By  on September 10, 2005

NEW YORK — Change is in the air and retailers have gotten a whiff of it.

After a season of wall-to-wall prairie skirts, bohemian tunics and frilly blouses, fashion executives are getting weary of whimsy. They're ready for a new approach.

A few have invoked the "M" word, but some are afraid to mention minimalism lest it bring back memories of the severe fashions of the mid- to late-Nineties, where lines were strict and embellishment was scarce. Retailers expect to see cleaned-up silhouettes, soft color palettes and a judicious use of beading and embroidery. They also hope to find something they've never seen before that can add a new phrase to fashion's vocabulary.

Before they headed to the shows, WWD asked some store executives about their hopes and fears for spring.

Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner Jeffrey New York, and director of merchandising, Nordstrom.

What I'd like to see: Probably what's not on my shopping list. I always have high hopes of finding new things that are inspirational unto themselves.

People have been buzzing about: Brian Reyes. I've definitely heard a lot of buzz about his show.

Changes I'm anticipating: I'm going to need some skirts with volume and pencil skirts. The prairie skirt has legs, especially in the luxury market if done differently than the street versions. The tunic also has legs, but it has to be new. I don't think they can depend on the embellishment of last season.

Designers I'm watching this season: I love all the American designers we carry: Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors, Narciso Rodriguez, Proenza Schouler, Thakoon, Behnaz Sarafpour, Libertine and Project Alabama.

Open-to-buy: Very open. We had a great spring and fall has started really strong. I'm going in with a very optimistic point of view.

Scott Tepper, fashion director and divisional merchandise manager of apparel, accessories, and lingerie, Henri Bendel.

People have been buzzing about: There is tremendous buzz around Gwen Stefani's first runway show for L.A.M.B. The line is on fire for us, and we are excited to see what level she will take it to next. Heatherette's launch last month in the store was literally a mob scene. As this is only their second collection, it should continue to be an interesting evolution.I'd like to see: A more natural, authentic interpretation of femininity. Our customers are not looking for another Eighties redux, or Victorian costumes for spring, so our challenge is to find the right balance of earthiness without veering off into granola territory.

Changes I'm anticipating: We want to offer our customer embellishment and sparkle, but in a softer, more natural way for spring 2006. We also feel that a sorbet color palette will be important, with less emphasis on bright and electric colors.

Designers we're watching this season: We are watching all of the new designers; the legacy of Bendel's is to support fresh, young talent. We are very interested to see Brian Reyes and Jenni Kayne in particular.

The look or trend I'd like to see retired: Pieces with heavy crystal embellishment, and bohemian tunics.

Open-to-buy: Our open-to-buy is never as large as we would want it to be.

Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus.

Changes I'm anticipating: I hope the more sophisticated and pulled-together look that we're seeing continues. I know we'll see some very feminine, romantic looks and full skirts. I keep thinking a sleeker silhouette is the way to go. I expect we'll see a combination. Dresses will be important and novelty pants. White will continue along with pastels, beige, olive, green and khaki. Hopefully, the bohemian look is not over. I think versions of it will remain.

People are buzzing about: There are a lot of young designers scheduled so I think there will be something to buzz about.

What I'd like to see more of: I would like the collections to be more pulled together, a little more soigné. We've been through a period of bad taste with a print on the bottom and a different print on top. It's been an excessive time in fashion and it's time to pare it down. It should not quite be minimalistic. It doesn't have to be ornate or overdone.Designers I'm looking forward to seeing: All of the American top designers and all the young designers, including Derek Lam, Jeffrey Chow, Behnaz Sarafpour, Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen.

Open-to-buy: I don't talk about it.

Evelyn Gorman, owner, Mix, Houston.

Designers I'll be watching: I'm anxious to see Roland Mouret, Boudica, Jeremy Laing and Doo.Ri. Matthew Earnest may also be interesting. I'm also looking for things I've never seen before.

People are buzzing about: Doo.Ri and Boudica. Those will be new to me. Talk on the street and in conversation with my p.r. company in New York is that they're something fresh.

Changes I'm anticipating: I was very wary of the girly, youth-inspired fashion of recent seasons. I really love a classic minimalist presentation. It's easy, sophisticated and modern, and that's the direction fashion is going.

Looks or trends I'd like to see retired: I would like to see less girly, flouncy fashion. The low-waist approach to trousers is retired already. I love a trouser-y looking trouser and I think we're getting away from super-tight clothes.

What I'd like to see more of: I'm looking for some color trends. Navy is going to be big even for spring and white will be big. I'm going to be looking for trends in ornamentation and how people are applying adornments to their special things. It's going to be interesting to see how this more minimally directed approach will translate to styles with an ethnic inspiration.

Designers I'm looking forward to seeing: I'm seeing twice as many new people in New York as I'm seeing in Milan and Paris.

Open-to-buy: About the same as last year. This is an energy city — as in petroleum — so we can be pretty well isolated from economic woe. We don't feel the same pinch others do.

Cedric Charbit, general merchandise manager for women's fashion, Printemps.People have been buzzing about: The first Marc Jacobs store in Paris opening soon.

What I expect to see this season: Great dresses, from day to eveningwear, for all women, all prices, and really glamourous looks, early Sixties spirit as inspired by Lee Radziwill, couture details, because we need elegance and quality, all mixed with a retro Brigitte Bardot look.

What I'd like to see more of: I want to see more new volumes and proportions and more retro-chic styles.

Changes I'm anticipating: New silhouettes are on, as denim is not the answer anymore. For his pre-collection, Marc Jacobs did a great job of mixing early Nineties and Sixties styles with ultra-feminine looks and incredibly detailed pieces.

Designers I'm watching: It's a secret.

The look or trend I'd like to see retired: VIP denim collections.

Open-to-buy: Brands should stop increasing their prices. We will put the money on those that also regard what you get for the price, no matter the brand.

Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director for ready-to-wear, Macy's East.

Changes I'm anticipating: I'd like to see an evolution from embellishment and using embellishment differently. It's going to be interesting to see how the whole skirt issue evolves. I want to see a new direction in denim. I'm also anxious to see the safari mood, which is coming back very strongly, and how the African influence will translate on the runway. There's a lot of talk about the return to minimalism. I'm wondering whether the feminine issue will continue.

Designers I'm looking forward to seeing: Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs — if I get invited (hint) — Tuleh and Ralph Rucci. I'd like to see some new emerging talent.

What I'd like to see more of: We do a very big business in denim and I want to see what's the next move in denim. Above all, I want to see realistic fashion.The look or trend I'd like to see retired: I'm sick of long skirts and gypsy looks.

New designers I'm exited about: We're bringing new people from the contemporary world in California and opening an exclusive shop for Muchacha.

Open-to-buy: Business has been good. The beginning of the season has been very positive. We're opening the new third floor. We're very optimistic so there's no issue with budget.

Michael Fink, vice president and fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue.

Designers I'm looking forward to seeing: I always look forward to Marc Jacobs — you never know where he's going to take you! Derek Lam always presents an assured collection of beautiful separates for a modern woman. Bryan Bradley at Tuleh always has a unique message, and I love that he just throws it at you. Its your choice to duck or join in on the fun. Vera Wang's separates have been absolutely magical and I can't wait to see where she goes this season.

People are buzzing about: We were all waiting for a "Battle of the Stars" between Gwen Stefani and Beyoncé Knowles, but that's on hold.

Changes I'm anticipating: I hope fall's tailored suitings continue, of course reinterpreted for spring. I love the return to dressing up. I would like to see designers take more chances and deliver more consistent messages.

What I'd like to see more of: Cleaned-up silhouettes, more craftsmanship, attention to details and sophistication.

Look or trend I'd like to see retired: Please, pack all the bows and ribbons away!

Robert Burke, senior vice president of fashion, Bergdorf Goodman.

Designers I'm looking forward to seeing: I was a very big fan of Marc Jacobs' fall show and always have high hopes for him setting trends. We've had wonderful success with Carolina Hererra and Oscar de la Renta. This is a good time for Francisco Costa in terms of trends. I'm also interested in some of the newer designers, such as Derek Lam, Jeffrey Chow, Thakoon and Zac Posen.What I expect to see this season: I think there's still going to be a big play on proportion. It's not going to be a "more is more" kind of season. I expect a lot of dresses to the floor, and then go to the other extreme to shorter dresses à la Balenciaga. There will be a refined French influence. I think you're going to see some colors but not a profusion of colors. The suit will continue to be strong.

Changes I'm anticipating: I hope and expect to see everything quite designed. I think it will be very much a refined season. It's not going to be sex-in-your-face or extreme. It will be refined, like Rochas, Chanel, Balenciaga.

Look or trend I'd like to see retired: I don't want to see a prairie skirt. I'm pretty over shrugs. I don't feel like a very bohemian look or an overt sex appeal.

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