By and  on February 12, 2008

NEW YORK — Change is good.

Especially when there's a new shape in fashion and it comes at a time when consumers, even those at the luxury level, are reticent to spend money in the face of a cloudy economic picture. That's why buyers generally praised the New York collections that closed Friday, hoping they will drive customers into stores.

Retailers have been praying for a boost. After a dismal holiday season, everyone from discounters to high-end specialty stores reported worse-than-expected January sales, making the month the worst January since the International Council of Shopping Centers began tracking U.S. same-store sales in 1969. The organization said like-for-like sales rose a paltry 0.5 percent for the four weeks ended Feb. 2.

When retailers talk about change, the more pronounced, the better because wardrobes suddenly look dated, and the fall collections were a transformative season in that regard. The shift from the voluminous styles of recent collections to close-to-the-body silhouettes, the move away from dresses to separates, strong jewel-tone colors as opposed to last fall's moody palate of grays and black and the return of the jacket after an absence of many seasons gave retail executives reasons to be hopeful.

"Everybody is really making an effort to make beautiful clothes at a time of financial, economic and political uncertainty," said Sarah Easley, co-owner of Kirna Zabête.

"We are less likely to invest in gowns or strict evening pieces because we believe that in this economic climate our customers are looking for items they can wear many different ways," said Lance Lawson, co-owner of Jake, a men's and women's specialty store with three locations in the Chicago area.

Linda Fargo, senior vice president fashion office and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, said prior to fashion week that she was "looking for the emergence of trends compelling enough to inspire us to shop even in a tightening economy." At the close of the collections, she said she'd found them. "Our clients will welcome these figure flattering, narrower silhouettes," she said.

Even Marc Jacobs' collection was more commercial than usual, according to retailers. "Marc was just beautiful," said Scoop NYC co-owner Stefani Greenfield. "What I loved about Marc was that it was just great looking clothes. It was easy and modern and understandable clothing."

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