PARIS--They weren't completely thrilled by the season, but retailers leaving here Wednesday at the end of the ready-to-wear week were satisfied that they had seen plenty of salable collections. A straw poll of buyers indicated that the favorite collections included Chanel, Emanuel Ungaro, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester and Helmut Lang, in no particular order of preference. And American merchants said they would not lower spending this season, although many conceded that they may end up with fewer units of apparel because of the weak dollar. "The most important thing about this whole season is that there will be clothes in the store that women will want to own," said Joseph Boitano, executive vice president of Bergdorf Goodman. "What is exciting was the movement from Milan, where we saw strict tailoring, to a more soft, feminine feeling in Paris," said Boitano, mentioning the softer jacket at Chanel and softer hips at Mugler. Boitano noted that Vivienne Westwood's use of brocades and printed fabrics gave an additional touch of femininity and elegance to her clothes. Bergdorf is buying Westwood's evening collection for fall and is planning a special store presentation, although a date has not been set. "We were a bit disappointed by the Paris season. It was as if designers tried to develop cutting edge clothes not from the heart but to create publicity," said Kalman Ruttenstein, senior vice president, fashion direction, Bloomingdale's. "There was too much skiwear and road warrior looks. I hate to sound boring, but where is a woman going to wear them?" Ruttenstein liked Ungaro, especially "the beautiful cut and a much lighter feeling." He added, "I was less conscious of all the prints and colors. It's just exactly what women want." He also liked Lagerfeld, Chanel ("a very well-rounded collection") and Mugler, "which was good for show business purposes." Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, praised Valentino and Dries Van Noten, which she may add for "more modern customers in certain cities." In her view fashion is currently driven by fabrics, "like all the high tech materials, metallics and fake furs." Bonnie Pressman, vice president of Barneys, said that lots of collections her store carries were strong, "especially the younger, emerging designers, with whom we have been doing good business." She said, "It's been a very solid week with lots of newness in design and construction." Helmut Lang., she added, "had an excellent show with great product." Also praised were Van Noten, Martin Margiella and Chanel, which was "perhaps a little un-Karl and quiet," Pressman said. "But I can see us doing a lot of business with this collection." She emphasized that the dollar's poor exchange rate with the French franc wasn't a huge factor for Barneys, as most of the designers they deal with bill in lira or Belgian francs, "like Lang, who is produced in Italy." "Resources like Chanel and YSL are already converted into dollars. Though I suppose for some of the smaller people, we do end up buying less units." Joan Weinstein, owner of Ultimo in Chicago, was especially enthusiastic about the new fabrics seen in the collections, such as the synthetic material used in Gaultier's "scuba" looks. She also raved about Helmut Lang. "Every piece he did was in an interesting fabric done in a special shape," Weinstein observed. "All the pieces can be bought separately. But they work together, so when the customer comes into the store, she can make her own statement."John Galliano was "drama to the nth degree," she said, noting that Ultimo did extremely well with Galliano last season. The dollar's rate had not shifted her buying from France to Italy, where the dollar remains strong. "We have a budget to follow, and it's in dollars," she said. "I am a fashion store. I don't buy in a certain country to get a good deal."
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