By  on February 22, 2010

NEW YORK — Fall could be the watershed season.

So hope buyers, who said the trends seen during New York Fashion Week bode well for fall selling and the season could mark a turning point in consumers’ willingness to spend. High-waisted full pants, vests, legwarmers, military coats, ponchos or capes, shearling coats, fur-trimmed jackets, handbags decorated with fur, leather dresses and chunky knits are some of the key fall items, said store executives.

“People are going to need to do a lot of updating,” said Beth Buccini, co-owner of Kirna Zabête. “A lot of designers took risks and that’s what you have to do in this economy to sell clothes. Consumers want something new and different because there’s a void in their wardrobe.” Buccini said New York designers rallied and “pulled it together to give us something really exciting. Our budgets are up, for sure.”

“People are feeling better about the tone of business,” said Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s. “It’s based on the fourth quarter and you can tell by just walking around the shows. We see an opportunity to grow the business in the fall season. We had a very good fourth quarter and feel cautiously optimistic.”

Despite the optimism, retailers recognize that price will remain key. Ron Frasch, Saks Inc.’s vice chairman and chief merchandising officer, commended designers for keeping costs down. “People worked very hard to control prices. There’s a lot more luxe [in the clothing] and that’s expensive so I’m very pleased with the prices I’ve seen.

“We’re feeling a little more positive about the business,” Frasch added. “Having wonderful product will be very beneficial to that. I don’t see the business exploding. Pretty much everyone is taking the same approach. Everyone is very cautious. No one knows what’s next. We’re trying to be very intelligent and very discretionary about which businesses we’re going to push a little bit and hopefully it will work.”

While Saks is pleased with early spring sell-throughs, Frasch noted: “We’re not up against very much and we’re dealing with lower levels of inventory. You have to buy differently. One thing we learned a lot last year is how to buy differently. We’re buying a lot more selectively and making sure there’s less inventory. We are also buying more emotionally. Clothes need to be emotional and inspiring in terms of their visual appeal. I’m a little disappointed that there wasn’t more color.”

“The collections in New York were strong,” said Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s at Barneys New York. “Designers have responded to the market with great pragmatic solutions and, even better, with great creativity. It seems that everyone has worked very hard and that tough business has inspired everyone.Business is picking up and this energy plus the strength of many collections will cause us to reallocate certain budgets and make increases.”

Sarah Rutson, fashion director of Lane Crawford, agreed, saying: “I will definitely be increasing open-to-buys. No question, we’re upping the ante. With our edit, we will have an exciting fall. I’ve no worries, especially with the unbelievable spring we are experiencing.”

While some critics said the runways were filled with too many tried-and-true designs, with a focus on American sportswear classics, retailers contended there was nothing wrong with that. “Commercial is good,” said Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of Macy’s. “It’s a season full of fantastic items to capitalize on.”

“Why would we want to go after clothes that aren’t commercial in the first place?” said Barbara Atkin, vice president and fashion director of Holt Renfrew. “It means that somebody can actually identify with the clothing. Yes, we’re familiar with a lot of it, but we haven’t had customers wearing ankle-length skirts for a long time. There’s so much newness in the fabrications and the layering. We don’t want markdowns, we want full-price selling. I applaud New York for taking newness and making it commercial.”

Here, retailers’ views on the New York shows.

Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale’s:

Trends with legs: “I loved the casual ease of the clothes based on luxurious fabrics, particularly knits. The skirt lengths are a little longer, the color palette is soothing and calm. There were not a lot of theatrics, just beautiful clothes.” She cited chunky knits, Fair Isles and even the footwear as appearing comfortable.

Favorite collections: Marc Jacobs for his warm grays, camels, touch of mustard, incredible outerwear with touches of real and fake fur; Rag & Bone for mixing men’s wear and feminine details, perfect proportions and layering; Donna Karan as the “absolute best” with sculptural shapes and for never forgetting about a woman’s body; Michael Kors for quintessential American sportswear, luxurious yet accessible, and incredible knitwear and fur combinations, and Ralph Lauren’s ode to the Bloomsbury movement.

Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director, Macy’s:

Trends with legs:
Unexpected contrasts from gender blending to menage à trois; utility; the use of fur, shearlings, embellishment, sequins, lace, velvet, draping and fabric and manipulation; the bohemian luxe attitude; knitwear with substance; new layering; wide-leg pants and winter shorts; blanket coats, military and duffle coats, the vest and cargo pants; bustier dresses over fine knits or blouses; crafted architectural sheaths, and flirty dresses with ruffles.

Favorite collections: Marc Jacobs was “a pure moment of grace,” while Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Ralph Rucci, Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors showed collections with trend relevance and integrity to their DNA. Among the new generation of designers were Alexander Wang, Rag & Bone, Richard Chai, Karen Walker, Peter Som, Adam, Nanette Lepore and Cynthia Steffe, and rising newcomers Rachel Antonoff, Peter Hidalgo and Bibhu Mohapatra.

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director,Barneys New York:

Favorite collections:
“Marc Jacobs’ outstanding show was spot-on in every classification, it was the show of the week; Joseph Altuzarra’s show was the breakout show — he made leather seem like it was the only fabric you’ll want this season. The knitwear trend was exaggerated at Rodarte. The collection was soft, pretty and had an slight edge, which this season is the key combination. Proenza Schouler’s high-waisted pants in a print version were the must-have piece of the season; The Row was precision and simplicity. Up and coming is Ross Menuez’s collection for Salvor Projects. Not many people saw this show due to the snowstorm, which is unfortunate because his intelligent presentation of the continuing trend of artistic prints in interesting shapes was great.”

Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president of designermerchandising, Nordstrom:

Trends with legs: Legwarmers. “Some people will wear them. Really, what is a legwarmer but a scrunchy boot? Knitwear dressing is going to be in, tons of thigh-high and over-the-knee boots.”

Favorite collections:
“Marc Jacobs for his man-tailored double-breasted pantsuit and three-piece pantsuit, coats and color palette. Rodarte reinvented their woman while staying true to who they are with their soft and feminine designs and lightness of fabrics and color. What these women do is really create art. Proenza Schouler’s collection was fresh and young with high-waisted jeans, short jackets, toggle coats and plissé dresses, and Michael Kors’ long skirts, slashed elbows, knitwear dressing and new pantsuit.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman:

Trends with legs: Luxed-up utilitarian and the “Neo-primitive trend gone feral with wild, long-hair fur”; men’s wear-inspired tailoring; pants beyond leggings; coats; shine; textured materials; velvet, and leather.

Concern of the week:
The pervasiveness of black.

Favorite collections:
“Marc Jacobs was clearly at his best and personified the season with a masterful and sophisticated collection; Alexander Wang showed us his infinite creativity with sexy tailored riffs on men’s wear for edgy girls; Michael Kors was pure relaxed luxury, and Proenza Schouler mined their cool couture DNA.”

Beth Buccini and Sarah Easley, co-owners, Kirna Zabête:

Trends with legs: “Legwarmers, woolly ribbed tights, knit pants or thigh-high legwarmers, people will be clamoring for that; the little bits of fur we saw everywhere, from a full-on tie-dyed coat at Peter Som to scarves on other runways.”

Favorite collections:
“We absolutely loved Proenza Schouler, it was an outstanding show; Thakoon was really strong and such a departure for him. He really took a risk. His girl is no longer 20 years old — she’s now very sophisticated. We loved Preen, Alexander Wang, Altuzarra, Narciso Rodriguez, Peter Som and Peter Hidalgo.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director,Neiman Marcus:

Trends with legs: Wider trousers; the men’s wear pantsuit with a feminine blouse; military influences; the leather dress; fur-trimmed garments; ponchos, capes and sleeveless vests, and boyfriend coats.

Favorite collections: “Joseph Altuzarra’s razor-sharp tailoring was supersexy; Oscar de la Renta’s color palette, luxe layering, beautiful fur trim and interesting Art Deco embroidery on hems and skirts; Narciso Rodriguez’s sophisticated color palette; Marc Jacobs’ calm colors and collection presented with much confidence; Michael Kors’ true American spirit, and Proenza Schouler’s prep school details on varsity jackets and pleated dresses were a nod to the cheerleader skirt.”

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