By and  on March 7, 2006

PARIS — The dark romance of the Paris collections — headlined by voluminous couture shapes, head-to-toe layering and a minimum of frills — put buyers in a bright mood as the international marathon of designer shows wound up over the weekend.

"Paris didn't disappoint and confirmed the season's major trends: the miniskirt, sweater dressing, plaids, leggings and skinny pants," said Bloomingdale's Stephanie Solomon, fashion director of women's ready-to-wear.

"There is a very new direction in shape and volume," added Michael Fink, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Bulbous coats, rounded jackets, skinny pants or leggings, platform boots, chunky sweaters, tuxedos and miniskirts were among the key trends and items retailers lauded. The covered-up look also foretells a blockbuster season for hosiery departments, they noted.

Collections by Lanvin, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Stella McCartney and Dries Van Noten garnered wide praise.

Retailers agreed a preponderance of dark colors would be a challenge next season. They vowed to spike their assortments with the few alternatives available, including blush pink, red, dark purple and deep green. Detractors lamented the lack of a unifying new trend, and a lack of winter clothes.

Here's what buyers had to say:

Barbara Atkin, fashion director, Holt Renfrew

A "new, modern couture" direction headlined the Paris season, with sturdy fabrics, three-quarter-length sleeves, balloon shapes and cape details among the elements which add up to a fresh, modern way to cover up and still look sexy, Atkin said. She noted that such items are worn in a more casual way, and Balenciaga exemplifies how "streamlined design can look sexy."

"Modern romance" was another new direction evident in the "daunting" and spooky Jean Paul Gaultier show, a cleaned-up Dries Van Noten or Christian Dior's Goth chic, Atkin said. Among standout shows, Atkin called Lanvin "a stellar collection. [Alber Elbaz] took voluminous shapes and made them feminine and soft. And I loved that hit of color." She also praised Stella McCartney, Givenchy, Biba and Nicolas Andreas Taralis.

Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong"We loved the dark, poetic, almost warrior-like romanticism this season. It suggested women have strength and are fearless; protecting themselves as opposed to being looked after. Yves Saint Laurent was a particular highlight. We feel that Stefano Pilati has captured the spirit of YSL, but made it modern and relevant. We are experiencing a very positive reaction already this season at retail and expect this to continue. Stella McCartney has hit her stride in her signature oversize knits and strong dresses. And Alexander McQueen was a moment that will linger for the beauty of the show and the emotion that the clothes left us with."

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

"The good news here was the emergence of a sea change across all categories to energize our customer. Designers were shaping and proportioning the body in new and unexpected ways. We loved Chanel for the most perfect wide-legged pants and the perfect black dress; Balenciaga for the most dramatic, sculptured shapes and a youthful interpretation of its heritage, and Jean Paul Gaultier for its dark romanticism. We loved Yves Saint Laurent as well. I have a lot of respect for Stefano Pilati and what he's done for the house." Fargo also mentioned a preponderance of boot options, platform shoes, a trend to larger handbags and lots of sculptural sleeve shapes.

Janet Brown, owner, Janet Brown, Port Washington, N.Y.

"Though the weather's been cold, the fashions were hot. There's been a great deal of vigor and creativity in Paris. There's always great individuality here. Each collection here was more feminine and there was more color. Alber Elbaz continues to deliver his artistry at the house of Lanvin. The tuxedo with the velvet bow will become a Lanvin trademark."

A covered-up look, bubble shapes, boleros and fur accessories were key trends, she added. Brown also mentioned great handbags by Pierre Hardy, jewelry by Taher Chemirik and fur accessories from Guslow and Cole.

Stephanie Solomon, fashion director, women's ready-to-wear, Bloomingdale's

"Coats with volume, whether swinging in back or with elliptical shapes or volume at the bottom, were important. Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton was extraordinary, with no references to the past. It was breathtakingly modern. Chanel, as usual, was great, with the short miniskirt looking fantastic. Balenciaga looked new and modern, despite the references. McQueen was at his quintessential best, and Lanvin, with the ladylike perfection, was a standout, too. Stella also got her groove back. We are picking up the line for fall. We bought Requiem — those are two young designers to watch — and Biba, which is sure to be a hit with young girls."Linda Dresner, owner, Linda Dresner, New York and Birmingham, Mich.

"I thought it was a very, very strong season. We found diverse silhouettes, but each one had a version of a stronger silhouette, but not aggressive. We loved Balenciaga, Rochas, Comme des Garçons, Lanvin and John Galliano. They all had many things to offer. From Lanvin, the very full dresses for evening were really fresh, and the longer silhouettes at Galliano looked new."

Dresner praised the mix of masculine and feminine elements at Comme des Garçons, the tailoring at Rochas, and the veiled silhouettes at Lanvin and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Majed Al-Sabah, owner, Villa Moda, Kuwait

"There's so much to pick from. The best moments of Paris were Alexander McQueen, Dior and Dries Van Noten. Valentino and YSL have some interesting pieces. I'm very happy that there's an appreciation for longer silhouettes, and an attention to detail, which is good for my market." Al-Sabah also cited a "very strong" Paris debut for Miu Miu and put slouchy handbags and super-high heels at the top of accessory trends.

Anna Garner, fashion director, Selfridges, London

"It was a very strong Paris season and signaled a move away from ladylike chic to a more modern, harder edge with an overriding influence from the Eighties. Silhouettes were sculptural and there was more tailoring and masculinity. Volume was really important, as was the smoking suit, with Yves Saint Laurent and Lanvin both delivering great ones. Volume in coats was a message, whether swinging coats or volume in the back. Black, and an overriding, austere color palette, were mixed with strong poppy colors like lacquer red and gold. Balenciaga was a favorite as the references were made resolutely modern. We felt strongly about YSL, which was quintessentially Saint Laurent and fresh. Another trend was military influences and utility clothes, like the badges at Miu Miu and the military jackets at Chloé. The Gothic look was good at Dior, and Ann Demuelemeester is having a moment."

Michael Fink, senior fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue

"Paris benchmarked the season's major trends: shape, sobriety and luxury. Balenciaga was the epitome of the new volume story, and was a perfect, modern reinterpretation of the legendary archives. We loved the nuanced tailoring detail and luxury in the collections of Rochas, Akris and Lanvin, which quietly dripped self-assured sophistication. The color story at Dries Van Noten was really moving, calm and private. It transcended the murky color palette pervading Paris now. McQueen was a tour de force, not only based on his savage tailoring, but with luxurious silhouettes. It was a very good week."Ann Stordahl, executive vice president, women's apparel, Neiman Marcus

"I thought Paris was a strong and diverse season. Balenciaga was very strong and I think his new proportion is going to be very influential. Chanel looked luxurious and modern from start to finish. At YSL, we loved the new proportions and tunic shapes. At Rochas, we loved the modernity of the new pantsuit, and the evening was spectacular."

Stordahl also admired the "quiet luxury" of Dries Van Noten, a "spectacular" McQueen and the strong use of black and white at Valentino. She hailed Alber Elbaz at Lanvin for "moving his fashion forward in a modern way, and his use of color in such a black season was really refreshing."

Jennifer Wheeler, vice president, women's designer apparel, Nordstrom

"There were a lot of great new shapes. Our customers are going to have a lot of options, from maxi lengths to short. The coats, either egg-shape or in easy, A-line, free-fall shapes, all looked very fresh. It will give people a reason to refresh their wardrobes."

Wheeler also said knitwear, from layered sheer knits to chunky, rustic sweaters, look fresh after a long run of filmy blouses. "We loved McQueen. It was really incredible from beginning to end. The show was so inspiring. We thought it was Stella McCartney's best collection ever. Lanvin was a beautiful show, luxurious in its simplicity, especially the sheath dresses with free-fall backs. And at Dries, we loved the brocades."

Sarah Lerfel, buyer, Colette, Paris

"Comme des Garçons had beautiful visual effects and volumes. Alexander McQueen, while the collection was very couture, offered magnificent pieces, while Haider Ackermann, was a beautifully pure collection."

Lerfel added Viktor & Rolf, YSL, Nina Ricci, Lanvin and Miu Miu to her list of favorites and noted a strong presence of black and fur. But Lerfel lamented that she didn't see much evolution from prior seasons. "Chloé was maybe too similar to previous seasons. Also, it's difficult to differentiate between summer and winter shows. It seems there are not so many real winter pieces."Sarah Easley, co-owner, Kirna Zabête, New York

"Paris is always the best. We were pleased with Stella McCartney, which we found very real and interesting. She found a voice and was more mature, but still had a sense of fun. We always buy Jean Paul Gaultier, but this season was bizarre, in a good way. We were swept up in the Goth romanticism of it all. Viktor & Rolf pleasantly surprised us with a chic and focused collection. And Balenciaga, as usual, delivered a bullet collection. Yes, it was retro, but it looked modern. In general, we've seen a lot of leggings and we didn't see a lot of color. We felt that a lot of designers were playing it safe, but that's not necessarily bad. Lanvin, for instance, was very beautiful, but there weren't a lot of new silhouettes. Maybe the customer needs time to catch up."

Soraya Milan, buying director, Daslu, São Paolo, Brazil

"The collections were not as strong as last season, but they were very commercial, with wearable looks that will shift easily."

While Chloé's large silhouettes were not to Milan's liking, items deemed right for a Brazilian clientele included Ungaro's figure-hugging jersey dresses, Chanel's jackets and miniskirts, and Balenciaga's tartan minis. Milan bemoaned the lack of "to-die-for" accessories.

Cedric Charbit, general merchandise manager, women's fashion, Printemps

"This season, Paris was a bit dull, especially compared with Milan and New York, which were more innovative and risqué. Paris needs to expand on its fashion codes. We seem to be a bit stuck in what is right and wrong instead of looking forward and being more business- minded," said Charbit.

Still, he praised a handful of strong collections. "Balenciaga was by far the best. It was coherent, very modern and beautifully constructed. Lanvin and Miu Miu were also strong. Yves Saint Laurent has developed a new code, which is very nice."

Jeffrey Kalinsky, president and chief executive officer, Jeffrey New York, and director, designer merchandising, Nordstrom"Lanvin and Balenciaga are doing brilliant jobs. Dries Van Noten created a beautiful world with lavish embroideries and beautiful brocade fabrics, and I loved Yves Saint Laurent for its sophistication and cleanness."

Kalinsky added that he was "passionate" about Rochas and Martin Grant. He underlined the Eighties vibe, headlined by leggings. "Leggings seem to be a quintessential piece for wardrobes next fall," he said.

Suzanne Tide-Frater, creative director, Harrods, London

"The Paris collections were rather rich and feminine overall, but in terms of newness, there wasn't much. It will remain to be seen how women will react to the new dark palette."

Tide-Frater declared Paris a coat season with a plethora of styles, especially ones with voluminous sleeves. Standouts included Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent. "Giambattista Valli's new look was a bit surprising, but certain pieces will work well and Hussein Chalayan showed a stronger, more feminine collection. Although Ungaro's new departure is not entirely clear, some of the draped dresses and cinched leather jackets will work well for us." Tide-Frater lauded Celine's return to "luxe-chic" and Biba's debut rtw.

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

"I thought Paris was great. The first show we saw here was Rick Owens and the last was Lanvin. In many ways, those two great collections can tell you a lot about what happened here in Paris in terms of color, silhouette and fabrications. This was Alber Elbaz's best collection yet for Lanvin. No one can handle the idea of a bigger volume better than him, yet he can cut a really sexy dress. We also loved Olivier Theyskens for taking his "beauty with an edge" aesthetic at Rochas into more pieces for day. Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga continues to have the most powerful energy in Paris. All our customers will have to have a jacket from this collection. Lars Nilsson is growing Nina Ricci into a superb label that we love for his sense of color and soft tailoring. We loved what Riccardo Tisci is doing at Givenchy. I don't understand the mixed reviews because the clothes are very wearable: chic, sexy dresses; interesting knits; great-cut pants, and beautiful evening."Joan Burstein, owner, Browns, London

"Generally, there was a rather somber mood prevailing through most of the shows where black dominated," Burstein said. Balenciaga, Van Noten and McQueen were highlights she noted, adding that John Galliano was "more wearable, less flamboyant and more pensive. Overall, I didn't find the season too romantic. And all women want is a bit of romance."

Pascale Camart, director, women's fashion, Galeries Lafayette

"This season was very minimalist with less embroideries compared to last season. Details were chic and less flamboyant. Dress-like coats fitted at the waist with a sweet girlish appeal were key."

Camart noted a very strong presence of black as well as "Pink Panther" pink, red and gold. "Leopard skin prints appeared in many collections," she said, adding Comme des Garçons, Chloé, Lanvin, Kenzo and Gaultier were "magnificent."

Teiji Yoshimura, owner, buying company Yoshimura, Japan

"I liked Balenciaga for its retro silhouettes and Chloé, which had a modern elegance that was fresh and will go down very well in Japan. The defining look for the season is a soft, rounded Sixties silhouette and checks are everywhere."

With contributions from Emilie Marsh and Katya Foreman

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