By  on March 4, 2008

PARIS — Bookended by strong collections from Balenciaga and Lanvin, Paris Fashion Week delivered enough fashion excitement to leave retailers smiling.

While some lamented a preponderance of all-black dressing, a dearth of fresh trends and a strong euro that dents their purchasing power, most buyers said the French capital redeemed itself with strong tailoring, terrific costume jewelry and everything from fur to appealing new takes on the little black dress.

"Paris always crystallizes the season," said Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman. "It's clear that there's a balance of options, dominated by sharp, clean, neo-ladylike dressing [on the one hand]...and soft, languid romanticism on the other."

"The Paris collections add up to a season of glamour and restraint," added Barbara Atkin, vice president, fashion direction, at Canada's Holt Renfrew. "Overall, there was a sense of refinement through beautiful tailoring, volume and surface interest and an eclectic new autumnal color palette."

Most retailers said budgets would remain flat to slightly up, with each item scrutinized for a strong value-excitement quotient.

Strong-shouldered jackets, high-neck blouses, statement necklaces, body-conscious dresses and sharp stilettos were cited as key elements of the season, while widely praised collections included Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Dries Van Noten, Lanvin, Junya Watanabe, Givenchy, Chanel and Alexander McQueen.

Here's what retailers had to say:

Averyl Oates, buying director, Harvey Nichols, London: "Paris has been an incredibly strong season with a fresh boost of energy, giving food for thought going into a fall recession. It's difficult to choose from, but our favorite shows were Balenciaga, Givenchy, McQueen, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent. The print is over, with dominant trends focused on the silhouette (molded, clean), color (black, possibly a nod to the current general economic feeling) and understated luxury. There is a strong return to tailoring, power suiting with shoulder detail and trousers. Hemlines have also fallen. Midcalf has been everywhere, not just in Paris. Tight jackets with volume skirts are key. When there's a buoyant economy, hemlines rise, and when there's a slump, hemlines fall. We're calling it recession dressing."

Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president, designer merchandising, Nordstrom: "I found it to be a good season and what I treasure about Paris is there's something around every corner. This time, I'm in Paris a total of nine days and that's because there's so much shopping to do. You have to extract messages, and what I took away was a very studied, lean, clean, precise message. My four favorites were Balenciaga, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten and Yves Saint Laurent. The black dress is going to be such an important item. Jewelry was very important, and I thought there were outstanding shoes on the runway: very high or very flat."

Kalinsky said budgets for Paris would be at least "the same and possibly more. For example, I found a new shoe designer, Charlotte Olympia, that blew me away, and you can only find that in Paris."

Joan Burstein, owner, Browns, London: "Paris was pretty good, especially after Italy. It's still the fashion city. Balenciaga was a defining moment in a very sophisticated and very wearable way. At the other extreme, I loved Junya Watanabe, and Lanvin was wonderful and modern for a younger person. Givenchy was a delightful surprise. And I adored Dries Van Noten, which was a nice continuation of summer. Other favorites included Yves Saint Laurent, Balmain's dresses and Alexander McQueen's gorgeous coats. Paris didn't deliver any significant trends, though florals still continue and there's wonderful fur to be had in Paris. Jewelry seems to be the new bag, and shoes are still very important."

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president, fashion director, Barneys New York: "Paris is still so much stronger in terms of overall ideas and creativity. Rick Owens continues to successfully evolve his cultlike collection and had great new jackets. Balenciaga can, in a small amount of exits, show the most beautifully 'classic' black dresses to intricately painted latex coats. Givenchy showed a well-rounded collection with the best shirts and pants. Dries Van Noten continued his genius play on prints from spring. YSL was strongly minimal, but luxurious, and showed Stefano Pilati's beautiful tailoring. Alessandra Facchinetti's debut collection at Valentino was exactly what we wanted — chic and classic, yet something that felt new. And finally, Lanvin's powerful collection showed that women can be strong and sexy, but beautiful at the same time."

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