By and  on March 31, 2005

NEW YORK — Fall’s funereal palette, voluminous skirts, up-and-coming designers, the increased importance of preshow collections and the not-so-scintillating but ever-pertinent issue of wearability were among the subjects tossed around Wednesday by a panel of insiders.

A consensus was tough to come by at the Fashion Group Foundation event, staged at the Fashion Institute of Technology and organized by Marylou Luther. In Style’s Hal Rubenstein, an understudy for Michael Kors, served as moderator and didn’t hesitate to toss in his two cents. He was joined by Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman; Anna Garner, head of fashion at Selfridges & Co.; Julie Gilhart, vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York; Robin Givhan, fashion editor at the Washington Post; Jane Larkworthy, beauty director for W magazine, and Sandra Wilson, accessories fashion director for Neiman Marcus, who were equally forthcoming with opinions.

Rubenstein asked panelists about the season’s clunkers. “People laughed out loud at some of the shows. We can’t say which — we have advertisers, too. Some were real knee-slappers.”

Gilhart said, “The worst part about when someone who is always on, is off, is going backstage to congratulate them. You want to say, ‘God, what happened? What can I do to help?’”

That said, she quickly noted that any savvy retailer knows how to piece together a decent buy from a designer who disappoints on the runway. In addition, there’s no telling what consumers will consider a clunker. Burke agreed, adding, “The important thing is to have an honest conversation with the design team or the designer.”

Wilson added, “Our responsibility as retailers is to take all that, be the best editors we can and tell consumers what they can’t live without for fall.”

Considering that Dolce & Gabbana said last year that 75 percent of its orders come from preseason, Rubenstein asked, “Why bother spending a half-million on a runway show?”

Burke said runway shows are an integral part of the creative process and often help solidify trends.

As for Rubenstein’s suggestion that designers’ black-heavy collections could be a death wish for retailers, Garner disagreed. “We’re about to enter a somber season with all this black. But it is still rich in detail and appliqué. It’s very much about the atelier for us.”

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