By  on October 10, 2006

PARIS — World capital of fashion?

Absolument. Retailers said the international marathon of fashion weeks ended on a high note in Paris, which offered not only jolts on the runway, but great dresses, easy sportswear and other creative styles that should keep the luxury business rolling.

"Paris just keeps glittering more and more," said Janet Brown, owner of Janet Brown in Port Washington, N.Y. "My budget is up 20 to 25 percent in Paris. Even sportswear, which was never the forte of Paris, was very strong this season."

Many buyers said they would increase spending here, citing standout collections from big houses and emerging designers alike. Although trends were diverse and sometimes conflicting — ranging from no-holds-barred futurism to retro Edwardian finery — buyers praised an emphasis on tailoring and athletic and "sportif" influences.

Cropped jackets, romantic blouses, skinny pants, small handbags and platform shoes were frequently cited as key items, while the most lauded collections included Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Dries Van Noten and Stella McCartney.

"What excites our clients is newness, quality and surprise, and you can find it here aplenty between the runways and the showrooms," said Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, at Bergdorf Goodman. "Paris always crystallizes the spirit of the season and it's clear that youthful dresses remain the most diverse and dominant must-have category."

Here's what buyers had to say:

Joyce Ma, principal, Joyce Boutique Holdings, Hong Kong: "Thank God for Paris. It was much more interesting than the weeks before. However, it will be a very difficult season. Key trends such as short-shorts and futuristic styles may be difficult for my clientele. Prices are so high. Everything has become very expensive. Alexander McQueen and Yohji Yamamoto were both very, very nice, as were Lanvin and Chanel." Ma said she would be increasing her budget over last year. "We will be spending more; however, the summer is not an easy season for us."

Anna Garner, fashion director, Selfridges, London: "Paris gave sense to what has been overall a difficult season. Key trends that emerged were futurism and athleticism. The silhouette emerging from Paris was sharp and lean with more than a hint of the masculine, although dresses (very short) are still key. The Eighties were a strong reference, particularly at Balenciaga, one of the strongest shows of the season. Alber Elbaz has also sharpened his Lanvin collection with great lean pantsuits and a mix of modern and athletic. Nylon and plastic featured heavily on the runways in a cyber context. Shoes for spring are particularly strong, often with Perspex platforms, and metallics, especially liquid silver or mercury, were prevalent again in shoes and bags. Stella McCartney combined all the key trends, showing a great mix of modern, slightly slouchy athletic rompers and short dresses. Her collection also reinforced the season's obsession with the Sixties microlengths and futuristic influences. Alexander McQueen was a sheer delight with beautiful Edwardian tailoring and fantastic dresses."Michael Fink, vice president, women's fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue: "The Paris collections provide a scattershot approach to the needs of a modern woman looking to dress the various aspects of her lifestyle. More reality-based than Milan, the clothes have been thought-provoking and often romantic with deflated volumes, sport influences and tailoring looking newest. Razor sharp linear silhouettes at Balenciaga and Lagerfeld prove that modern dressing doesn't mean kitschy sci-fi. McQueen's misty-eyed romantic collection was rooted in masterful tailoring — something missing in Milan. Dries Van Noten showed wonderful combinations of beautifully simple clothes. Chanel's graphic collection delivered a variety of jackets that will make our customer very happy. Tailored jackets, interesting sleeves, small bags, platform shoes and, of course, dresses — especially the archived sack dresses at YSL — are all season must-haves."

Ken Downing, fashion director, Neiman Marcus, Dallas: "It's a season of dresses and women are going to need a wardrobe of them. Yves Saint Laurent had terrific sportswear and beautiful dresses, and Chanel had great jackets and dresses. Sportif came on strong in Paris. At Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière continues to be a source of inspiration for taking fashion to places we don't expect, and Alexander McQueen showed a collection that could bring a tear to your eye. And even though we don't carry the ready-to-wear, Louis Vuitton was overwhelming; just so inspiring. That's why we come to Paris." Among important items and categories, Downing noted metallic shades, particularly silver, cropped jackets, feminine blouses and clear accessories.

Stephanie Solomon, vice president and fashion director, women's ready-to-wear, Bloomingdale's: "After four weeks of shows, it was amazing that Paris still provided a jolt of real energy. For us, the shows here crystallized the trends of the season and also gave new ideas. We liked the mix of sporty elements with dressier looks, as well as cargo pants, dressy coats for day and boxy jackets. Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton was an amazing and creative mix that showed how real women love to dress, while Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga catapulted into the future. Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel was clean and crisp, and we adored Stella McCartney. With this collection, she showed that she is evolving into a world-class player. Vibrant color also summed up what was a very optimistic Paris season."Jennifer Wheeler, vice president, women's designer apparel, Nordstrom: "Obviously, the dress continues to be such an important statement. What also stood out was definition in the shoulders, and there was a casual, sportif approach to dressing with Member's Only-style jackets and easy bombers. Linear pants are important, as seen at Lanvin and Balenciaga. We loved McQueen. We saw it in the showroom and the collection really does translate even past the incredible show. For our customers, Valentino and Chanel definitely delivered clothes. We saw the next evolution of YSL with swing shapes. Apart from the rompers, Stella McCartney's dresses were spectacular, and we liked Giambattista Valli. The color palette has been really fresh here with greens, purples, red and yellow, mixed with black and white."Sarah Easley, co-owner, Kirna Zabête, New York: "Generally speaking, it wasn't the kind of season that you look at the runways and want to throw all your clothes in the East River. It was a good season — not a great one — and, in the showrooms, there are plenty of good clothes that will sell. Balenciaga's runway, for instance, won't translate so well, even if there were wonderful pieces in the showroom. I don't think girls are going to run out to buy C-3P0 pants. Space Age won't fly, but futuristic will. We loved David Szeto. What he showed was like nothing else out there, but still right for now. Giambattista Valli was strong with drop-dead evening dresses, Stella's masculine tailoring softened up with pretty feminine pieces was great, and Jean Paul Gaultier's collection was fun. The dress, the wide-legged trousers and lots of ruffles and lace were some of the main messages. Yet it felt like a season of transition, with several houses at crossroads, like Chloé and Nina Ricci. We're interested to see what Olivier Theyskens will do there. Our Paris budget will grow about 20 percent."

Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong: "Paris was great, as it really helps balance out the season overall for retailers. In a season of dresses, femininity and sports influences, a number of designers put edginess, cutting and tailoring into the mix. That's given a strength and modernity to the season that had been missing from other countries. The dress is still dominating the catwalk; however, I feel the importance of tailoring has been the most important statement with peaked and other shoulder details. Precision cutting and long and lean silhouettes will be the most influential going forward. Chains, metal detailing or shiny fabrics gave a much edgier, modernistic touch. Lanvin was spectacular. It was a brilliant direction to take. I could not have loved a show more than that: modern, sexy and totally new." Rutson also praised Stella McCartney's dresses, tent coats, shirts and longer-line jackets; YSL for its tablecloth checks and "some of the strongest shoes and accessories I've seen on the runway," and Dries Van Noten for "perfect execution" of relevant modern sportswear.Donata Meirelles, international designer buyer, Daslu, São Paolo, Brazil: "The continuing strength of the dress at the designer level is important. Chanel offered all-round innovation, value and wearability. Lanvin was feminine, but with modern fabrics. Valentino's femininity was fresh, young and appealing for our clients. Giambattista Valli's dresses keep getting stronger."

Barbara Atkin, fashion director, Holt Renfrew, Canada: "Despite all the controversy, I found the season to be positive. The dress stood out as the most important item of the season and will be the modern woman's new uniform. My favorite collections were Balenciaga, which continues to push the bar of futurism; Lanvin for giving women simple luxury with just the right amount of extravagance; Stella McCartney for everyday sportswear that tapped into athletic couture silhouettes; Dries Van Noten and Jean Paul Gaultier for their sophisticated melding of athletic and couture shapes, and Alexander McQueen, who understands the strong beauty of a woman. We are picking up new niche lines such as Noir, Anne Valerie Hash and Sharon Wauchob. It was an easy season with just the right amount of newness and extravagance to keep the luxury market rolling."

Haru Suzuki, fashion merchandiser, Barneys Japan: "I felt the season was very positive. Both Balenciaga and Givenchy were very interesting. Young designers are also evolving. Christian Wijnants, for example, showed a more grown-up collection with colors and shapes that were more complete and wearable. Sophia Kokosalaki made beautiful dresses with her own pastel colors that were very different from other designers', while Nicolas Andreas Taralis' masculine shapes this season were stronger and more concentrated. In terms of trends, there were many new triangular shapes and a strong emphasis on shoulders, especially in jackets. Lengthy shirts and blouses that go well with pants and leggings will also be a very strong direction next summer. Suzuki said her budget was flat, noting she was concerned about exchange rates. "I'll pick up a few new names, but in less volume," she said.

Averyl Oates, buying director, Harvey Nichols, London: "One of the most apparent trends was clean sportswear with an injection of metallics and heavy hardware, such as Lanvin's chunky zips. We've increased our budget significantly and, following a disappointing season in Milan, have shifted some of it to existing French brands. There's a definite pop of yellow, though shades are neutral on the whole. Lengths are short, though hems will fall just above the knee in reality. I loved Stella McCartney's collection for its strong, wearable clothes with a point of view. It was a relief to see clothes that you could actually imagine yourself wearing," said Oates, who also lauded Alexander McQueen's couture element, Hussein Chalayan's artistic creation and Lanvin's use of techno fabrics and beading.Linda Dresner, owner, Linda Dresner, New York and Birmingham, Mich.: "It's been more of an item-driven business this season. There are a lot of great jackets, easy sportswear and it's clearly a dress season. We very much liked the colors, anoraks and easy sportswear at Dries Van Noten, the sporty feeling at Stella McCartney, Undercover for its cute and playful dresses, Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe for tailoring and jackets, and Balenciaga is clearly in a class by itself with a brave, independent spirit. Off the runway, we also found some lovely, sophisticated things from Adeline Andre and Gustavo Lins, whose clothes had the feeling of the future, but were still very wearable."

Pascale Camart, director, women's fashion, Galeries Lafayette: "The Paris shows were, as expected, very chic. Short lengths dominated the runways. Colors such as black and off-white corresponded to the underlining chic vibe, as did powdery pinks. Gold was also very present throughout the collections." Camart said dresses were still a key direction for spring, as were shorts and overalls. "Lanvin was marvelous and very sophisticated. It was the ideal mélange of a touch of adventure added to the perfect cocktail dress in beautiful colors. Vivienne Westwood continues to offer a refreshing alternative to the runway, while Valentino mastered elegant evening gowns with a modern spin."

Cindy Ho, commercial director, Villa Moda: "Paris is the place for real fashion and creativity. The most impressive shows were Viktor & Rolf, Dries Van Noten, Junya Watanabe, Chloé, YSL and Miu Miu. I am increasing my budget in Paris and adding some interesting labels such as Tao, Veronique Branquinho, and Vivienne Westwood."

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