PARIS — The Paris collections marked a sea change in fashion toward pared-down chic and classic tailoring, fanning optimism among retailers.

Still, buyers are behaving cautiously, shunning risky trends and plotting budget increases mostly in the single-digit range.

“Even though the clothes are marvelous, the reality is people are still being careful, so we’re going to try to give them choices that are useful and, hopefully, irresistible,” said Linda Dresner, owner of Linda Dresner in Birmingham, Mich.

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said designers showing in the French capital took the best ideas from the Sixties and Seventies and spun them forward into luxurious, minimal sportswear. “The newest direction is the embracing of this very pared-down, uberchic spirit,” he said.

Many retailers credited Phoebe Philo, who showed her first collection for Celine in October, for ushering in the change, sweeping away excess decoration and what had been a glut of cocktail attire. Nevertheless, some cautioned that an overload of plain clothes could be risky.

“We need to be careful with not going too heavy into the very clean look, along with the color camel and heavy fabric weights, as it can become too repetitive,” noted Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Hong Kong-based Lane Crawford. “We are looking wherever we can to add fabric interest, detailing, color, print and lighter weights.”

Buyers praised a return to sportswear and day clothes, particularly men’s wear tailoring and pantsuits, roomy outerwear, leather clothing, fur and feather trims, military details and innovative knitwear.

“These are clothes that will merchandise beautifully because they’re so structured,” said Barbara Atkin, vice president and fashion director at Canada’s Holt Renfrew. “This isn’t a shapeless season where they fall off the hanger.”

In accessories, embellished bags and boots — from booties up to thigh boots — were cited among key items.

Collections winning kudos from retailers included Celine, Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, Chanel, Lanvin, Junya Watanabe, Dior, Haider Ackermann and Balenciaga. Buyers also cited a poignant moment viewing the final 16 couture pieces by the late Lee Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide last month.

Here’s what buyers had to say about the season.

Andrew Keith, president, Joyce: “It’s good to be on the market having had a very strong fall-winter 2009 and great performance for spring. We will be getting behind collections that we felt delivered. There’s a move towards a clean, chic and refined aesthetic with coats and tailoring being key. Many designers chose to play with texture rather than color and so we saw a lot of mixes of leather, fur and feathers adding depth and contrast. Celine was a standout. Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, Junya Watanabe and Ann Demeulemeester showed strong collections. The coats and pleated skirts at Yohji were wonderful. Anthony Vaccarello has a very modern and sophisticated edge. But my lasting memory of this season will be the McQueen presentation, which was achingly beautiful and a very emotional and poignant experience.”

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente: “Overall, Paris was a very good season. A creative interpretation of wearability was the common thread throughout all the collections. The aesthetic is much more for a mature woman — pared down, but not severe. Outerwear was definitely a focal point and Paris, perhaps for the first time, has aligned itself with an international trend, which is very interesting and says a lot about our times. In terms of standout collections, Celine and Lanvin are redefining how women are dressing. Azzedine Alaïa, Givenchy, Haider Ackermann, Roland Mouret, Rochas, Miu Miu and Vionnet were also strong. We are paying attention to prices, but designers have been very responsible.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus: “All of the love and appreciation for sportswear is new to our eyes, plus the new direction of pared-down elegance. It has a real modernity to it. There’s still that bit of romantic spirit, too, as in all the beautiful Chantilly lace at Valentino. Velvet and leather are major trends, and I’m loving all the innovative outerwear: capes, ponchos, utilitarian details, vests, and there’s certainly a roomier coat this season. Browns and camels look new, and we like all the greens we’re seeing, the olives and military shades to emeralds and deep bottle greens. There’s a lot of fur and feathers throughout Paris, adding lightness and whimsy to clothes, shoes and even handbags. It really speaks to designers tempting the consumer. We’re seeing a real optimism throughout the market. Our favorite collections were Dries Van Noten, Givenchy, Celine, Lanvin and Balenciaga for the outerwear.”

Marigay McKee, fashion and beauty director at Harrods: “Paris brands have been driving our trade for a few seasons now. We have focused our growth in purchases on those brands already performing off the charts for us. Chanel, Lanvin, Balmain and Balenciaga are all hard to keep in stock. We have added Nina Ricci, as Peter Copping has done such an incredible job. Prices were very much in line with last season’s. Best trends: the return of the kitten heel and wedge; the continuation of the bootie and skinny pant; fur, fur, fur; leather pants and leggings; continuation of the sporty trend; studs; animal print, and feminine frills, bows and ruffles. Shoulders are still in the spotlight. Best colors — nudes, neutrals, beiges, greiges, grays, camels and, of course, black — and a lot of winter white, which is fashionista fabulous.

“There were so many truly sensational pieces and the creativity behind some of the shows that was truly theatrical, including Karl Lagerfeld’s 265-ton Chanel iceberg and Lanvin’s tribal effects and pounding drum sounds. Chloé was fab — very “Love Story.” Best collections were Lanvin, Chloé, Balmain and Givenchy.”

Colleen Sherin, fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue: “A definite shift took place in Paris, with a move towards a more pared-down way of dressing, and a focus on luxurious fabrications, tailoring and discreet design details. Phoebe Philo at Celine has been highly influential. That said, there was still much on offer in terms of more opulent design, with fur and fur trims and ornate embellishments. Key items and categories include statement coats, from sporty varieties to full-on furs; leather and leather trims; a new pant silhouette with a slight flare; knitwear, fine and sheer or chunky and highly textured, and more classic colorations of camel, gray, navy and black. Alexander McQueen’s presentation was incredibly beautiful, thoughtful and moving. Other standout collections include Celine, Chanel, Dior, Nina Ricci, Ann Demeulemeester and Valentino.”

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