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Stores Cheer New Fashion Direction for Fall

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.

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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.”

The add-on factor of separates raising the amount of the total sale, along with strong accessories, belts, shoes and costume jewelry, also appealed to stores. “The most important trend is the return of the jacket,” said Stephanie Solomon, vice president and fashion director of women’s ready-to-wear and accessories at Bloomingdale’s. “Customers haven’t bought a jacket in a very long time.”

Likewise, customers will respond to a closer-to-the body silhouette because “they haven’t bought it in a while. That sexy secretary look is very appealing to all of us here at Bloomingdale’s after seasons of volume and dresses. It looked modern and sexy, and sexy is a word I haven’t used in a long time.” Pencil skirts and sexy librarian blouses also looked good to Solomon, who noted, “We’ve been on a dress cycle for many seasons. Sportswear separates are great for retailers” because the customer buys more pieces.

Retailers said that fall 2008 is much more look-driven as opposed to item-driven, which means the styles that walked down the runways could be worn on the street without the wearer coming across as a fashion victim. Total looks equals more ka-ching, ka-ching.

Michael Fink, vice president and women’s fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue:

Trends I’m happy to see: Uptown luxe that’s opulent, bordering on decadent versus the downtown, street smart, aggressive sassy spirit. Also, chunky hand-knit coats and shrugs, relaxed jackets, vests, especially in fur, colored tights, boots of all types and platform shoes with crisscross uppers.

My favorite collections were: Proenza Schouler’s bold color and folding techniques, Vera Wang’s streamlined silhouettes and blingy baubles, Carolina Herrera’s hunting party gone wild, Oscar de la Renta’s gold-dusted day and evening pieces, Alexander Wang’s spirited street smart girls, Marchesa’s romantic floral appliquéed gowns and Peter Som, what a smashing debut for Bill Blass.

Linda Fargo, Bergdorf Goodman:

Trends I’m happy to see: A few welcome trends came through this season, most importantly life after “the dress.” It ranged from eclectic ensemble dressing as best shown at Thakoon, to a type of Kennedy-era meets Tippi Hedren propriety, beautifully played with at Michael Kors. Our clients will welcome these figure-flattering, narrower silhouettes, chic dresses and narrower skirts layered with over-belted jackets and cardigans. Classic separates nodded to the chic and ease of weekend-wear and the hunt, most significantly seen at Ralph Lauren and Carolina Herrera. We liked the mix of men’s wear touches from vests to fabrics mixed back to vintage-inspired abstract prints and florals. The ruffle showed up in numerous collections, vertically at Proenza Schouler, flipping skirt hemlines, even in knits — perhaps a nod to Valentino?

Collections I liked: What stood out was the full on arrival of the tier of designers only a few years ago labeled emerging talent. Thakoon, Doo.Ri, Proenza Schouler, and Jonathan Saunders, all exhibited tremendous sophistication and makes our fashion future even brighter.

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus:

My favorite collections: Proenza Schouler for the mix of femininity and modernity and sophisticated color play that opened the outstanding show, Oscar de la Renta for his elegance and quiet opulence that feels very right for the times and perfect for his legions of fans. Doo.Ri’s ultrachic dresses and sportswear and her palate of mint and forest green. Marchesa’s Keren Craig and Georgina Chapman delivered a collection that was the perfect mix of glamour, femininity and fantasy, bursting with wonderful color. Jonathan Saunders’ hyper chic color blocking has become his signature and brought a new voice to the New York catwalks.

Trends I’m happy to see: Color and print. Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg and Chris Benz showed great color. The customer is always enthusiastic when there is color and print in the market. The shiny satins and luxe laces that are everywhere look terrific and speak to the femininity that defines the Neiman Marcus customer.

There is a strong, sophisticated, sexy woman emerging on the runway, and we are ready for her. Clothes that are closer to the body look newest.

Trends that can go away: We were surprised by the abundance of black and dark, heavy fabrics on the New York runways. After two fall seasons with a less than enthusiastic response from the consumer, it was curious to see a return to a dark palate and thick, weighty fabrics.

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York:

My favorite collections: Alexander Wang captured the feeling of clothes that have spirit, an edge and are at the same time wearable. Derek Lam delivered one of, if not his best collections. It had a tailored elegance and it was refreshing to see him do more eveningwear. Marc Jacobs’ soft color palette was the perfect balance to a lot of the black and jewel tones we have been seeing. Narciso Rodriguez continues to develop. No one did a sexy black dress better than he did. L’Wren Scott’s collection revolving around the color purple was right on target. Rodarte’s attention to detail in construction and fabric made it a stand-out. Three As Four showed an ability to construct patterns into interesting designs that will attract a customer who wants something different. Zero Maria Cornejo was original with a relaxed casual feel that was sophisticated at the same time.

Trends I’m happy to see: The variety in the collections was good. For spring 2008 it was all one note — dresses, color, florals and print. This season there was a lot of black but there was balance in color as well from shots of brights to jewel tones. There seemed to be less dresses, more pants, great sweaters and in general, more unique pieces to choose from. When a collection is good, it does, of course, inspire you to increase your budget!

Ann Watson, fashion director of Henri Bendel:

Trends I’m happy to see: The trend that will have the most legs for us is the mix master. It is not only about mixing prints and patterns, Peter Som’s mix of florals with men’s wear plaids is a great example, but also about mixing fluid fabrics with more structured, textured fabrics like Diane von Furstenberg’s deft mix of chiffon with tweed. It is like the laws of attraction, the concept that opposites attract. It will create excitement in our Bendel girl’s wardrobe for fall 2008.

The sweater coat, one item that addresses climate change, is not only easy to layer with but also easy to travel with. It is an absolute must-have. We’ll adopt the miniskirt in fabrics that have stretch, keeping the skirt close to the body. The short full skirt is the perfect expression of our customer’s flirty, feminine sensibility and the chiffon dress addresses our customer’s lifestyle. She can wear it day into night. I also liked the continuation of costume jewelry with Marc Jacobs’ broach being a favorite. Floral prints and embellishments and floral accessories were important.

My favorite collections were: Peter Som for his dynamic mix of fabrics, Alexander Wang for his innate pulse on the urban girl, Diane Von Furstenberg for her separates and Catherine Holstein for her spirited first collection and terrific full skirts. The new talent that is coming to the forefront is inspiring. Some of my favorites were Elise Overland, Holstein, Lerario Beatrix and Frank Tell.

Lance Lawson, co-owner of Jake in Chicago and suburban Winnetka:

My favorite collections were: Brian Reyes. During a fashion week where many shows seemed overly styled and tricky, his show had an easy elegance, which is more in sync with the current mood of our customers. Reyes’ full Fifties-inspired skirts paired with tucked lady-like blouses seemed especially fresh. Lutz and Patmos continues to impress with their ability to reinvent the knit season after season. The energy and color at Matthew Williamson added a dash of big excitement and drama to an otherwise lack-luster week. We loved the digital floral prints paired with high octane pumps. Sari Gueron’s beautiful prints, astute fabric choices and fresh dress bodies were as strong in person as they were on the runway. This collection is her best to date.

Trends I am happy to see: Tailored looks are super important. Our customer is rejecting all things voluminous and no longer wants to look like an adult-child in a shift or swing dress. The return of luxurious knits is a client-pleaser and we loved the detailed cabling and thick plys, which seemed to abound. Day looks traveled beyond predictable sportswear styles and had true work-to-occasion versatility.

Kelly Golden, co-owner of Neapolitan, in suburban Winnetka:

My favorite collections: Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors; they both represented the luxurious sophistication of the season.

Trends I am happy to see: Color, lots of color! amethyst, topaz, malachite and jade emerged on the runways and will be huge commercial hits. The mixing of textures — leathers, furs, wools and embroideries — upped the luxe factor this season. Overall, designers seemed conscious of the global warming effect by designing more seasonless pieces that can be worn year-round. Silhouettes remain more body-conscious and closer to the body than in past seasons. Accessories such as clutches made of exotic skins and color incorporated in handbags to play off strong colors in the [ready-to-wear] collections.

Stephanie Solomon, vice president and fashion director of women’s rtw and accessories at Bloomingdale’s:

My favorite collections: Ralph Lauren was at his best. Only he can transform lumberjack plaid and into something so chic and elegant. I also thought that Michael Kors showed a remarkable collection. I liked the way he took the inspiration from late Fifties and early Sixties, a time when women always looked beautiful. Somehow he catapulted it into fall 2008 and made it relevant. Marc Jacobs never ceases to surprise us with his on-time show filled with refreshing soft pale colors and a new silhouette based on the blousson. It was uneven but I really loved the idea of the volume in the back and the pulling in the derrière area. It looked like that’s the new erogenous zone. Proenza Schouler took their skill to another level — the world class designer level. Gone were the bra tops and girly references and in their place was real craftsmanship based on origami and folding. I loved Diane Von Furstenberg’s journey with her Forties spy girl with the layering and strong-shouldered jackets. Jenny Kane is a serious designer with lovely, ladylike lovely fabric. I’m excited to bring Jenni Kayne into Bloomingdale’s.

Trends I’m happy to see: Customers will respond to the closer-to-the-body silhouette. I love that color is continuing. It didn’t seem like it will be a dark gray season. Shoes are still important and men’s wear pants are cropped to show off shoes. The vest was seen not only in men’s wear fabrics, but fur, shearling and sweater knits.

Stefani Greenfield, co-owner of Scoop NYC:

My favorite collections: Michael Kors was exquisite — the colors, textures and styling all came together in such a sophisticated and ladylike way. There was really a newness in silhouette and proportion — the below-the-knee pencil, the jackets, the fitted knitwear. Diane von Furstenberg’s collection shared a lot of the same elements — the layered jackets and knits with distinct definition at the waist — but with a different feeling. Marc Jacobs was just beautiful. I loved the proportions and softness of it all and I loved the neutral palate. It was really sophisticated.

Trends I’m happy to see: A very strong return to sportswear after seasons of dresses being the key item. The new sportswear look — layered knits, fitted jackets, the below-the-knee pencil skirts and dresses. The absence of volume in favor of sharp tailoring and sheath dresses, and the focus on the waist. Fur — real and faux, a big focus on accessories, such as hats, headbands, gloves, scarves and the continuance of the covered leg.

Sarah Easley, Kirna Zabête:

My favorite collections: We’ve just started selling Alexander Wang. This year he took his collection to another level. It was effortless chic, which we all know is a huge effort. He touched on a theme of borrowing from the boys with oversize blazers and skinny pants and tanks, and the trend of beading and sequins on a very modest, masculine silhouette. I loved Thakoon, especially the green grid dress, his mixed prints and tweeds and silks. Also, Peter Som’s rich, layered look. Narciso Rodriguez’s show was the best he’s done. It was completely not derivative of anything else. He’s on his own plane and designing in his own vacuum. It was sexy, futuristic, subtle and sleek. And the back details…wow, that was polished. Elise Overland’s collection had a backstage pass element, no surprise for a woman whose former career was a wardrober for a rock band. Erin Fetherston’s collection was much more grounded. She had dramatic silhouettes but less ethereal twinkleness. I was glad to see her grand sweeping proportions done in a more realistic way.

Trends I was happy to see: Color, print and sequins. I love a masculine silhouette in a feminine fabric. I love the sleek skinny pant with the oversize blazer. Belts over knits and granny shoes.

Trend I’m happy to see disappear: I’m definitely not mourning the loss of volume and baby doll looks. I’m glad its over. The layering trend that was very common the last two falls has subsided to more wovens. I like a cleaner, belted layering with a jacket.

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