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Optimism in Milan, But Caution Too

While retailers are pleased with what they saw on the runways, the economy still has them hedging their bets.

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Dolce & Gabbana RTW Spring 2012

Mauricio Miranda

Jil Sander RTW Spring 2012

Jil Sander RTW Spring 2012

Mauricio Miranda

Marni RTW Spring 2012

Marni RTW Spring 2012

Davide Maestri

Prada RTW Spring 2012

Prada RTW Spring 2012

Giovanni Giannoni

MILAN — Pleased with what they saw on the runways here, retailers are optimistic about spring — but the economy still has them hedging their bets.

This story first appeared in the September 27, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While noting the luxury business is still showing momentum, retailers said they are alert to economic and currency volatility, and prepared to turn on a dime.

“Like everyone, we are watching the market very closely,” said Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Lane Crawford, Hong Kong. “I am sure there is not a retailer out there who is not mindful of what is happening and reviewing the runway buys to hold back on a portion of planned purchases in light of being prudent with these later deliveries.”

A strong selection of dresses — from Twenties flapper styles to hourglass Fifties silhouettes — anchored a confident Milan season.

Other strong trends included bold colors and patterns; scarf prints and handkerchief hems; sporty blousons and bombers; and a return to the skirt, from pencil-slim to full and knife-pleated.

Standout collections for buyers included Prada, Jil Sander, Marni, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Etro.

“Milan has delivered a powerhouse of ideas, and despite the gloomy economic forecast, spring 2012 collections have been positive, upbeat and optimistic,” said Barbara Atkin, vice president, fashion direction at Toronto-based Holt Renfrew.

“It’s hard to leave Italy without applauding its signature of world class craftsmanship and the modern evolution on heritage,” said Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman.

Following are some retailers’ reactions to the Milan collections:

Mikhail Kusnirovich, chief executive officer, Bosco di Ciliegi and president, GUM, Moscow:
Sound off:
Our sales so far this year for autumn-winter are up 25 percent versus last year. We are quite optimistic. I’m not sure how long it is going to remain as comfortable as today, but we remain positive for the next few months. Outerwear, of course, is still a very big part of the allocation, but our accessories projects are also growing very well, with shoes, bags and scarves performing very well.

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus:
Sound off:
Nothing makes a retailer happier than runways full of appealing color, beautiful prints and lots of femininity. It’s nice to see a continuation of the dressed-up spirit on the runways of Milan. I am excited to see that designers made superlative efforts to add special touches, details and craftsmanship to make beautiful clothes.
Trendspotting: Gymnasium and sporty ideas; pleats and fluidity; color, from pinks to oranges to beautiful shades of blue and even icy sorbet shades; black and white.
Favorite collections: Prada, Jil Sander, Bottega Veneta, Aquilano.Rimondi and Pucci.

Barbara Atkin, vice president, fashion direction, Holt Renfrew, Toronto:
Sound off:
We are planning single-digit growth for spring 2012. Our open-to-buy is planned to be nimble in order to react to either growth or a softening of the business.
Trendspotting: It is clear that the lady is back in town, from sexy signorinas to polished mid-century ladies, exuberant flapper girls and those wild-at-heart deluxe hippies. With the abundance of sheer bandeau tops and retro-inspired swimwear and bodysuits, we feel the lingerie category will be explosive.
Favorite collections: Prada, Fendi, Etro, Aquilano.Rimondi, Dolce & Gabbana, Jil Sander, Marni, Gucci and Giorgio Armani.

Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue:
Sound off:
Overall, there was an emphasis on real clothes on the runways.
Trendspotting: The Twenties was the decade of choice, with flapper and graphic Art Deco references, followed closely by the Fifties, with a focus on ladylike dressing. I like the two contrasting dress silhouettes we’ve seen in Milan: straight and linear with a dropped waist, or with a nipped-in waist and fuller skirt. An icy pastel palette colored the catwalks, with pretty shades of pale blue, butter yellow, pink and mint green.
Favorite collections: Prada, Etro, Bottega Veneta, Jil Sander and Marni.

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman, New York:
Sound off:
We’re flattered. Many of the Italian designers appeared to have a love affair with American iconography — from the Chrysler building to the Jazz Age, Hawaii and hot-rod culture — but filtered through luxe Italian style.
Trendspotting: We found Milan ripe with compelling product and a powerful mix of commercial and editorial ideas. Like New York and London, color and exciting prints were the most clear trends. We continue to buy the most special pieces here, as our clients respond to emotional product.
Favorite collections: Jil Sander, Prada, Etro, Pucci, Missoni, Marni and Aquilano.Rimondi.

Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager, men’s and women’s apparel, Printemps:
Sound off:
We are very pleased with this season. It’s very feminine and subtle and will make women want to renew their wardrobes. Our business at Printemps Haussmann is doing very well. We are going to stick to our budget target, without committing the entire amount right away, so we are being cautious but we remain optimistic.
Trendspotting: Dresses and skirts with Fifties-style nipped-in waists and pleated A-line skirts. Lots of white and powdery pastel shades.
Favorite collections: Prada, Jil Sander, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana.

Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong:
Sound off:
We are very fortunate in our part of the world. The last year has brought Lane Crawford considerable double-digit growth. We have confidence in our market of Hong Kong and China, but of course we must be mindful of possible rumblings due to the global market.
Trendspotting: The strongest have certainly been about the Fifties/mid-century. A very dressed elegance is key to Milan. We have seen a lot of pleating, fringing, 3-D lace, colorful prints, bejeweled embroidery and crochet. Dresses are important, and there’s a real return to the skirt, be it a full skirt or a longer-line pencil skirt, often paired with a cropped, fitted knit, a cropped top or a Fifties bikini top. The Twenties trend is something that we won’t touch on a great deal. The Fifties and Sixties work so much better at retail.
Favorite collections: Jil Sander, Prada, Marni, Bottega Veneta and Dolce & Gabbana.

Jennifer Wheeler, vice president of women’s designer apparel, Nordstrom:
Sound off:
While we are mindful of the economic challenges facing all of us, our business continues to be strong, and we have had no indication that it is slowing down. Our budgets will continue to reflect the positive momentum we are experiencing.
Trendspotting: Milan gave us strong color and beautiful prints, which are things the customer will love. All the great dresses and the new plissé and mixed-print skirts will be winners for sure. There was a thread of unity in the collections reflecting the Fifties and early Sixties, both in silhouettes and styling.
Favorite collections: Prada, Jil Sander, Marni and Roberto Cavalli.

Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale’s:
Sound off:
At a time of economic doom and gloom, it’s ironic to see so much optimism on the catwalks. I kind of want to sum up the whole week with the phrase: happy days. The weather was fantastic and so were the runway shows.
Trendspotting: Scarf prints are the essence of the season — from the standard status scarf to florals to artist-inspired to ethnic-inspired. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a season filled with so many wonderful prints. This should boost accessories, too. If you’re going to invest in a print, the first purchase you’re going to make is a scarf.
Favorite collections: Marni, Prada, Etro, D&G, Giorgio Armani and Jil Sander. I also liked Bragia in the showroom.

Cindy Ho, fashion director, 360 Style Kuwait:
Sound off:
We have the same flat budget as last season, but we are trying to choose only the pieces we strongly believe in, and to not buy too deep. We always aim to give our clients as many choices as possible. I will definitely opt for the mix-and-match trend, but I will also be very careful with the price range.
Trendspotting: I really liked how all the fashion houses mixed and matched the fabrics, carefully calculating the different flow of the materials.
Favorite collections: Bottega Veneta, Prada, Gucci, Jil Sander and Marni.

Antonia Giacinti, owner, Antonia, Milan:
Sound off:
This season started very well. We reopened the store at the end of August, and our most loyal customers immediately came to pick their favorite items. To be honest, we haven’t felt the crisis, and have not been forced to cut our budgets. Of course, we never buy big assortments, because we sell high-end products and our clients always want to purchase things that make them feel special and unique.

Amanda Brooks, women’s fashion director, Barneys New York:
Sound off:
It’s important for us to be conscious of price points. If a woman won’t buy five things but only two, what will they be? Great investment pieces, or pieces you just can’t live without, like lustworthy items. Exclusivity is most important for us in this climate, not only exclusive brands, but also exclusive looks within a brand.
Trendspotting: There was definitely a return to femininity. The silhouette was closer to the body, and the shoes especially were more feminine, with the return to single soles. We are glad to see some shoes under $1,500. There was also lots of embellishment, and more decoration than we are used to seeing.
Favorite collections: Jil Sander and Marni.

 

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