NY'S SPRING FEVER: FIT AND FLAIR

NEW YORK--Everyone's into dresses. Structure--even if it's only the slightest hint of a shoulder pad--is back. And fashion's gone gaga for glamour.
For the designer and bridge crowd, these three key elements should give business a healthy boost for spring.
Optimism is high on SA, with some projections running 20 to 30 percent over last year.
Many firms are devising new marketing tactics to further enhance their prospects. Some are giving buyers the option to buy closer to season, while others are offering a wider variety of lengths and silhouettes compared with last spring.
Dresses should continue to be a key category, in daytime and evening styles. The strong performance of dresses at retail is causing dress firms to hike their projections and the size of their collections, while sportswear houses are increasing their coverage of the category as well.
At Donna Karan, the designer said spring is "a continuation of fall, the idea of tailored over bare and body-conscious." For her, that often means showing a jacket over a curvy dress.
"If I had my way, I'd do nothing but dresses," Karan said.
New knee-length skirts are still in Donna Karan's DKNY line, although division president Denise Seegal said that, this season, the skirts will "show some leg."
"Without a slit, a knee-length skirt can look a little dowdy," she said, adding that becoming accustomed to the length "is an educational process" for the customer.
As for texture, Seegal said, "nothing flat" is the trend, with charmeuse, tweed and satin leading the pack.
Seegal said that retailers have been asking for color "for a while."
Right now, bookings at DKNY are running about 30 percent ahead of last year, she said.
At Oscar de la Renta, fall sales are 20 percent ahead of last year, and the company is planning for its best season in five years, the designer said. Feminine and dressy looks should continue to generate business through the spring.
"For so long, there were too many minimalist clothes for ladies that had nothing minimal about them," he said. "There are no more jackets with big shoulder pads and no seams. Now, clothes are cut close to the body with seaming, not Lycra." De la Renta's 150-piece spring collection will be offered in a variety of brights, including yellow, orange, green and pink, among others. In terms of fabric, double-faced light wool crepe, silk jacquard faille, silk chiffon and double-faced linen will be important, de la Renta said.
Sleeveless, short-sleeved and long-sleeved dresses with matching lightweight coats will highlight the spring collection. Silhouettes will be cut close to the body, he added.
At Ellen Tracy, citrus orange, poppy, yellow and red dominate the spring line. Although solids are the core of the groups, there are a few Indian-inspired prints. Fabrics include various weights of silk fabrics, as well as linen.
While director of design Linda Allard said that she wouldn't exactly call her jackets "structured," she said that styles have moved in closer to the body.
"It's a less suit-driven collection than previous collections, with more separates and knits," said Allard. "There's still a lot of newness in dresses. I think charmeuse will continue, and the slipdress will become a little fit-and-flare, or a dress with a flippy skirt."
Herb Gallen, chairman of Ellen Tracy, said that bookings are "way ahead" of last year. But he added that pricing "is always an issue."
Cynthia Rowley is offering a 120-piece spring collection, which is generally the company's strongest season. Rowley said sales are running 30 percent ahead of last year.
Rowley said she's borrowing looks of Jackie Onassis, Zelda Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, with items ranging from classic to glamorous.
A 10 to 15 percent increase in spring sales is expected at Nicole Miller, according to Bud Konheim, president and chief executive officer, but he thinks fashion needs a facelift.
"I don't think costumes on a runway or all these different lengths will make people buy. To have a boom, the entire industry has to look really good," he said. Continued from page 26
"The customer needs to have the perception that she's wearing outdated clothing."
"We are doing at least twice as many dresses as we did for spring," said Michael Kors, adding that dresses account for 20 percent of his daytime collection. Some of the looks include bias-cut dresses, coatdresses and T-shirt dresses.
Kors projects his spring business to be up by about 25 to 30 percent from last spring.
She added that among the looks in her collection are Jackie O dresses and slinky columns.
Todd Oldham agrees that structured clothes will be an important trend for spring.
"It is not going to be a big mess, but my clothes are going to have slight pads," said Oldham.
He said dresses are important and will vary from "downright tight" to A-line shapes. Skirt lengths will also run the gamut from right on the knee to ultrashort.
Oldham said his color palette will combine hot tones with more subdued tints.
Carolina Herrera is planning a 10 to 15 percent gain, according to Michael Pellegrino, president and chief executive officer.

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