores. There was more diversity and variety in the collections and the clothes, which were more wearable, spoke to a wider audience. Designers worked hard on pricing, too. Balenciaga, Lanvin and Alexander McQueen were very clever, with good entry level-priced pieces, so we ended up buying more. In today’s economy, buyers want to take as little risk as possible but they still want to buy winners. Alaïa, Lanvin, Balenciaga, Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen and Junya Watanabe were among the strongest collections. We are picking up two new collections, too: Haider Ackermann and Blouson Noir by Melanie Ward. In general, we are moving away from buying collections to looking for items. It is very much about the individual pieces, such as a white blouse, mixing brands again to show people how to style their wardrobes. Our budget was flat, but there have been so many strong shows we will probably increase it slightly. The Web is also very strong. September has been far better than previous months, especially the last few weeks, which have been the best weeks of the entire year. People are shopping again. The mood is definitely lifting.”

Shinji Kimura, general manager of the luxury brand business division, Takashimaya, Tokyo: “Paris showed the future direction of fashion. We were very impressed by Balenciaga, Celine and Lanvin. They all delivered a very elegant, feminine and easy atmosphere. We liked a lot the new Celine and we expect Phoebe Philo to attract many new customers, as well as please the existing ones. Japanese tastes have changed during the recession, and customers want less formal, easy-to-wear apparel, while expensive accessories like bags have become very difficult to sell. As a result, we have cut our budget by 10 percent and have shifted our focus on clothes, shoes, small leather goods and hats.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president and fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman, New York: “Paris clearly signaled a turning point and a desire for gentler and more stable days ahead. After an embattled year with hardened fashion to match, the lighter mood stimulated our checkbooks. The legacy of French craftsmanship along with unique and luxury materials will justify price-value and longevity.

“We embraced the dualities of both soft and sharp; tailoring alongside soft sculpting and draping. Utility chic may prove to be the most compelling trend across all categories. More purist, tailored lines are appealing to our sense of order, and imply a timeless life without gimmicks. Celine led the way with this fresh movement. We are motivated by the less aggressive ‘new tribal’ with techno-ethnic prints and fringe. Clear messages were shorts, the trench, the relaxed pant and dresses. Many designers gave us their most thoughtful, balanced and inspired collections yet.”

Beth Buccini and Sarah Easley, co-owners of Kirna Zabête, New York: “Alaïa, Celine, Givenchy and Lanvin were standouts and understood how their customers want to dress. Balenciaga was also a highlight. The season was filled with plenty of things women want to wear. After such an aggressive fall, we are confident women are going to make a lot of purchases to update their wardrobe with individual pieces they can all fall in love with. We are increasing our budget by as much as 20 percent. Things are picking up; the store has been packed. The mood over all was upbeat and very positive — just what the doctor ordered.”

Stephanie Solomon, vice president and fashion director of Bloomingdale’s, New York: “The Paris runways had the most exciting color, silhouettes, prints, creative ideas that pointed to a new direction. They were upbeat and happy. This will trickle down to our customers and they will be inspired to update their wardrobe for spring 2010.” Solomon’s picks of the season were Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior. “I know it sounds a bit controversial, but we loved Ungaro and its sexy, draped minidresses in vibrant, happy colors. Estrella Archs is a talent to watch. Rodolfo Paglialunga recreated the legacy of Madame Vionnet with his reinterpretation of scarf prints and extraordinary dresses. Jean Paul Gaultier was on his best behavior with his new interpretation of overalls. Every designer seemed to be aware of the impact of the recession and adjusted prices to the new reality.”

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York: “Business has picked up and Paris made us feel optimistic. We’ll have to work hard in new ways to create business, but at least we will have great product to work with. Designers really tried to work hard on giving us a lot of value at more reasonable prices. Our customer has not stopped buying over-the-top pieces that cost a lot, but it has definitely slowed on more simple pieces that carry high price tags. Slim pants and zippered coats were strong and unique. Balenciaga had an extraordinary collection and works with leather like no other designer. Ann Demeulemeester crafted her tailored pieces with silver chains, and her black-and-white bird print was extraordinary. Dries Van Noten, in a season where prints reign, did the best ones. Givenchy had special pieces, especially his take on black-and-white graphics and couture-like tulle dresses. Lanvin’s color was the richest in Paris. The way he [Alber Elbaz] cuts and drapes will make women feel sexy and beautiful and therefore sell clothes. Celine’s debut tied the bow on the present Paris gave us in terms of style and great pieces to buy.”

Sarah Lerfel, buyer, Colette, Paris: “Paris is very powerful compared to the previous fashion weeks. There were fantastic shows by Alexander McQueen, Viktor & Rolf, Hussein Chalayan, Balmain, Lanvin and Gareth Pugh. I loved the energy from Andrea Crews’ show.

In terms of the color palette, beige and cream colors dominated the runways, as did a touch of army green. Floral and graphic prints also made a statement. I am in love with the accessories this season. Olympia Le Tan for her bags, scarves by Julien David, hats by Maison Michel and jewelry from Repossi, Delfina Delettrez and Tom Binns. As for the anticipated introductions, I loved Celine, it was very strong, a perfect association. Each piece made perfect sense. Ungaro was very Los Angeles, cool for many girls like Lindsay Lohan. I think the upcoming season is looking great. I am very optimistic for 2010.”

Ed Burstell, buying director, Liberty of London: “Paris was very commercial, but there was also enough design to engage people again. The strongest collections were Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens and Stella McCartney. While others went short, Ann Demeulemeester kept it long and slick. Rick Owens introduced a lightness that moved his aesthetic forward with couture-like detailing. The more subdued androgynous looks had a nice vibe, too, but the micro minis were at times somewhat unappealing. Looking ahead, we are cautiously optimistic and our budgets are up double digits. We had a very robust spring and fall this year, and we have beefed up our Web site considerably.”

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