CHARGED WITH THE CHALLENGE OF COPING WITH A fragile economy, erratic weather patterns and reluctant buyers, contemporary is getting practical.
This story first appeared in the July 16, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
For fall, fabrics trend toward year-round, silhouettes turn simple and dresses lose some of their luster in the minds of cost-cutting manufacturers. Despite the economic implications, this modesty breathes new life into the contemporary and young contemporary markets after seasons of Sixties’ overload, unremitting baby-doll frocks and intimidating, for some, skinny pants. Fall’s looks, while pared down, are sophisticated, colorful and seasonless — the ideal blueprint, manufacturers hope, for weathering the economic maelstrom.
Contemporary and young contemporary exhibitors arrive with airy fabrics ideal for layering; straight, fitted bodies punched up with pintucks, pleats and shirring; short novelty jackets, and plenty of immediates to address the most cautious buyers.
Fall apparel fell flat at retail last year, due to an almost total absence of true fall weather in many regions, and manufacturers are adjusting accordingly. This season, cold-weather fabrics take a backseat to lightweight knits, silk, chiffon and organza, and heavier coats and jackets are offered sparingly for later deliveries, if at all.
Orion London, a nine-year-old London company, exhibits for the second time with a new crop of lighter fabrics, in addition to its traditional mix of wool and rayon. Sheer chiffon, light silk and soft satin are used on the line’s printed tunics, dresses and cardigans, priced $60 to $72 at wholesale.
For fall, 213 Industry, a young contemporary line of tops and dresses, offers chiffon, voile and lace. “We’re definitely focusing on seasonless fabrics that you can wear six months a year,” said company president Michelle Kim. “Chiffon is the number-one fabric and it can be layered with silk crepe or printed tunics.”
The Los Angeles brand also incorporates a cotton and wool fabric into its lineup, but will reserve heavier items such as herringbone jackets and coats for October deliveries, according to Kim, in order to address the unpredictable weather patterns in the South and on the West Coast.
“Some of us just transition because we’re tired of wearing spring,” said Charlotte Tarantola, owner and designer of her namesake line of sweaters and basic and embellished T-shirts. “But I’m not out there making big wool coats, so it affects me less.”
Working back to its signature printed sweaters, the line offers silk charmeuse camisoles for fall, great for seasonless layers and achieving a variety of looks. In fact, most of the fall fabrics can be worn year-round, including silk, cotton and a light cashmere blend. The 12-year-old line out of Culver City, Calif., sells from $19 to $39 at wholesale.
XCVI Wearables, a line of cut-to-order, garment-dyed separates, introduces new knit fabrics this fall, all with light weights and transitional appeal. Supima cotton and Modal mix well on tops and cargo pants, while a soft bamboo reflects the company’s environmentally minded sensibility. Key styles this season run the gamut, from a shirred panel skirt to new feminine novelty tops to belted or buttoned sweaters.
XCVI, which wholesales from $29, is also busy cultivating its mass of divisions — three were launched within a year — including Maze, a high-end bottoms line; T-shirt group M Line, and Wearables, an updated misses’ version of key XCVI styles.
Keeping with contemporary’s less-is-more approach to fabric, bodies themselves creep up and in this fall. Manufacturers are raising hemlines on skirts, shorts and dresses, and are bringing in waistlines, said Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at the Doneger Group, a New York trend forecasting and buying firm.
“Short is an overall theme this season…with dresses and miniskirts. Even shorts can be worn through winter with a covered leg,” said Morrison.
Ten-year-old Hype, a young contemporary brand in Los Angeles, is among the exhibitors doing waist duty this fall.
“We’re doing mostly fitted [styles] with waist interest,” said sales director Nikki Young. “No baby dolls. It had a big run, but people don’t want it anymore. They don’t want to look pregnant.”
Young said Hype will offer tops with cinched waists that work well with high-waisted pants, silk jersey date-night dresses in bold prints and little sweaters to complement dressy looks. The line is priced at wholesale from $62 to $94.
Tunics and dresses by 213 Industry shorten for fall in order to reduce costs, said Kim, and styles fit decidedly closer to the body. “We are cutting down on dresses,” she said, adding that the remaining styles emphasize the waist and are much shorter. Fall’s jackets hit just above the hip and pair well with denim.
Kim also noted that warm weather has heightened the importance of immediates, crediting the company’s quick turnaround and monthly deliveries for addressing buyers’ demands. 213 Industry’s dresses wholesale from $55 to $85, tops sell for $35 to $60 and jackets and coats go for $80 to $150.
While tunics are still selling well for some, other brands — such as Fili and Grane — are leaving them behind completely, along with baby-doll dresses.
“The tunic dress is long gone,” said Katie Brown, designer and developer for the Sydney-based brand. “This time we are bringing more body-hugging styles.”
Key items, priced $16 to $60 at wholesale, include color-blocked jersey dresses, tailored high-waisted trousers and skirts in a range of coats.
Past seasons’ references to the Sixties get shelved this fall in favor of what designers call a more ladylike and sophisticated period, the Twenties.
“We’re seeing a lot of Twenties-inspired styles and shapes, such as the cocoon,” said Doneger’s Morrison, reporting that capes and capelets also will be important this season.
More graceful and wearable than the bubble shape, the cocoon emerges as a desirable silhouette because of its urban appeal and sleekness. Knee-length skirts and dresses, as well as some tops, take on the challenge of modernizing the vintage style.
Kensie pulls it off with a short black dress in drapy polyester, rayon and spandex, and offsets the dramatic cocoon detailing with a simple collar and short sleeves. The same style also is available in a later delivery and comes in rich purple and fuchsia. The Vancouver-based line wholesales from $14.
Putting its own spin on the Twenties, WWDMAGIC newcomer Lizzie Parker offers a cocoon-shaped skirt in French terry that tapers at the knee and opens up in front like a sarong. The eco-friendly Seattle-based line wholesales from $18 to $128, and also focuses on capes for fall.
The trend toward less fabric and more elegant silhouettes doesn’t indicate a lack of visual excitement, vendors said. In fact, detailing in construction is fall’s most impressive punch, be it with ruffles, tucking, gathering or pleats. Similarly, carefully placed volume, buttons and tons of color choices drive offerings a safe distance away from ordinary.
Pinkblue Hollywood, a New York-based line, concentrates on upscale dresses and jackets reminiscent of style icons like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. A group of lower-priced styles in sexier fits, bolder colors and less costly fabrics is offered by Luxe, a division of Pinkblue launching at the show. Both lines up their glamour quotients this fall with details galore, including fur at jacket pockets, chiffon ruffles and several belted waists that show off the figure.
“Women know what they want to look like,” said company president JP Alomat. “And they don’t want to look like a balloon.”
Pinkblue’s sleeveless velvet dress with an ultralow back and crystal studding at the collar is expected to sell well, said Alomat, as is a silk dress with a velvet waist and crystal-studded belt. Wholesale prices for the 70-piece collection run from $150 to $400, while Luxe’s lineup — some 200 offerings done in Modal, pima cotton and jersey — ranges from $40 to $60.
Orion London also is paying close attention to details for fall, using construction techniques to emphasize the waist. “We are incorporating different techniques such as ruffles, pintucks and pleats into the collection,” said Laura Weiss, national sales manager for parent company Steve Martino and Assoc. “We believe our customers will continue to come to us for [our signature] silhouettes, but our fall 2008 collection will offer more waist-defining bodies using belts, smocking and pleat details.”
Charlotte Tarantola’s fall pieces are highly detailed, including sweaters that borrow from the cut-and-sew traits of wovens, short and swingy jackets with tons of pleats, ruching and shirring and a party dress that boasts sequins and nailheads. Cardigans and tunic-length sweaters come in a slew of colors — magenta, espresso, purple and chartreuse, among them. Floral prints for fall, according to Tarantola, prove tricky because they should be winter-related, but animal prints continue to offer strong sell-through.
– Lightweight fabrics are essential because of their layering options and a growing demand for buy-now, wear-now items.
– Dresses slow down in favor of tops, jackets and sweaters, particularly those with a Twenties sensibility.
– Baby doll be gone: The enveloping silhouette is out, and fitted, cinched-in bodies offer a much more flattering alternative.
– Details such as tucking, pleats, ruffles and shirring lend a pop to otherwise pared-down looks.
– The shorter, the better. Thanks to tights and boots, high-up hems on skirts and dresses look fresh and modern.