NEW YORK -- Career wear and short skirts top the hunting lists of retailers, who are coming to this week's collections flush with budget increases of 5 to 15 percent.
After seeing the European designer collections, store executives say they'll use the Americans to fill in the gaps with key sportswear items for the workplace, dresses and eveningwear. Their buys will cover all price points.
Retailers anticipate strong showings from Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Richard Tyler for Anne Klein, among others.
At Neiman Marcus, the fall buy for American collections is planned up 7 to 9 percent.
"I think the difference between America and Europe is that, in large part, the American clothes are much more wearable and realistic," observed Neiman's Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director.
"In Europe, you have to wade through trends and pull out pieces. In America, it really is addressed to the way women like to dress and want to dress."
Kaner expects to see suits with short, A-line skirts, pants in every width, including knit leggings, and a variety of jackets. Designers NM will shop include Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Richard Tyler and Tyler's collection for Anne Klein, Todd Oldham, Anna Sui, Yeohlee, Lauren Sara and Jennifer George.
According to Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale's senior vice president of fashion direction, "Spring was about simplicity. For fall, we're looking for design with more shape and less fluidity. In addition, we're looking for the impact of color from pastels to mid-tone brights, and fabrics with depth, such as mohair, tweeds and fake fur."
Along with short, more tailored silhouettes and A-lines, he added, "We're really looking for new kinds of dresses from day to evening. Between our stocks this spring and what was shown in Europe, we don't need any more slipdresses and baby dolls."
"We have high expectations for New York," said Rose Marie Bravo, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. "Some of the things we didn't find in Europe that we're looking for here are great eveningwear at various price points and well-priced dresses."
Bravo also said Saks wants to see more career options and more casual weekend wear. She added that the budget for New York is slightly increased this year, and the company spent more in Milan and in Paris than it did last year."We're looking for suits, great skirts and jackets," she said. "There is somewhat of a return to more structure, but soft suitings are still very much present."
She also said colors, from brights to pastels, as well as white and off-white, are important. Short skirt lengths, A-lines and knitwear are also key, and outerwear is expected to be particularly strong, from parkas to fake furs to military styles and maxicoats. Mixing knits and wovens is another key trend.
"We previewed Bill Blass, and we're very excited about his collection," she said. "He had a strong fall and has been doing well for spring, too. Oscar de la Renta also looks very good."
Joseph Cicio, chairman and chief executive officer of I. Magnin, San Francisco, expects SA to pick up some of the successful trends from Europe, including dresses, the short suit and pants -- especially with narrow legs.
"Glamour was an overall added plus that brought in rich fabrics and some color -- everything from neutrals to jewel tones," Cicio said. "That's going to make the floor exciting. Not everything's going to look like a Sicilian funeral."
Sources said the store plans to spend up to 10 percent more this year.
Cicio said he has high hopes for Calvin Klein, Karan, Blass, Ellen Tracy, Isaac Mizrahi and Byron Lars.
Henri Bendel will hike its SA budget by about 15 percent, said Susan Falk, president.
"There's always a tendency for fabulous items here," she said, noting that the customer is ready for a lot of color this fall, particularly rich brights. Short skirts also are expected to continue, and metallic treatments should be strong here, as they were in Europe.
"The pendulum is swinging back toward more structure," she added. Bendel's is also looking for the "great American sportswear" that women can wear to work.
Falk said Michael Kors, Todd Oldham and Victor Alfaro are among the collections she's most anxious to see.
Barbara Weiser of Charivari said she'll be looking for "great black dresses for the theater or dinner -- evening clothes that are not formal. I really didn't find them in Europe."Weiser also sees the demand for shorter skirts picking up, particularly among working women who don't want long, but don't want too short. The best bet might be skirts falling a little above the knee, she said, noting that in Europe, the skirts were generally shorter, near mid-thigh.
Some American labels are picking up, including Anne Klein, which has a younger look thanks to designer Richard Tyler, and DKNY, which is getting stronger in skirts, she said.
Benny Lin, Macy's East fashion director, said he's looking for the "return to glamour," including "a feminizing of men's wear looks, softened pinstripes, more novelty looks, skirted suitings and textured knits."
High on Macy's list are leathers, fake furs and shearlings, military and peacoats, making for a strong coat season. There should also be a strong demand for knit dresses, empire waist dresses and jumpers, he added.
Macy's is expected to increase spending on moderate-price goods and some young European designers for its New Signatures department, but the split in spending in America and Europe on women's goods is about the same as last year, Lin said.
Lavelle Olexa, vice president and fashion director for Lord & Taylor, said A-line skirts and short jackets, the empire silhouette in dresses and different sleeve treatments are expected from SA. Knits and plush fabrics like velvet, tweed and boucle should also continue, she said. Coats are expected to have a strong showing.
Rose Clark, vice president and general merchandise manager at Stanley Korshak, Dallas, pointed out that European collections didn't cater at all to women who work.
"I'm looking for functional clothes from Donna [Karan], Calvin [Klein] and the American market that can be worn to the office and translate to evening," Clark noted. "I'm hoping we see some really strong knit items. Knits have been very successful as underpinnings -- more than blouses have been."
Korshak's budget is up 10 to 12 percent.
Color, short skirts and more fitted suits are top priorities for Penne Weidig, designer buyer for Tootsies, Houston.
"I don't know if it's unique to us because we're in the South, but our customers are really asking for color," she noted. "The collections I'm looking to are Anne Klein by Richard Tyler and his signature collection. Both of those lines are doing very well in the store, and there's a whole lot of interest in them. People know his name and that he's doing Anne Klein, and they're really excited about it."Weidig expects to buy more deeply into those collections and expects Tootsies' overall American budget will be up.
Shelle Bagot, owner of The Gazebo, Dallas, is increasing her budget 10 percent to add Calvin Klein to the mix, and to beef up casual and bridge offerings.
"It's a good opportunity for American designers because I don't think Europe had anything particularly exciting or new to show," Bagot observed. "Richard Tyler is one area where we will increase the open-to-buy because it has performed so incredibly well at retail for us and his shipping also has been good."
Mary Hughes, vice president and general merchandise manager for better apparel at Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's, Minneapolis, said her open-to-buy would be similar to last year.
Hughes said she hopes to see more color and more structure from SA, and will look for short skirts with wraps or flips.
Hughes noted that DH and Field's have done particularly well with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.
Jacobson Stores Inc., Jackson, Mich., is considering adding an American designers department to some stores, said Patty Love, international designer buyer.
She said she would be going to all the American designer shows, but most anticipated Richard Tyler's Anne Klein collection.
Love said her open-to-buy is up about 5 percent this season. In terms of trends, she said she was looking for shorter skirts.
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