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PARIS — Creativity won out over sex.
At least that was the view of major retailers who, after five days of blockbuster shows, praised designers in Paris for feminine, sophisticated collections chock-a-block with salable trends — and ones that left Milan’s over-the-top “sex-capades” a distant memory. Many stores said they were planning slight increases to reflect their enthusiasm.
The collection that was the hands-down favorite was Alexander McQueen, while other shows garnering praise included Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier, Céline, Chloé, Christian Dior and Emanuel Ungaro.
Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, labeled this Paris season “one of the most exciting I’ve experienced in 30 years of fashion. Tension is high, business is tough, terrorism hovers around our shoulders, but designers have delivered.”
Ruttenstein said the miniskirt, controversial in Milan, was a key trend here. “Everything short is sophisticated and new,” he said. “Short can mean anything above the knee to the micro-mini.” Other trends that he said would be strong at retail included the slouchy blouson, shiny fabrics, chiffon and satin. Top colors run the gamut from lilac and brown to gold and silver.
Julie Gilhart, vice president and fashion director for women’s at Barneys New York, said Paris “drove home that there are no basics right now. Everything needs detail or something strong going for it.” She cited the mix of sport and luxury themes as key for spring. “There’s also a lot more color than there is black right now,” she said.
Jaqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising, and communications at Saks Fifth Avenue, said the Paris collections balanced experimentalism with commercial potential. “Paris inspired us,” she said. “There’s a return to femininity and it appeals to different customer segments and that’s music to a retailer’s ears.”
Lividini presented her findings on the season to her buying and merchandising team. Among Saks’ short list of “must-have” items for spring are trenchcoats, draped dresses, blouson tops and jackets, miniskirts and dresses, metallic shoes, shrunken jackets, bustiers and tank tops.
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said important trends included the blouson, skinny pants and the continuation of cargo pants. She characterized the mini as an undeniable trend, “but it will have to be tempered at retail with longer skirt lengths.” She also worried that the full trouser, especially when pleated at the top, might be a difficult sell. Other retailers expressed similar doubts over harem pants.
Kaner’s list of favorite collections included Céline, Lagerfeld Gallery, Emanuel Ungaro, Gaultier and McQueen, while Ruttenstein applauded the “stellar” Gaultier show, Chloé’s “strong commercial” bent, Marc Jacobs’ “best collection yet” for Louis Vuitton and McQueen’s “superb collection.” He also praised Karl Lagerfeld’s show at Chanel, especially the minisuits. “Chanel was representative of everything Paris has been about,” he said.
Gilhart praised Martin Margiela’s move toward “luxury and elegance,” Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake for “its best show in years” and Ungaro “for color and print.”
“What I’m loving about Paris is there are so many incredible individual items that customers are going to have to have,” said Sue Patneaude, vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom. Examples of items with “powerful fashion impact” include Chloé’s fringed jackets; Andrew Gn’s embroidered coats; Yves Saint Laurent’s strong-shouldered leather bombers; Céline’s embroidered tunics, and Chanel’s endless variations on its signature jacket. “Every Chanel customer who ever lived will need two or three jackets. I saw three I have to have,” Patneaude said. “The jacket as an item, separate from a whole look, is very powerful at retail. If there’s a jacket to buy, it brings a lot of other business with it.”
Anna Garner, fashion director at Henri Bendel, identified cargo pants, rapper jewelry, Asian influences and Fifties retro prints as important elements. “It was a very positive and very energetic Paris season,” she said. “There’s been a severe contrast between the softer, feminine feel and the more industrial, street-sports feel.”
Her only reservations were the lingering Eighties touches such as zipper details.
“Paris was better than Milan. It was more exciting,” said Kouhei Yanagisawa, director and executive officer of Hankyu Department Stores Inc. in Japan, speaking after the Chanel show on Tuesday. “The collections here have more originality.” He listed McQueen, John Galliano, Chanel, Viktor & Rolf and Hussein Chalayan among the standouts.
Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, said the Paris collections managed to be sexy, “but done in a very restrained and sophisticated way. These clothes were truly designed, as opposed to styled,” he said. “We’re going through a time when French fashion is the trend. They can do it unlike anybody else.”
His favorites included McQueen, Christian Dior, Chloé, Stella McCartney and the new Y-3 line, a collaboration between Yohji Yamamoto and Adidas.
“Y-3 is exciting for the lady who’s sporty,” agreed Janet Brown, who runs an eponymous store in Port Washington, N.Y. Other looks she praised included the stretch leather pants of Jean-Claude Jitrois, Céline’s suede jackets and Colette Dinnigan’s evening clothes.
Brown also spied, and hailed, the beginnings of a trend back to the suit — long the backbone of retail.
The runway shows here wrap up on Friday.