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MILAN — Whether fembot or uberfeminine, the collections on view during Milan Fashion Week hit the right note with buyers and had them looking forward to spring.

This story first appeared in the September 29, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The Milan collections felt more commercially relevant than in recent seasons: either hot and sexy or light, fluid and romantic,” said Jennifer Wheeler, vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom.

“Overall, the Milan collections reflected an upbeat mood, with designers focusing on what they do best,” said Colleen Sherin, fashion market director at Saks Fifth Avenue.

While retailers were fatigued by the compact four-day schedule, which wound up Monday, they liked what they saw and left Milan confident their selections for spring would prompt jittery customers to part with their money. Buyers said they were working with similar budgets to last year and would spend on merit.

“Our customers continue to seek out beautiful, well-made clothes and we will support those designers that deliver on that,” said Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction at Holt Renfrew.

“We’re focused on finding terrific items. Our customer is buying what she doesn’t have in her closet,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus.

Retailers outside the Eurozone cautioned that value for money was particularly important because of disadvantageous currency fluctuations. “With the strong euro, we will have to be more careful with what we buy. The products have to correspond rightly with the price,” said Cindy Ho, fashion and merchandising director of Villa Moda, Kuwait.

Some buyers skipped the runways, opting for showroom appointments instead. Those who didn’t said they had no problems making way on the front row for bloggers, as was the case at D&G and Dolce & Gabbana.

“I think the obsession with front-row seating is a symptom of an overactive ego. We should be thankful we’re here,” said Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s.

Key trends for the season included transparency and layering; lingerie detailing — particularly lace, straps and bodice, and prints, while miniskirts and dresses, shorts, floaty pants and tailored jackets were among must-have items. In terms of color, palettes swung between black and white and bold, pastel and earthy tones.

Standout collections included Aquilano.Rimondi, Bottega Veneta, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Jil Sander, Marni, Missoni, Prada, Pucci and Versace, retailers said.

Here, a rundown of what buyers had to say:

Jennifer Wheeler, vice president of designer apparel, Nordstrom: “It was a nice balance between the short, sexy, aggressively feminine collections in bold colors as seen in Versace, Gucci, Pucci and Dolce & Gabbana, and the more fluid, romantic collections that featured softer desert and earth colors, as seen at Jil Sander, Marni and Missoni. Key items will be miniskirts, either tight or with a bubble hem; anything perforated, laser-cut or in mesh; lacing details; novelty shorts; leather and suede in pale neutrals or bright; floral prints; soft silk dressing; anything that sparkles, and desert and earth colors.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus: “There was plenty to love in Milan this season with the amount of color and print. There’s much more of a focus on femininity, which our customers are always happy to see. There’s a lot of lace in Milan this season, some metallic. Transparencies look particularly beautiful when they are done in layers and leave something to the imagination. There’s also this sportif idea we saw in so many collections, with interpretations of leggings and shorts, bicycle shorts and anoraks. Shorts are becoming what the legging was for fall.”

Colleen Sherin, fashion market director, Saks Fifth Avenue: “Two key fashion messages appeared throughout. One was about ethereal beauty: a casual ease and elegance, with delicate, feminine and ultralight fabrications, tiny pleats and origami folds in relaxed and fluid shapes. The other message was sexy, bold and full of high energy, with sporty elements and body-conscious dressing. Key items include the soft, draped, relaxed pant silhouette; shorts of all varieties; sporty or fluid jackets; cocktail dresses in weightless fabrications, or sexy, body-conscious minidresses. The mini length in general is important, as are bold and innovative prints. Details include a play on asymmetry and all manners of fabric manipulation — pleating, draping, twisting, and folding — along with fringe and feather trims.”

Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale’s: “Spring was a season of contrasts, between masculine and feminine, tender and tough, soft and hard, gritty and glamorous, ethereal and visceral. Dolce & Gabbana served up a collection which was fit for the boudoir and the boardroom. Roberto Cavalli layered jackets over dresses, which were glamorous and rustic. When it was done in one outfit — like at Jil Sander, for example, where Raf Simons combined shredded and tailored looks — it was compelling. Though not a new theme, it is timely for now and it’s how women dress.…I was happy with what I saw. Every collection had something to offer. Each designer focused on true craftsmanship. Our customers will respond.”

Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction, Holt Renfrew: “We are leaving Milan feeling positive about our buys. We will spend the same amount as in previous seasons, editing to the best with the right balance of the soft and fluid with the tailored and geometric.…We loved Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Jil Sander and Marni. Clothes were either calm and beautiful, or hard-core and sexy. Our checklist includes languid pants; soft tailored jackets; short, sexy skirts and shorts; essential shirts; feminine dresses, and bodysuits as the foundation to dressing. What we didn’t see on the runways in the form of tailored silhouettes was picked up in earlier deliveries. Off the runways, we liked Pollini, Marco de Vincenzo and Gail Sorronda from Australia.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president and fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman: “The Italian designers drew closely on the DNA of their respective brands, consistently executed with the luxury hand and fabrications Italy is known for. For the most part, designers favored more relaxed and airier directions. There was an intelligent balance of commercial consideration with editorial content. As in New York, asymmetric, more organic silhouettes prevailed and dresses remained strong, though shorts and jackets of all lengths were increasingly important. Key elements we’re taking away from Milan include soft, sculptural volumes; transparencies; ruffling; raw-edge finishing; textural fabrics; prints of all persuasions; the bustier dress; short and shorter hemlines; washed pale palettes; mid- to light-tone grays, and Lucite detailed accessories. Noteworthy collections for us: Bottega Veneta — remarkable and refined with exquisite bag offerings; Prada’s mix of exciting, sliced-off tailoring and nostalgic prints; Gucci’s outstanding techno primitive ultrasport collection; Jil Sander’s ravaged sensual tailoring, and Fendi’s delicate dreams.”

Anita Barr, director of women’s wear, Selfridges:
“Jil Sander was definitely my highlight of the week. It made the trip really worthwhile, even if overall Milan was a bit flat by comparison to other cities. Missoni, Prada and Pucci were also very enjoyable and beautifully executed. The season was very feminine, with pure whites and cleaner color palettes for added freshness. There was also a lot of flesh on show. Silhouettes were more sexy and less fluid and the focus was on individual pieces that make customers feel like a million dollars. We are launching our online store early next year and it was the first time buying for it. We have also recently opened a new floor concept called Third Floor Central for contemporary and denim brands. So 2010 is shaping up to be an exciting year.”

Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager of women’s apparel, Le Printemps: “Femininity, fluidity and softness underscored Milan Fashion Week and it was a breath of fresh air. Gone are the aggressive silhouettes and bling. Replacing them are short microdresses or fluid dresses in silk and muslin, some of which were layered over pants, minishorts, bloomers, boyfriend jackets, masculine trousers and some fringes. The woman’s figure is enhanced and she is beautiful. Lingerie touches, such as lace, corsets and straps, were among common details, while the color palettes were subtle, soft and powdery.…Most collections were able to balance their image, their heritage and their commercial viability. We are optimistic these collections will prompt a desire to consume.”

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente: “There were two main trends: either the very sexy and provocative Ibiza party girl, which has been working very well commercially because women want to feel beautiful, or the softer, more romantic and delicate belle. These are well-defined trends, which is a positive sign, as this is what customers need in difficult moments, when they are disoriented. Women want to be beautiful and attractive. They are willing to spend to be so and enhance their femininity. Versace and Jil Sander offered the best shows. Who better than Versace to do sexy dressing? Jil Sander had a more conceptual, enigmatic sensuality, which was full of references. Pucci is going through an interesting stylistic renovation, while Roberto Cavalli was also worthy of note: He could have a copyright on sexy, but he opted for a more sensuous, lighter collection, combining feminine and romantic with men’s elements. I also liked Versus.”

Silvano Vangi, women’s buyer, Luisa Via Roma, Florence: Vangi was pleased with the research into materials designers had done and lauded the shift away from an aggressive rock image toward a superfeminine look, citing Dolce & Gabbana, in particular, who returned to its origins. He also liked the military and folk tribal influences and said jewelry and layering were strong trends, as at Roberto Cavalli, “who explored an interesting concept of juxtaposing men’s jackets and pants with feminine, flowery dresses.” He also predicted a return to PVC. “Dsquared had PVC shoes and jeans covered in that material,” Vangi said, adding Luisa Via Roma was expanding and increasing its budget for spring with new designers, such as Who’s On Next award-winners Marco de Vincenzo and Daniele Michetti for shoes.

Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong: “Since July, I’ve felt consumers being more open again. They have missed the ‘joy of shopping.’ That said, it hasn’t been the best Milan season. There were far too many diaphanous, gauzy fabrics. And a lot of designers ‘went for broke’ and stayed totally on one note, which is fine when it works, but when it doesn’t, you’re in trouble. The overall trends have been monochromatic dressing, plissé and ruching, slicing at armholes, hips, waists and backs — we call it peel and reveal. There were a lot of bras and corsetry on show.”

Lianna Man, divisional merchandise manager, Joyce Boutique Limited, Hong Kong: “We’ve been very happy with the collections and I am quite confident for the season. Dresses are still a strong category, as are pants. Various versions of the harem were seen across the board with different interpretations. We’re also seeing a lot of summer suede and sheer fabrication, so showing skin is going to be a must for next season. In shoes and bags, we’re seeing lots of wrap-up/tie-ups around the ankle, with fringing in a Seventies aesthetic. We liked the Jil Sander collection, Versace, Pucci and Etro. On the sidelines, we picked up [jewelry collection] De Cotiis, which had a great design aesthetic reworking vintage pieces with new conceptual designs.”

Erin Mullaney, buying director, Browns, London:
“There was a lightening of the mood in Milan with soft pastel tones, perforations, laser-cut and lace details, and it was good to see more softness in the clothes. Jil Sander was absolutely gorgeous. Raf Simons showed a very commercial pre-collection but used the show to push forward his designs. The patchwork dress and white ruffle dress were standouts. Etro was very fresh and light with feminine, fresh pastel colors. Missoni looked very good again, especially the layering. We don’t buy Prada, but the lightness was beautiful, and Versus was adorable and perfect for that young woman who wants to go to a party. We found an exciting young designer, Gabriele Colangelo, who seems to fit perfectly with the mood today, with demicouture aspects and a collection based on the way light reflects on the clothing. Overall, I am optimistic, much more than six months to a year ago. There is a complete shift in the way people are buying. There is far less ostentation. People are very price sensitive and are looking for value for money.”

Cindy Ho, fashion and merchandising director, Villa Moda, Kuwait: “Light, see-through, straightforward. These were the key words of the season.…The ‘see-through’ theme was utilized either through fabrics such as georgette or lace, or through styling with many houses opting for a layered look. The straightforward attitude was a very clear message in that pieces were very easy to wear. In particular, I very much liked the idea from Bottega Veneta of clothes being a blank canvas and it depending on the customers: You can play around and [have] your own fun. This is what we need these days, to cheer ourselves up. In general, it was an interesting season. Our customers will find something really fresh and new to buy.”



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