Buyers Laud Paris’ New Minimalism

The Paris collections, from Celine to Givenchy, marked a sea change in fashion toward pared-down chic and classic tailoring.

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Christian Dior RTW Fall 2010

Giovanni Giannoni

Balenciaga RTW Fall 2010

Balenciaga RTW Fall 2010

Giovanni Giannoni

Lanvin RTW Fall 2010

Lanvin RTW Fall 2010

Giovanni Giannoni

Celine RTW Fall 2010

Celine RTW Fall 2010

Giovanni Giannoni

PARIS — The Paris collections marked a sea change in fashion toward pared-down chic and classic tailoring, fanning optimism among retailers.

This story first appeared in the March 12, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Still, buyers are behaving cautiously, shunning risky trends and plotting budget increases mostly in the single-digit range.

“Even though the clothes are marvelous, the reality is people are still being careful, so we’re going to try to give them choices that are useful and, hopefully, irresistible,” said Linda Dresner, owner of Linda Dresner in Birmingham, Mich.

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said designers showing in the French capital took the best ideas from the Sixties and Seventies and spun them forward into luxurious, minimal sportswear. “The newest direction is the embracing of this very pared-down, uberchic spirit,” he said.

Many retailers credited Phoebe Philo, who showed her first collection for Celine in October, for ushering in the change, sweeping away excess decoration and what had been a glut of cocktail attire. Nevertheless, some cautioned that an overload of plain clothes could be risky.

“We need to be careful with not going too heavy into the very clean look, along with the color camel and heavy fabric weights, as it can become too repetitive,” noted Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Hong Kong-based Lane Crawford. “We are looking wherever we can to add fabric interest, detailing, color, print and lighter weights.”

Buyers praised a return to sportswear and day clothes, particularly men’s wear tailoring and pantsuits, roomy outerwear, leather clothing, fur and feather trims, military details and innovative knitwear.

“These are clothes that will merchandise beautifully because they’re so structured,” said Barbara Atkin, vice president and fashion director at Canada’s Holt Renfrew. “This isn’t a shapeless season where they fall off the hanger.”

In accessories, embellished bags and boots — from booties up to thigh boots — were cited among key items.

Collections winning kudos from retailers included Celine, Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, Chanel, Lanvin, Junya Watanabe, Dior, Haider Ackermann and Balenciaga. Buyers also cited a poignant moment viewing the final 16 couture pieces by the late Lee Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide last month.

Here’s what buyers had to say about the season.

Andrew Keith, president, Joyce: “It’s good to be on the market having had a very strong fall-winter 2009 and great performance for spring. We will be getting behind collections that we felt delivered. There’s a move towards a clean, chic and refined aesthetic with coats and tailoring being key. Many designers chose to play with texture rather than color and so we saw a lot of mixes of leather, fur and feathers adding depth and contrast. Celine was a standout. Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, Junya Watanabe and Ann Demeulemeester showed strong collections. The coats and pleated skirts at Yohji were wonderful. Anthony Vaccarello has a very modern and sophisticated edge. But my lasting memory of this season will be the McQueen presentation, which was achingly beautiful and a very emotional and poignant experience.”

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente: “Overall, Paris was a very good season. A creative interpretation of wearability was the common thread throughout all the collections. The aesthetic is much more for a mature woman — pared down, but not severe. Outerwear was definitely a focal point and Paris, perhaps for the first time, has aligned itself with an international trend, which is very interesting and says a lot about our times. In terms of standout collections, Celine and Lanvin are redefining how women are dressing. Azzedine Alaïa, Givenchy, Haider Ackermann, Roland Mouret, Rochas, Miu Miu and Vionnet were also strong. We are paying attention to prices, but designers have been very responsible.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus: “All of the love and appreciation for sportswear is new to our eyes, plus the new direction of pared-down elegance. It has a real modernity to it. There’s still that bit of romantic spirit, too, as in all the beautiful Chantilly lace at Valentino. Velvet and leather are major trends, and I’m loving all the innovative outerwear: capes, ponchos, utilitarian details, vests, and there’s certainly a roomier coat this season. Browns and camels look new, and we like all the greens we’re seeing, the olives and military shades to emeralds and deep bottle greens. There’s a lot of fur and feathers throughout Paris, adding lightness and whimsy to clothes, shoes and even handbags. It really speaks to designers tempting the consumer. We’re seeing a real optimism throughout the market. Our favorite collections were Dries Van Noten, Givenchy, Celine, Lanvin and Balenciaga for the outerwear.”

Marigay McKee, fashion and beauty director at Harrods: “Paris brands have been driving our trade for a few seasons now. We have focused our growth in purchases on those brands already performing off the charts for us. Chanel, Lanvin, Balmain and Balenciaga are all hard to keep in stock. We have added Nina Ricci, as Peter Copping has done such an incredible job. Prices were very much in line with last season’s. Best trends: the return of the kitten heel and wedge; the continuation of the bootie and skinny pant; fur, fur, fur; leather pants and leggings; continuation of the sporty trend; studs; animal print, and feminine frills, bows and ruffles. Shoulders are still in the spotlight. Best colors — nudes, neutrals, beiges, greiges, grays, camels and, of course, black — and a lot of winter white, which is fashionista fabulous.

“There were so many truly sensational pieces and the creativity behind some of the shows that was truly theatrical, including Karl Lagerfeld’s 265-ton Chanel iceberg and Lanvin’s tribal effects and pounding drum sounds. Chloé was fab — very “Love Story.” Best collections were Lanvin, Chloé, Balmain and Givenchy.”

Colleen Sherin, fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue: “A definite shift took place in Paris, with a move towards a more pared-down way of dressing, and a focus on luxurious fabrications, tailoring and discreet design details. Phoebe Philo at Celine has been highly influential. That said, there was still much on offer in terms of more opulent design, with fur and fur trims and ornate embellishments. Key items and categories include statement coats, from sporty varieties to full-on furs; leather and leather trims; a new pant silhouette with a slight flare; knitwear, fine and sheer or chunky and highly textured, and more classic colorations of camel, gray, navy and black. Alexander McQueen’s presentation was incredibly beautiful, thoughtful and moving. Other standout collections include Celine, Chanel, Dior, Nina Ricci, Ann Demeulemeester and Valentino.”

Polina Kitsenko, co-owner, Podium, Moscow: “I found it was a pretty normal, good Paris Fashion Week, with nothing outstanding and no new discoveries. Our three favorite collections were Givenchy, Celine and Chanel. I also liked Costume National. Trends were very diverse. We saw Forties, Fifties ladylike, but at the same time, lots of gauze and brocades. Our budget is pretty stable. Happily, there were no more comments about the crisis. One good thing is showrooms have stopped being so pushy on minimums and now give us the freedom of ordering what we want. I think the crisis has taught people to be more free. We didn’t notice any brands lowering prices, and for some of the [top-tier] luxury brands, sometimes the prices are really outrageous.”

Averyl Oates, chief buying director, Harvey Nichols, London: “We are optimistic for autumn-winter, and have increased budgets accordingly. Our business is most buoyant in the young contemporary arena and top-end luxury. We are keen to broaden our assortment accordingly. Our new Celine boutique represents a new minimalism and reflects the current customer desire to invest in key, unique pieces. We are also excited about introducing Altuzarra, Hakaan, Vionnet and Haider Ackermann into our brand mix. The established luxury customer has continued to shop in a more discreet manner, but still values the craftsmanship, fabrication and quality that the best brands in the world continue to offer. On a special note, Alexander McQueen delivered an exquisitely romantic vision of historical femininity and beauty that was the perfect epitaph for the great designer himself. We look forward to continuing to build his strong legacy within Harvey Nichols.”

Kelly Golden, owner, Neapolitan, Winnetka, Ill.: “Budgets are up about 15 percent. Trends such as fur and leather were very prominent, as well as the long, lean silhouette. We’ll be investing in lots of over-the-knee boots, interesting knitwear, anything military influenced, vests, capelets and fur. Commercially, it was a strong season: practical, wearable and sensible, yet special, interesting and luxurious. Standout collections were Christian Dior for the gorgeous equestrian jackets and playful knitwear; Yves Saint Laurent for modern capelets and tech fabrics; Andrew Gn for his lavish military-style jackets and gorgeous eveningwear, and Lanvin for its take on the modern, independent woman. Accessories continue to be prominent on the runways, and will be a larger part of our fall budget than in past seasons. Overall, we are very optimistic.”

Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director, Macy’s: “Fall trends include military, active, utility; ethnic, nomadic, bohemian; Fifties and early Sixties, with full-skirt and -dress inspiration; furs in ready-to-wear and across accessories from shoes to handbags, and fabric manipulations such as inserts, appliqués, patchworks, collages. Craft continues, with ruffled dressing, pleating and skilled asymmetry. I saw lots of architectural sleeve and shoulder interest. Camel hair, blanket wools, velvet and lace are key fabrics, and layered sheer is the new sheer. Favorite shows included Jean Paul Gaultier, Lanvin, Karl Lagerfeld, Rick Owens, Vivienne Westwood, Chloé, Givenchy, Maison Martin Margiela, Akris and Kenzo. As for the new generation to watch: Quentin Veron, Anne Valérie Hash, Nicolas Andreas Taralis, Sharon Wauchob, Felipe Oliveira Baptista.”

Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford: “Paris certainly was far stronger than Milan. Lane Crawford buys more out of Paris and this is certainly going to continue to be our primary market, along with American designers and brands. Feather and fur mixes dominated runways along with capes and the Sixties sneaking in. The major move is the cleaned-up perennial ‘classics’ in tailoring and outerwear. Celine has really spearheaded this whole movement and many designers have followed suit this season. Givenchy’s lace and printed knits will fly out. Haider Ackermann is in a strong place on our portfolio. Lanvin and Balenciaga are among my top performers, as are Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. Every detail and piece at McQueen was perfection: A privilege to see it and heartbreaking that this is Lee’s last collection. The business has been growing at an incredible rate for the past three seasons.”

Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president of designer merchandising, Nordstrom: “Paris offered great clarity in the very studied, clean and precise point of view offered in many collections. It looked modern and was expressed in outerwear, knitwear, suitings and even dresses. One of my favorite looks at Celine was the navy turtleneck sweater that was slightly longer in the back, with a white shirt underneath and navy pants. It was absolute perfection. Or look number one at Givenchy: the beige coat with a black pant and red jeweled bag. It was dazzling. I had seven favorite collections: Givenchy, Celine, Lanvin, Balenciaga, Haider Ackermann, Dries Van Noten and Azzedine Alaïa. We’ll spend more in Paris than last season. Last fall was very good for us and spring is off to a great start.”

Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale’s: “This is absolutely the center of the universe when it comes to creativity, to energy and to new ideas. All of the big names hit the nail on the head again this season. It is absolutely a season for outerwear. I have no doubt that the consumer will be opening her wallet next fall. We’ve been in a cycle of froufrou and frills and decoration for a long time now. It’s time for us to pare down a bit. I loved Stella McCartney’s show. I thought she took the architecture of the Sixties — those geometric shapes, the A-line, the crisp tailoring — and made it ubermodern. Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel was brilliant, not just the transportation of the iceberg, but the idea of fake fur used in that way. It was just so creative and inspirational.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman: “This was clearly a season where what’s less is more. Tailoring was at the core of many collections. We liked the re-emergence of sportswear dressing, especially the focus on the new classic coats, great pants and real trousers beyond the skinny, and skirt and pantsuits that will appeal to generations of women who haven’t experienced them before. These are clothes with built-in reality and longevity. Important materials include long-haired fur, leather, velvet, mixed media and knit dressing. We will be watching our buys to best balance a potentially overunified message with enough surprise and emotion-producing novelty. Special mention to Phoebe Philo at Celine for her importance as an influencer. Standout collections include Givenchy, Chanel, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens and Junya Watanabe.”

Ikram Goldman, owner, Ikram, Chicago: “It’s impossible not to go over budget in a season like this. Designers have gone back to incredible, luxurious basics: A jacket is a jacket, a skirt is a skirt, a sweater is a sweater — and they are so flawlessly made you can’t resist. For example, at Nina Ricci, the textures in black made you excited to have a black suit again. I loved the cropped pants this season, which puts the emphasis on the shoe or boots, and volume at the top in peacoats, capes or jackets. Nothing was harsh this season. My favorite collections were Celine, Lanvin, Givenchy, Junya Watanabe and Nina Ricci.”

Elizabeth Lepore, owner, Jimmy’s, Brooklyn and The Hamptons, N.Y.: “Fall 2010 in Paris offered a modern, rock ’n’ roll season. In eveningwear, short styles, sequins and architectural elements were apparent in all collections. Metallic embellishments are also a key trend. With our edited selections and an increase in our open to buy, we will have an exciting fall. New materials and strong shapes will entice the Jimmy’s girls to shop especially for their grand soirees. Jay Ahr, Azzaro, Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab, Balmain and Azzedine Alaïa were among the standout collections.”

Barbara Atkin, vice president and fashion director, Holt Renfrew: “Paris was exceptionally powerful. There was the stripped-down maturity we started seeing in Milan, but it was particularly special in Paris. There was a lot of structure, architectural design and detail. It was an amazing coat season from every collection, plus fur, leather and beautiful sculpted knits. We liked the longer hemline, which signals a change in everything, starting with the shoe, which will become more feminine. We had so many favorites: Dries Van Noten, Haider Ackermann, Celine, Givenchy, Balmain. One newcomer we’re bringing in is Gareth Pugh. We’re very optimistic. We’ve seen people coming back into the stores, looking for quality clothes. Our budgets are growing for Celine, Lanvin — for all of the brands we want to build. Business is on the upswing so we want to support that.”

Linda Dresner, owner, Linda Dresner, Birmingham, Mich.: “The collections generally have been very, very strong. There’s some similarity, which can be a dangerous thing, so we’re picking and choosing to have a variety of looks. There were amazing coats, the military influence, the Fifties influence, the pure, classic influence. We liked the classic pieces from Rick Owens and Dries Van Noten. Longer, fuller skirts looked really fresh. Celine has made a strong impression throughout the marketplace. You can see variations of the theme, so we need to pick the best pieces, otherwise there’s that old story of sameness. We also loved the Japanese designer Sacai: The collection was very animated with a Chanel-like feeling. The best coats were at Junya Watanabe. Yohji Yamamoto was sober, but elegant. Martin Margiela’s stand-away waistline gave a new, more modern impression.”

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director, Barneys New York: “Paris affirms the season and this will be the one of ‘beautiful clothes.’ If it did not fit that criteria, it wasn’t bought. There has been a lot of talk about retail sales getting better. We noticed it to be true in our sales numbers, but we also know the fragility of predictions. Competition is tougher with the Internet being the ‘new store down the block’ and also with the continuation of discounts to try and entice the customer. Trends are important (minimalism, military, tailoring, leather, fur), but more so we realize that we must buy clothes that make sense to our customer. Clothes with great style, good value and pieces that have lasting wearability is where our business will be. Lanvin in the showroom was even more spectacular than the show. Rick Owens did one of his most special collections to date. Nina Ricci is tracking fast. Dries Van Noten had the perfect mix of retro beauty and military. Junya Watanabe nailed the army green trend. Stella McCartney brilliantly defined the season with a camel cardigan worn as a dress. Celine delivered a great collection where the new minimalism will make sense for our customer. And always to show last, and privately, is Azzedine Alaïa, who creates the most beautiful clothes in all the seasonal trends.”

Beth Buccini and Sarah Easley, co-owners, Kirna Zabête: “We think it has been a terrific season in Paris and our budgets are way up. We continue to really grow our businesses with Celine and Givenchy. We also loved Balenciaga, Lanvin, Stella McCartney and Balmain. As far as trends go, we loved the purity and simplicity of Celine and Stella McCartney; the techno richness at Balenciaga, Givenchy and Lanvin, and the opulence of Balmain. We have been able to strike a balance between directional fashion items and amazing investment pieces.”


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