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PARIS — Retailers welcomed more realistic pricing from fashion houses here, as well as the shift from aggressive, Eighties-style power dressing toward more salable feminine designs.

This story first appeared in the October 9, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Everyone has gotten the message in the market that prices are something to look at. The customer is looking for beautiful price-value,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus.

While most buyers’ budgets remained flat, business sentiment has improved and attendance at the shows was good, as stores from Russia and the Middle East, as well as independent retailers, returned to Paris.

Utility chic and pretty, feminine dresses — seen as a reaction to the gloomy economy — were noted as the key trends emerging from most collections. Widely praised shows included Balenciaga, Givenchy, Chanel, Lanvin, Haider Ackermann and Stella McCartney.

Phoebe Philo’s debut at Celine also won plaudits, with buyers praising her stylish, timeless tailoring. “Celine was elegant and grown up, however, Ungaro was neither,” said Ed Burstell, buying director at Liberty of London.

Still, some retailers liked the “Los Angeles look” of Emanuel Ungaro’s brightly colored minidresses, reflecting the input of artistic adviser Lindsay Lohan. In fact, shorts and micro mini silhouettes appeared in every collection.

“In terms of trends, everybody needs to start hitting the gym because there is a lot of leg showing,” Burstell added.

Most collections marked a clear return to femininity with frills, pleats, flounces, lace and transparency. Rather than bright colors, the emphasis was on soft ice-cream shades, from whites and nudes to khakis.

Lightweight leather clothing, wedge shoes, tribal looks, shorts and more relaxed pants were noted among the other emerging trends for the spring-summer season, as well as lingerie details, as shown at Dior.

Here, a rundown of what buyers had to say:

Erin Mullaney, buying director, Browns, London: “For spring, the houses focused on commercial viability, most likely due to the fact that they were having difficulties in their own stores. There was more diversity and variety in the collections and the clothes, which were more wearable, spoke to a wider audience. Designers worked hard on pricing, too. Balenciaga, Lanvin and Alexander McQueen were very clever, with good entry level-priced pieces, so we ended up buying more. In today’s economy, buyers want to take as little risk as possible but they still want to buy winners. Alaïa, Lanvin, Balenciaga, Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen and Junya Watanabe were among the strongest collections. We are picking up two new collections, too: Haider Ackermann and Blouson Noir by Melanie Ward. In general, we are moving away from buying collections to looking for items. It is very much about the individual pieces, such as a white blouse, mixing brands again to show people how to style their wardrobes. Our budget was flat, but there have been so many strong shows we will probably increase it slightly. The Web is also very strong. September has been far better than previous months, especially the last few weeks, which have been the best weeks of the entire year. People are shopping again. The mood is definitely lifting.”

Shinji Kimura, general manager of the luxury brand business division, Takashimaya, Tokyo: “Paris showed the future direction of fashion. We were very impressed by Balenciaga, Celine and Lanvin. They all delivered a very elegant, feminine and easy atmosphere. We liked a lot the new Celine and we expect Phoebe Philo to attract many new customers, as well as please the existing ones. Japanese tastes have changed during the recession, and customers want less formal, easy-to-wear apparel, while expensive accessories like bags have become very difficult to sell. As a result, we have cut our budget by 10 percent and have shifted our focus on clothes, shoes, small leather goods and hats.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president and fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman, New York: “Paris clearly signaled a turning point and a desire for gentler and more stable days ahead. After an embattled year with hardened fashion to match, the lighter mood stimulated our checkbooks. The legacy of French craftsmanship along with unique and luxury materials will justify price-value and longevity.

“We embraced the dualities of both soft and sharp; tailoring alongside soft sculpting and draping. Utility chic may prove to be the most compelling trend across all categories. More purist, tailored lines are appealing to our sense of order, and imply a timeless life without gimmicks. Celine led the way with this fresh movement. We are motivated by the less aggressive ‘new tribal’ with techno-ethnic prints and fringe. Clear messages were shorts, the trench, the relaxed pant and dresses. Many designers gave us their most thoughtful, balanced and inspired collections yet.”

Beth Buccini and Sarah Easley, co-owners of Kirna Zabête, New York: “Alaïa, Celine, Givenchy and Lanvin were standouts and understood how their customers want to dress. Balenciaga was also a highlight. The season was filled with plenty of things women want to wear. After such an aggressive fall, we are confident women are going to make a lot of purchases to update their wardrobe with individual pieces they can all fall in love with. We are increasing our budget by as much as 20 percent. Things are picking up; the store has been packed. The mood over all was upbeat and very positive — just what the doctor ordered.”

Stephanie Solomon, vice president and fashion director of Bloomingdale’s, New York: “The Paris runways had the most exciting color, silhouettes, prints, creative ideas that pointed to a new direction. They were upbeat and happy. This will trickle down to our customers and they will be inspired to update their wardrobe for spring 2010.” Solomon’s picks of the season were Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior. “I know it sounds a bit controversial, but we loved Ungaro and its sexy, draped minidresses in vibrant, happy colors. Estrella Archs is a talent to watch. Rodolfo Paglialunga recreated the legacy of Madame Vionnet with his reinterpretation of scarf prints and extraordinary dresses. Jean Paul Gaultier was on his best behavior with his new interpretation of overalls. Every designer seemed to be aware of the impact of the recession and adjusted prices to the new reality.”

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York: “Business has picked up and Paris made us feel optimistic. We’ll have to work hard in new ways to create business, but at least we will have great product to work with. Designers really tried to work hard on giving us a lot of value at more reasonable prices. Our customer has not stopped buying over-the-top pieces that cost a lot, but it has definitely slowed on more simple pieces that carry high price tags. Slim pants and zippered coats were strong and unique. Balenciaga had an extraordinary collection and works with leather like no other designer. Ann Demeulemeester crafted her tailored pieces with silver chains, and her black-and-white bird print was extraordinary. Dries Van Noten, in a season where prints reign, did the best ones. Givenchy had special pieces, especially his take on black-and-white graphics and couture-like tulle dresses. Lanvin’s color was the richest in Paris. The way he [Alber Elbaz] cuts and drapes will make women feel sexy and beautiful and therefore sell clothes. Celine’s debut tied the bow on the present Paris gave us in terms of style and great pieces to buy.”

Sarah Lerfel, buyer, Colette, Paris: “Paris is very powerful compared to the previous fashion weeks. There were fantastic shows by Alexander McQueen, Viktor & Rolf, Hussein Chalayan, Balmain, Lanvin and Gareth Pugh. I loved the energy from Andrea Crews’ show.

In terms of the color palette, beige and cream colors dominated the runways, as did a touch of army green. Floral and graphic prints also made a statement. I am in love with the accessories this season. Olympia Le Tan for her bags, scarves by Julien David, hats by Maison Michel and jewelry from Repossi, Delfina Delettrez and Tom Binns. As for the anticipated introductions, I loved Celine, it was very strong, a perfect association. Each piece made perfect sense. Ungaro was very Los Angeles, cool for many girls like Lindsay Lohan. I think the upcoming season is looking great. I am very optimistic for 2010.”

Ed Burstell, buying director, Liberty of London: “Paris was very commercial, but there was also enough design to engage people again. The strongest collections were Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens and Stella McCartney. While others went short, Ann Demeulemeester kept it long and slick. Rick Owens introduced a lightness that moved his aesthetic forward with couture-like detailing. The more subdued androgynous looks had a nice vibe, too, but the micro minis were at times somewhat unappealing. Looking ahead, we are cautiously optimistic and our budgets are up double digits. We had a very robust spring and fall this year, and we have beefed up our Web site considerably.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus: “In a season that is uncertain and in a challenged economy, designers have really focused on newness, which is paramount. Paris has really embraced femininity. The couture continues to inspire designers. There’s nothing wrong with pretty; the customer’s always looking for that. We loved the whole modern tribal idea. The influence of lingerie, when it’s done with a light touch, is going to be important. We saw varied short styles, softer pants and beautiful dresses, and I feel very strongly about denim going into the season. Favorite collections include Balenciaga, Givenchy, Chanel, Stella McCartney, the cleaned-up sportswear at Celine, as well as Lanvin, Nina Ricci, Haider Ackermann and Vionnet.”

Cindy Ho, Villa Moda, Kuwait: “Paris is still the place where you find creativity and where also all designers are showing, including U.S. and U.K. designers. I am confident about Paris this season and will spend more here with a budget increase of around 10 percent. As well as designer and luxury brands, we have added a good profile of interesting up-and-coming brands with a lower price range. We found many houses have made an effort to lower their price range in a move to target a wider clientele. The key fashion message of this season is light, femininity and, of course, short. Light and feminine are perfect for the Middle East, but it’s difficult for us to have everything short. We are asking many houses to lengthen the skirts or dresses for us. Standout collections were Lanvin, Miu Miu, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, while noteworthy lines were Vionnet, Zucca and Rue du Mail. The only disappointment was the lack of enough evening themes for our clients. The retail scene is different from a year ago, and more attention was paid to pricing this time. “

Jennifer Wheeler, vice president of designer apparel, Nordstrom: “We thought the Paris collections looked directionally strong and yet commercial. Paris’ key messages were modern femininity mixed with chic, straightforward sportswear. Key trends were optic and nature prints, lingerie inspirations, multicultural references, pleat details and masculine-feminine mixes. Key items include trenchcoats, jumpsuits, mini kilts, shorts and relaxed pants with a low drop. Pricing will be something we are aware of as we are making our buys. Our customer is looking for a price-value relationship. She is not making frivolous choices. An item can be expensive and still be compelling to the consumer if it is very special. If a collection is just expensive, or hasn’t responded by broadening their price offer to address the new consumer expectations, then we will buy it accordingly. Our favorite collections of the season were Chanel, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten, Valentino and Stella McCartney, and we’re happy to be welcoming Celine back to our mix.”

Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong: “Perception of value is key to our buy. We have looked at a number of collections, seen the perceived value and what we could sell it at, and been surprised that often the price is in-line or even below. We are picking key special looks from the runway. As for precollection, we have moved budgets from 60 percent to 70 percent due to the lateness of delivery and the short spring selling season. Because of their continued success during this economy, we are increasing budgets for Givenchy, Haider Ackermann, Alexander McQueen, Roland Mouret and Sacai. The trends — well, what haven’t we seen this week? Everything from global traveler through to romantic ruffles, pleats, lingerie finishes, sheer and a new ‘minimalist utilitarian.’ We are really getting into the whole utilitarian and khaki military look along with traveler, which sets a new tone from our precollection buy.”

Colleen Sherin, fashion market director, Saks Fifth Avenue: “Paris delivered a strong season, with designers offering choices, from pretty, ultrafeminine pieces in delicate, sheer fabrications, with ruffles, pleats, and lingerie details, to sportier options, with a relaxed, casual ease, often with military influences. Key trends include sporty jackets, from trenchcoats to safari and military styles with shoulder details; soft, relaxed pants; shirts and shirtdresses, and cocktail dresses with draping, asymmetry, and sheer layers. The mini-length continues, as do shorts, which were shown as a fresh idea for evening in Paris. Lightweight and soft glove leather appeared in many of the collections. Mixed prints and ethnic prints are key, and true color was balanced by olive, khaki, nude and black-and-white combinations. Standout collections include Chanel, Vionnet, Balmain, Celine, Lanvin, Valentino, Alexander McQueen and Dries Van Noten.”

Andrew Keith, president, Joyce Boutique Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong: “We were happy with brands that took an uncompromising approach to the season and pushed forward with innovation and creativity despite the uncertain times. Our customers are looking for newness and excitement at the moment and are responsive to collections that can deliver a new dynamic without jeopardizing fabric quality and workmanship. Although we are not intending to make any significant changes to our vendor mix this season, we always have budget open for new and exciting collections. This season, we have picked up Anthony Vaccarello. Standout collections for us were Balenciaga, Celine, Ann Demeulemeester and Alexander McQueen. Prints were a particularly strong story this season. Leather was also a strong message, but has been refined from the aggression of fall-winter. There was also a new waist definition to accentuate the new wider and fuller pant silhouettes.”

Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction, Holt Renfrew: “Paris delivered an exuberant spring season. Designers seemed to be reworking their own inventiveness with back-to-their-roots collections that spoke to what made their businesses originally successful. It was a season showcasing multiple personalities, whether it is gender bending, futuristic warriors or lingerie-inspired clothes in nude colorations that speak to a sexy and flirty girlish fantasy. We will be spending a little more this year in Paris with collections that offered beautifully tailored jackets and trenchcoats, easy fluid toppers, perfect white shirts, miniskirts and shorts, bold shouldered military jackets, vests and beautiful feminine dresses. The collections we loved are Celine, Balenciaga, Balmain, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten and Alexander McQueen.”

Polina Kitsenko, co-owner, Podium, Moscow: “The mood was much more cheerful this time, very optimistic and inspired. Prices were variable. Some houses underlined affordable, commercial pieces while others are going in a more expensive direction. Some had even raised prices by 20 to 40 percent, which was a negative point for me. We have cut some budgets out entirely. However, if a collection is cool and new with a twist, you can still sell that. It is much more difficult these days to invest in younger designers, even the most talented. Celine was interesting; Ungaro was a disappointment, of course. Favorite shows included Givenchy, Balmain, Ann Demeulemeester, Nina Ricci and Isabel Marant. Chanel and Viktor & Rolf were really fun and the spectacle didn’t take away from the clothes, on the contrary. For trends we noted lots of nudes and military colors, tribal references, transparency, lace and marine, with lots of white and navy.”

Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director, Macy’s: “It’s a season full of questions with designers recreating or reinventing their DNA. But through it all, a formidable energy and even joie de vivre for spring-summer 2010 which reverberates a voluntary optimism about the current climate. It’s all about coexisting and contrasting lifestyles: tailored with flou, utility and fantasy, ethnic or phantasmagoric, fusion and confusion of gender. Standout shows included Lanvin, Balmain, Karl Lagerfeld, Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier, Chloé. Among contemporary designers, I loved Isabel Marant and Anne Valérie Hash. The art of craft continues to be major, especially ruffles, asymmetric and draping. Lingerie, athletic, transparencies are key. Metallics in all shades take new aspects. Leather coexists with lace. The military influence continues. Focus is on the shoulder, waist and back. It will continue to be an important season for the dress, with a lot of leg interest such as socks. The point of attraction becomes the shoe, whether flat, kitten heel or clog, but also a lot of fancy feet.”

Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager of women’s apparel, Printemps,
Paris: “The collections are very creative, but at the same time commercial. The designs are creative enough to encourage to buy, but at the same time they are reasonable and wearable, with pastel and nude colors for a feminine look. There are lots of dresses and pants, like men’s pants. Fashion houses have worked a lot on pricing, more than last season. At Printemps we like to offer creative fashion, but at realistic prices.”

Ikram Goldman, owner, Ikram, Chicago: “I absolutely loved the Givenchy collection and its tribal prints, Haider Ackermann and the Japanese designers, especially Junya Watanabe. I liked the focus on interesting shoulders, the pale nude and blushes, the gold and silver details that appeared in all collections. I am very excited that we are veering away from leggings toward easy, draped pants, as seen in the Haider Ackermann collection. I buy what I love, so I didn’t reduce my budget. I bought new designers, like Celine. I think Phoebe Philo is perfect for that collection. Prices came down compared with previous seasons, but just because they went down, it doesn’t mean that quality went down, too.”

Kelly Golden, owner, Neapolitan, Winnetka, Ill.: “From the ingenious tailoring and draping techniques at Lanvin to the beautiful prints and pops of color at Andrew Gn and Erdem, Paris was certainly motivating. There is definitely a romantic and optimistic feeling happening now. Hemlines are on the rise. Trends that will emerge from the runways are the color white, floral prints, transparency, ruffles and draping, asymmetry and shorts — the must-have item for the season. We’ll be adding more collections from Paris this season and feel very confident that the consumer is ready to splurge again. Standout collections were Lanvin, Andrew Gn, Valentino, Martin Grant and Erdem.”

Averyl Oates, chief buying director, Harvey Nichols: “Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Celine, Lanvin and Stella McCartney are all favorites for very different reasons. Alexander McQueen delivered an outstanding modern theatrical experience, which was all the more fulfilled by the well-conceived commercial collection in the showroom. Phoebe Philo bravely filled a gap in the market of timeless and elegant. Stella McCartney is having a record season in stores at the moment. Jumpsuits and harem pants featured in virtually every collection. Tribal prints were strong in many collections ranging from Dries Van Noten, Roland Mouret to simple versions in black and white at Givenchy. There is a general emphasis and return to individualism. Our customers are prepared to spend money and want to be exclusive, in a subtle way. As all designers are conscious of the new economic situation and have made great efforts to offer saleable pieces without losing their strong fashion edge, we feel confident that we can inspire our customer for spring 2010.”

Elizabeth Lepore, owner, Jimmy’s, Brooklyn and The Hamptons: “In this economy, we must present our clients with confidence and excitement. Our confidence level is up from seasons past. Finding new designer labels — trendy and well-priced — will define our vendor mix. The new short cocktail dress — rushed, puckered and embellished — will be must-haves this season. Standout collections were Jay Ahr, Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab, Giambattista Valli and Azzedine Alaia as these collections offered us fabulous party dresses.”

Karen Daskas, co-owner, Tender, Birmingham, Mich.: “I’m up against the worst economy in the United States. But my customers are in a better mood. I’m probably spending 10 percent more than I did for fall. One of the most important things to my client is exclusivity. That’s the protector of luxury. My hands-down favorite was Lanvin, and they’ve worked so hard on their prices. For details, Nina Ricci did a great job, too. There’s a softness to the season, and it’s feminine, but still has direction to it.”

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