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f ever there was a time for interesting, distinctive and well-made clothing, it would appear to be now. With the economy sputtering, it will take more than basics to get consumers to loosen their purse strings, and the price of a garment will have to be justified by its visible quality.
Falling oil prices did little to help retailers in August, as the majority reported comparable-store sales declines on Thursday for the month. Saks Fifth Avenue was off 5.9 percent, Nordstrom was down 7.9 percent, and Neiman Marcus reported comps slid 0.4 percent. And yet, at the start of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, optimism abounds.
“I’m hoping to see clothes that have a strong point of view,” said Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director of Henri Bendel. “I’m looking forward to seeing clothes that are distinctive and have that special ‘wow’ factor.
“Trends that change seasonally are what we call ‘fast trends’ and they really set the tone for the season. It is this element of the unexpected that keeps us on pins and needles waiting to see what the designers have tapped into this season.”
“Anything new and different is going to seem very appealing,” concurred Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York. “I think the bigger, already established brands are going to have a tougher time unless they do things they haven’t done before. We need fresh approaches that are more conscious, innovative and fun. This spirit will drive business.”
Customers have changed their buying habits, said Jim Wetzel, co-owner of Jake, a women’s and men’s boutique with two locations in Chicago and one in suburban Winnetka. “There is a different practicality that our clients are adapting to with less fussy trends, bright colors and luxe fabrications with which they are familiar such as tweed and rinsed denim, he added. Jennifer Loporchio, co-owner of Dighton-Rhode in Greenwich, Conn., said that even the wealthiest of women are exercising a degree of caution today, whereas 18 months ago they seemed less concerned with prices.
“Regardless of the area, in this economy women are buying differently,” Loporchio said. “They’re making more educated choices and thinking about the longevity of the item rather than the impulsiveness. I’m smarter. I’m buying what I know is going to sell. I’m only buying what I love.
Here’s what retailers are saying about New York Fashion Week.
Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president of designer merchandising at Nordstrom:
What I hope to see: More sportswear options and lots and lots of color.
People buzzing about: The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund nominees.
Young designers I’m looking forward to seeing: Alexander Wang, Richard Chai, Jason Wu and Juan Carlos Obando.
Changes I’m anticipating: It’s hard to expect the unexpected.
My open-to-buy: Is affected by the strength of the collections that we see.
Michael Fink, vice president and women’s fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue:
What I hope to see: Let’s continue the razor sharp silhouettes of fall, but this time in color. I’d love to see a romantic mood develop with just a dose of naughty (not vulgar) — colors and florals that are tense with the anticipation of bursting open. And, finally, peaceniks and hippies will lead us back to the summer of love — all in fringe and tie-dye pleading for us to not trust anyone over 30.
People are buzzing about: Michelle vs. Cindy.
Changes I’d like to see: Honest, accurate industry reporting not based on personal bias. [referring to collection reviews] Leave the anger at home.
Trend I’d like to see go away: Other than a maxidress, I think we’re holding pretty steady right now.
Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York:
I’m hoping to see: A new perspective.
People are buzzing about: Erin Wasson + RVCA, A.L.C. (Andrea Lieberman’s collection) and Proenza Schouler’s new “have to have” handbags.
Young designers I’m looking forward to seeing: There are a lot of newcomers. We want to investigate them all.
Changes I’m anticipating: It’s hard to say but things are shifting.
Trend I’d like to see go away: There are too many shows and events.
Impact of the weak dollar on my European buy: We are playing it one designer at a time.
David Rubenstein, vice president and general merchandise manager, Jeffrey New York:
I’m excited about seeing: We buy very selective collections. Isaac is doing a really big show this time. I think he’s really expanding the collection. Also, Rodarte, Narciso Rodriguez and Halston. We’re selling Halston really well. People are really coming in and asking for it. We loved it and we bought the things we loved. It’s not about a particular designer. It’s about a brand.
People are buzzing about: There’s a few new things I’m going to look at, including Vicente Villarin, who is showing on Friday. A couple of people mentioned him to me. We looked at Ruben Singer’s pre-collection and it’s really beautiful. I received a little book from Cushnie et Ochs. It looks really interesting and some things in it were really beautiful. Unfortunately, I can’t go look at everything, but those three stood out. We go [to see the collections of] all the usual brands we’ve been carrying. I’ll see some 10 shows next week.
What I expect to see: Because we’ve been buying lots of pre-collections since May, we’re encouraged because what we’re seeing is a lot of color and a lot of draping. What we’ve seen so far looks really good. New York is the first place to start seeing trends for spring. By the time we get to Paris, we’ve seen [runway shows] in three cities.
Impact of the weak dollar on my European buy: We are pretty much buying the same amount of European brands. The euro is an unfortunate situation. We’ve just been more careful about price points. In the past, we were open to higher price points for really special items and now we’re more sensitive.
Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus:
What I expect to see: Color, print , and mixes of print will lead the runway parade.
Changes I anticipate: Close-to-the-body shapes that emerged from fall will continue, gaining momentum from all of the current Olympic excitement.
People buzzing about: There is great anticipation around the return of Christian Francis Roth with his collection, Francis.
Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director of Henri Bendel:
What I hope to see: Clothes that have a strong point of view. I’m looking forward to seeing clothes that are distinctive and have that special “wow” factor.
People buzzing about: Accessories and specifically costume jewelry as this season’s replacement of the “it” bag!
Young designers I’m looking forward to seeing: Our customer has always come to us for the new and the next in fashion, so Bendel’s is always seeking out new designers. This season, the designers on our radar include Sariah Carson, Frank Tell, Avione Femme, Harlan Bel and Ruffian.
Changes I’m anticipating: Trends that I think we will see evolve include the continuation of prints, Grecian-style draping, a remix of colors, chunky embellishments and the importance of the dress, particularly, the long day dress. This was a best seller for us last spring and this spring we believe it will be a big opportunity again. With the long trend growing in popularity among the Bendel’s customer, we will also be looking out for long summer skirts. Trends that change seasonally are what we call “fast trends” and they really set the tone for the season. It is this element of the unexpected that keeps us on pins and needles, waiting to see what the designers have tapped into this season.
My open-to-buy: We are very optimistic for spring and our open-to-buy reflects that. The strategies we have been testing this year are working and we only see these efforts paying off even more for 2009.
Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of women’s ready-to-wear at Macy’s:
What I’m hoping to see: Another fabulous season for dresses in interesting new silhouettes, such as belted sheaths and one shoulder. Maxis are back in long skirts and long dresses, a new boho flower child done in a refined way. Also, new tailoring such as suiting that’s very sharp and precise, pencil skirts or cigarette pants. Accessories have never looked better.
What I’m anticipating: We feel very positive about the season to come — we feel there is great energy. We are celebrating our 150 anniversary this year.
Jim Wetzel, co-owner of Jake, a women’s and men’s boutique with two locations in Chicago and one in suburban Winnetka:
What I’m hoping to see: I am looking forward to seeing color and hoping for a lot of dresses. I have an idea the luxe Bohemian trend will be bigger than ever. I hope shorts will be done in a uber-chic way with a dressier feel.
People are buzzing about: The excitement surrounding Brian Reyes is unreal. The fact that he is showing in the tents this season is also exciting. The Matthew Williamson show is always a tour de force of high energy, color and sexy fashion, where celebs abound!
Designers I’m looking forward to seeing: The relaunch of Christian Francis Roth’s collection, Francis. I’ve heard that it’s over-the-top, fun and punchy. We are also excited to see Chicago’s Dieter Bennett, showing for the first time in New York. In this colder economic period Brochu Walker and L’Agence both offer easy sexy pieces that I’m dying for.