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Of course, the economy was the major theme of the season — overarching everything shown on the runway. The news grew worse almost every day of the Paris shows, and doubts continue to rage over whether consumers will be in a shopping mood come January and February and, if so, how much they’ll want to buy.

This story first appeared in the October 7, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Given the circumstances, buyers stressed the importance of tightly editing their orders. It is understood open-to-buys range from flat to down 15 to 20 percent.

“It is going to be an interesting spring from an economic viewpoint,” said Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director at Barneys New York. “It’s a good time to look at what is working and what’s not working and adjust.”

Dries Van Noten’s geometric prints, Lanvin’s sophisticated dresses and Chanel’s savvy separates highlighted the week, buyers said. Other standouts included Louis Vuitton, Stella McCartney, Balenciaga and Junya Watanabe.

Futuristic metallic fabrics, nudes, sheer dressing, African influences, geometric and couture details and bright shots of color were among trends retailers embraced. Intricate embroidery, strong shoulders, pegged trousers and hourglass silhouettes also dazzled.

Separates were a focus that may be good for business. “We’re feeling more of a sportswear message coming from many houses,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus.

A few buyers, though, warned that some designers erred too much on the side of caution. “It was a commercial season — perhaps a little too much in some ways,” said Averyl Oates, buying director at Harvey Nichols in London. “We are all feeling the global downturn and designers seem to have been sensitive to this.”

Here’s what buyers had to say:

Polina Kitsenko, co-owner, Podium, Moscow: “Standout collections were Balmain, Givenchy, Ann Demeulemeester, Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Revillon and Véronique Leroy. There’s still a lot of black and white, which is a bit upsetting for the summer season. There were asymmetric lines, and bleached denim is really coming back. We also picked up on a bit of a cowboy trend as well as Seventies and Eighties influences with padded shoulders. For colors, we saw lots of reddish oranges, cranberry and fuchsia tones. Generally, it wasn’t the brightest season. Nothing swept me off my seat. We’re not bringing budgets down, but we’re not bringing them up, that’s for sure. We have to be very cautious as Russia is already really influenced by what’s happening in the U.S. We’re trying to order a bit less than before. But we hope the luxury sector will be less affected.”

Erin Mullaney, director of buying at Browns, London: “Paris is at the end of a few weeks of financial crisis, so everyone was feeling like they really had to perform. Dries Van Noten, Balmain, Givenchy and Lanvin were my absolute favorites. Designers are pushing it in the luxury direction right now. There’s no room for mediocrity, it has to be really amazing. Lanvin was such a happy collection: It made everyone smile. I’ve heard from other buyers they’re cutting budgets by 15 or 20 percent. We’re spending what we feel we should spend. We need to get through Christmas and hope it’s not horrible. My message to my team is: We have to tighten up. If you don’t absolutely love it, don’t buy it.”

Linda Fargo, vice president and fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman: “With an eye and pencil sharpened by the prevailing mood, we found enough newness to excite our palate and enough balance between styles with longevity and faster trend options. Most importantly, our mainstay design houses came through. Chanel delivered a stellar collection inspired by its rich heritage and offered the promise of imperishable style. Lanvin uplifted us with chic, effortlessly modern clothing. Andrew Gn sent out one beautiful, approachable look after another, which his clients will not be able to resist. Giambattista Valli’s showroom was filled with a smart commercial component as feminine- and couture-detailed as his runway. Balmain was irresistible in its sexy rock luxury mode. And Junya Watanabe was a special calming counterpoint, layering African prints, eyelet and homespun denim. The strong statement or novelty shoe remains the must-have accessory, and the popular one-piece will be picked up, but with an eye on wearability. Important trends include body consciousness, revealed through transparency, short lengths, belted hourglass silhouettes, and pretty plays on nude.”

Miyako Sekimoto, fashion director, Matsuya, Japan: “This season there weren’t big trends. Dresses have been in the market for two years already, so we want something new. Now we’re very interested in jackets. In general, I liked the trend toward elegance and tribal chic. Junya Watanabe, for instance, combined his denim skirts with African prints for the tops. In accessories, many designers used big hoop earrings, influenced from Africa. I think the financial crisis affected the season a little bit. Last week Chinese stocks were in a very bad condition, so the Chinese buyers are very cautious. But Middle Eastern retailers were buying just as much. I think now Japanese buyers tend to spend more money in New York than in Europe because of the exchange rate. We are devoting bigger budgets for Japanese designers rather than European or American designers this season. If we import from the U.S. or Europe by the time we get the merchandise, it’s the end of February or even the end of March, so then we have only three months to sell. Now that the economy is so bad, we have to make sure we can put merchandise in store as long as possible.”

Cindy Ho, fashion and merchandising director, Villa Moda: “Lanvin, Miu Miu, Tsumori Chisato, Dries Van Noten and Rue du Mail were very strong. After Milan, it is a relief to see [such] strong collections in Paris. Some designers are really playing it safe this season, in a very commercial way, which I believe is due to the economic climate. The styles are commercial, but still we will need to check prices. Good products with appropriate price points plus the right delivery are the key elements of success when the economy is not strong. Compared to last season, collections were more feminine and elegant, with less color and lots of big jewelry. [Budget-wise], we remain on a level with last year.”

Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president, designer merchandising, Nordstrom: “This season, more than ever, is a moment to be a good editor and try and buy the newest and most compelling offerings. Paris is always full of surprises and discoveries. The graceful beauty of Dries Van Noten’s collection was the highlight of the entire fashion season. The sophisticated hand of Stefano Pilati for Yves Saint Laurent created an ultramodern collection. The couture-like dresses at Giambattista Valli were amazing. We loved the mix of eyelet, denim and print at Junya Watanabe. Alber Elbaz brought us a beautiful, colorful collection full of covetable clothes. Haider Ackermann’s modern tailoring will be a great new addition for us. The future fantastic jewelry at Tom Binns will be the perfect accessory for any collection.”

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president, fashion director, Barneys New York: “What is so great about Paris is the true variety. Two of the best shows were very similar but opposite, Lanvin and Junya Watanabe. Both realized volume but in a graceful way. Both had color and print. Both definitely had charm and wit. All of these things are extremely important in a season where we are not sure where the economy is going and how the customer will respond. Collections that offer something different, but also address ease in wearability and are seasonless, will be stars. Stefano Pilati at YSL addressed this perfectly. Nina Ricci’s short-in-the-front, long-in-the-back artistically printed evening dresses were beautiful. Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy already knows how to do bondage, a major trend of the season, and did it with elegance. Overall, I think Paris nails the fashion for the season.”

Michael Fink, vice president, women’s fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue: “Paris was a city of mixed messages on how to dress for the new recession. What doesn’t work: an excessive Eighties ‘Paris Is Burning’ or ‘Let Them-Eat-Cake’ attitude. Self-assured, confident women who wear their labels on the inside will collect the new kimono proportion jackets, skirt-pants, and caged shoes at YSL, or the supersophisticated sportswear separates at Dries Van Noten. If color, print and joy are your thing, then you could do no better than Junya Watanabe and Lanvin. Investment dressing? Go straight to Chanel and Martin Grant to pick up the jackets and dresses that will always be in style. Collect as many statement necklaces and bangles as you can — they’ll dress up anything already in the closet and even can be hung on the wall as art.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus: “Olivier Theyskens opened Paris with a dream of a collection at Nina Ricci, and did a terrific job of reinterpreting the runway at a commercial level. We’re seeing a lot of lingerie and boudoir details in Paris. Plays on sheer fabric, where subtle and tasteful, looked very good to us, and all the shiny and metallic fabrics will entice the customer. We loved Balenciaga’s finale of metallic dresses. Dries Van Noten was one of the standout collections of Paris: His geometrics looked very new and on-target, a good contrast to all the faded florals. Stella McCartney had a terrific collection, with a light spirit and sequins for day. Lanvin had all that beautiful color, and Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld is taking the world of ready-to-wear closer to couture with a level of craftsmanship that’s amazing. I’m loving all this Africana we’re seeing in Paris.”

Stephanie Solomon, vice president and fashion director, Bloomingdale’s: “Paris rocked! Stella McCartney’s cool collection of boyfriend jackets, jumpsuits and beaded dresses showed how the girl with the rock ’n’ roll soul should dress for spring. We loved Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. He stayed true to the vision of the house, which is the epitome of chic. Dior’s upbeat youthful collection of colorful chiffon mini goddess dresses and flippy skirts also was great. Finally, Isabel Marant, a contemporary Parisian force, has hit her stride with her je ne sais quoi approach that will show American women how to dress with French attitude. We loved that Paris gave us a romantic escape.”

Sarah Easley, Beth Buccini, owners, Kirna Zabête: “Considering the financial crisis, more than ever we are looking for love-at-first-sight, showstopping items. It has to be the very best. We found beautiful pieces at Lanvin. It was a truly joyous collection and if anyone has a party — it’ll be where to go. Olivier Theyskens at Nina Ricci did beautiful prints that you can wear head to toe without looking like a victim. A rocker-girl theme was happening in Paris. We are picking up Givenchy to explore that. If you’re going to buy black, it’s going to be in that rocker-chick theme. Another consideration this season was finding supertimeless quality items, like at Azzedine Alaïa. Business for us has been really good, even yesterday. People want to feel good and they want to buy clothes. We are neither cutting nor increasing our budgets. We are working to make each order count.”

Averyl Oates, buying director, Harvey Nichols, London: “Paris was a magpie’s heaven. Balenciaga’s cropped bandage peg-leg trouser is set to be one of the must-have items of the season. Dries Van Noten took the idea of optical illusion and overlaying graphic shapes. Stella McCartney provided the essential pieces that every girl-about-town should have in her wardrobe: relaxed Eighties-inspired jackets, short jumpsuits in washed silk and a variety of tailored or less structured versions of the cropped peg-leg trouser. Eighties body-conscious Lycra dresses à la Robert Palmer were also notable. Paris was about pared-down shapes with jackets and trousers making a comeback. Paris was very much about simple and easy shapes in a monochrome palette with strong trends for nudes, heavy embellished-sequined standout pieces and chunky statement jewelry.”

Nicole Fischelis, vice president and women’s fashion director, Macy’s: “This season is very much about individualism. There’s a return to sportswear and a wind of freedom everywhere. The importance of craft detailing and draping, of embellishment, crystal studding everywhere and sheer continue to be very important, as well as lace. Paris is offering a whole new color palette of pales and new neutrals. Prints continue, but we go from florals to exotic to graphic, as masterfully handled by Dries Van Noten. Highlights included Lanvin’s young elegance, Martin Margiela’s brilliant 20th anniversary show, Rick Owens, the fusion of sportswear and exotica at Ungaro, the trash glam at Balmain, the emotion of Nina Ricci, the charm of Antonio Marras at Kenzo, the modern sportswear approach and color of Chloé and Stella McCartney, the sophistication of Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, red-carpet dresses from Giambattista Valli and the sportswear aesthetic and energy at Jean Paul Gaultier. Off the runway, Angelo Tarlazzi showed a young, feminine and versatile collection.”

Armand Hadida, owner, L’Eclaireur, Paris: “In Paris, designers intellectualize: There’s originality and creativity. Balenciaga was a standout collection with its modern, architectural silhouettes. Junya Watanabe was a surprise. He took African fabrics and reinterpreted them by putting them with jeans, with different materials and colors. Comme des Garçons was as provocative as usual and the collection is even richer when you see it in the showroom. Gareth Pugh is bringing a lot to the fashion world. Designers have to have the courage to break the mold and do something new. This financial crisis is going to deal everybody a new hand. People who manage to complete the fashion marathon will be the people who deserve it, not the plagiarists or those who repeat the same things.”

Betsy Lepore, owner, Jimmy’s, Brooklyn and the Hamptons, N.Y.: “Regardless of an uncertain economy, Paris does what Paris did best: defy the rules and present overwhelmingly short and exquisite party dresses. Such dresses were shown in the retro-inspired collection of Giambattista Valli, whose dresses were perfect for the Plaza Hotel. The party feeling continued for Esteban Cortazar of Emanuel Ungaro, whose floral mélange short cocktail dresses in pleated chiffon were outstanding. Completing the trio of designers perfecting what the girls will be wearing in the up-and-coming party season were the couture designs of Elie Saab. His collection was done in shades resembling a Monet.”

Ebru Sipahi, buying manager for women’s designer, Harvey Nichols, Istanbul: “We were pleased with Paris. We have seen many beautiful collections, but Eighties, exaggerated looks were a bit difficult. Overall, we will be spending about 5 to 10 percent less; however, if we are confident in a brand, we may still increase our open-to-buy. Rock-chick fabulousness is one of the most appealing trends for me, skinny pants with boyfriend jackets or a very masculine look with all crystallized items, along with jumpsuits and lingerie-inspired designs. In terms of accessories, Panama hats are a hit, ankle-cuff sandals, extreme platform shoes and Chanel’s feather-trimmed shoes, oversize and jeweled clutches, big bangles and giant necklaces. Our favorite collections were Balmain, Stella McCartney and Chanel.”

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