Contemporary customers are out shopping in force to refresh their wardrobes this spring, particularly for special occasions such as weddings, their return to the office and to feel good about getting dressed up again.
Despite soaring gas prices and inflation and growing concerns over the economy in the second half, as well as the war in Ukraine and ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19, a survey of department and specialty store retailers found that business remains brisk across the board in the contemporary category. Printed and bright-colored dresses, wide-leg trousers, white denim and jackets are among the key spring looks that are clicking from vendors such as L’Agence, Staud, Self-Portrait, Nili Lotan, Wandler, Ulla Johnson, Khaite, Cinq à Sept, A.L.C., Alice + Olivia, Veronica Beard, Mother, and Zimmermann.
“At Neiman Marcus, the contemporary category has performed well and we are pleased with the overall performance,” said Lana Todorovich, president and chief merchandising officer of Neiman Marcus. “We have seen great success in the dress classification in particular, both in occasion and resortwear styles.
“Our customers gravitate toward feminine expression, and this season’s trend has delivered joyful fashion at its best: Ulla Johnson’s midi floral poplin dresses, Zimmermann’s printed floral dresses with appliqués, Veronica Beard’s ruched dresses and Alice + Olivia’s embroidered cotton short dresses have been some of the most notable bestsellers,” she said.
Over the past season, Neiman Marcus has brought in more than 40 new brands and designers.
Among the brands that have had standout performances are Nervi’s Nami feather trim dress; Paskal’s tiered tulle and laser appliqué dresses; Anderson Bell’s crochet tanks and wide-leg pants and shirred waist poplin dresses; Alessia Zamattio’s romantic silk printed maxidresses and ruffle trim georgette blouses, and Zhivago’s strong shoulder cocktail and vibrant colored short dresses and jumpsuits, she said.
Asked what has surprised her the most about the spring season, she said, “We have a strong contemporary business overall, but this season’s vibrance and customer demand were exceptional.” They have seen a refreshing take on modern workwear that blurs the line between off-duty leisurewear and the new office uniform with color-coordinating sets and suiting featuring tailored blazers paired with shorts and miniskirts.
Discussing whether the consumer is buying for the weekend, office or traveling, Todorovich said, “Versatility is key. The Neiman Marcus customer lives a very social life and is drawn to styles with vibrant colors, feminine styles and bold patterns that are perfect for evening cocktails or a night out. We also have a strong base of customers that come to us for professional, tailored pieces that can be worn to the office season after season.”
As for which current trends have staying power, she said, “We believe workwear will continue to be strong as we move into fall. Tailored jackets, blazers and a return to the trouser with more feminine lines. We also see the social occasion dressing continuing with a shift towards feminine silhouettes and details of cutouts and embellishment. Consistent with our Fashioned for Change program launch, we believe that vegan and faux leather trends have staying power and are pleased to see it expressed in more variations in pants, shorts and dresses.”
Shea Jensen, executive vice president, general merchandise manager at Nordstrom, said, “We continue to see versatility as key to the wardrobe. As customers return to office, they are refreshing their work wardrobes with brands like Theory, Veronica Beard and L’Agence, driven by suiting, jackets and career pants. More than ever, denim sit at the heart of the wardrobe, and today that means customers are looking for a lot more than denim for their day off. We are seeing an expansion of leg openings with denim: from flare to boot legs and wide legs.”
Shea said Mother has been a customer favorite this spring, and Rails recently launched a denim assortment as an expansion to its lifestyle offering “and we are seeing a positive response from customers who love the brand and can now buy their favorite denim from Rails, too.”
“We are also continuing to see customers have an affinity toward bright color, print and celebratory dressing; a great example here is Farm Rio,” Jensen said.
Their customer is responding positively to new brands like TWP, which offers elevated suiting, and Favorite Daughter, specifically for its assortment of pants and jackets. She said they’re also seeing a strong response to casual brands like Xirena and Mille.
There are two occasions Nordstrom customers are shopping for, she said — work and weddings.
As for which trends will have staying power, she said, “We are seeing an incredible balance of bold color and tailoring. There is a return of structure on the horizon.”
Yumi Shin, chief merchant at Bergdorf Goodman, said the retailer is seeing strong sales in the contemporary sector.
“As weddings and events have been back in full force, so has interest in dressy options and elevated pieces in saturated color, and gowns that make a statement. Summer essentials for travel are also a priority and our customer has been loving the handcrafted Pippa Holt kaftans in cheerful bright colors,” she said. She pointed to Ulla Johnson’s bestselling keyhole cutout dress, “which ticks all the boxes — the flattering silhouette and vibrant color are photogenic and versatile.”
Shin also noted that there’s been a renewed interest and need for versatile workwear that does not compromise on comfort as the new novelty tailoring is relaxed as a full look. The store has had a strong reaction to its seasonal brand launches such as Recto from its BG Radar Edit.
The contemporary customer has been refreshing her wardrobe by updating staples such as denim. One of the styles that has been in high demand is the Wandler jean, according to Shin.
Tracy Margolies, chief merchandising officer at Saks Fifth Avenue, said bestselling brands at the retailer this spring include Aje, Alice + Olivia, A.L.C., Cinq à Sept, Farm Rio, L’Agence, Staud, Veronica Beard and Zimmermann. Bestselling looks include spring-forward occasion dresses for warm weather events, back-to-work blazers and blouses in colorful, fun prints.
Specifically, she cited the Aje hybrid minidress; Alice + Olivia’s eyelet minidress and smocked floral blouse; A.L.C.’s pleated blouson dress; Cinq à Sept’s boucle blazer; Farm Rio’s pineapple garden romper; L’Agence printed silk charmeuse blouse; Staud’s A-line dress; Veronica Beard’s beacon dickey jacket, and Zimmermann’s rhythmic belted button-front minidress as bestsellers.
According to Margolies, new brands that are performing well include Aknvas, Alemais, En Saison, Fe Noel, Hannah Artwear, Piece of White, Sabina Musayev and TWP. She said they’re seeing bright colors and happy prints from new brands resonate extremely well with their customers.
Among the bestselling looks are Aknvas’ rib-knit bodycon dress; Alemais Wanda Fish midi sundress; En Saison tiered midi dress; Fe Noel’s ombre midi slipdress; Hannah Artwear’s floral open back maxidress; Piece of White’s one-shoulder linen midi dress; Sabina Musayev’s floral tieneck midi dress, and TWP The Morning After silk shirt.
“We are excited to see a return of tailoring this spring which coincides with customers returning to the office. Our blazer and jacket business has been incredible and the demand for tailored pants has come back strong as well. It seems the idea of dressing up for the workplace again has definitely taken hold. Even if customers are working on a flexible schedule and only going into the office a few days a week, we’re seeing them make the most of those days in the office from a fashion perspective,” Margolies said.
One of the biggest trends she’s seeing that has staying power is tailoring. “We believe this trend will continue to grow into the fall season, as many customers have not updated their fall workwear wardrobes in two years. This feels like a powerful moment for jackets, blazers and suiting. Additionally, we expect to continue seeing joy and playfulness in clothing — bold colors, lively prints and lots of embellishment throughout the upcoming seasons,” Margolies said.
“We’ve seen strong performance in contemporary,” said Arielle Siboni, RTW fashion director at Bloomingdale’s.
She said bestsellers this spring have been dresses in easy silhouettes and florals like its Aqua floral print belted dress. Denim, especially wide leg and white denim, has been very popular as Mother’s The Hustler high-rise frayed flare leg ankle jeans. “Staud has also been a favorite, especially the Rigina crocheted floral cropped top and Oscar crocheted floral pants, as our customer has been gravitating toward crochet this season,” said Siboni.
Among the new brands to Bloomingdale’s that have sold well are Johanna Ortiz’s resortwear such as the Couscous Joy dress and Rhode’s Pia dress. She also noted that Veronica Beard has been very strong with its Miller dickey jacket as a standout.
“What has surprised us most is that our customer is interested in investing in their wardrobe across every aspect of their lifestyle, from work to occasions, while also still investing in luxury brands. We have also been surprised by the explosion of interest in white jeans. While they have often been a summer staple, we’re seeing that this year’s white jeans are taking the place of last year’s denim shorts,” said Siboni.
She also noted that suiting has been very strong, especially blazers from brands such as Theory and L’Agence.
Discussing trends that have staying power, she said, “As we look at the new lifestyle our customer is settling into, there are several trends we expect to stick around. We love tailoring, utility and wide leg jeans, which are perfect for the most casual office environment and hybrid work that is becoming the norm. With weddings back in full force, we also expect embellishment to continue to trend. And crochet and brights have staying power for summer travel,” said Siboni.
Divya Mathur, chief merchant at Intermix, said the retailer’s newly relaunched Designer Re/Mix “has performed incredibly.” She said Intermix is doing particularly well with such new and established designers as New Studios matte sequin sets, Mach and Mach’s crystals bow shoes and dresses, Laquan Smith’s daring silhouettes, Altuzarra’s fresh take on tie dye, Dion Lee’s parachute pants and Christopher Esber’s dresses.
What surprised her most about spring was the customer’s desire to be dressed up.
“She is clearly looking for an emotional wardrobe refresh in the form of novelty, bold color, and the season’s key trends like cutouts, statement heels and Y2K moments,” she said.
“She is buying for travel, events and return to work — pretty much the only thing she is not buying is basics and super casual. Event is also a major focus with our customers having upward of 10 events this social season,” she said.
Turning to trends she believes have staying power, Mathur said, “I think we will continue to see event and ‘guest of’ dressing ramp up over the next two years. The idea of being ‘dressed up’ all the time is also one I think will continue as we start to see fabrications like sequin, metallic and shine being worn for day. We are also seeing a big resurgence of the trouser, and can see this becoming a focus for fall as she gravitates toward more tailored pieces with a menswear vibe as an offset to all of the skin baring cutouts from spring.”
April Henning, chief merchant, at Moda Operandi, said, “Our strongest selling brands this spring are Diotima, Magda Butrym, Des Phemmes (exclusive to Moda), Paco Rabanne, Alex Perry, Khaite and Del Core. This range of emerging and established designers shows us how open to newness the Moda client is. At an item level, Alex Perry’s Ledger satin crepe gown in pink and black are both bestsellers, and Paco Rabanne’s bodice hugging ring-detailed jacquard knit maxidress is another firm favorite. Des Phemmes’ collection has received tremendous traction on the site with its of-the-moment, Y2K-inspired approach to tie-dye pieces and sequins.”
As for new brands that are performing well, she pointed to Diotima, Del Core and High Sport. Diotima, for example, is a Brooklyn-based brand specializing in crochet, whose pieces are hand-crafted by female artisans in Jamaica. Its pre-fall 2022 collection featured intricate crochet inspired by doilies and interwoven with crystals. Its signature Sade Crystal mesh midi dress sold out completely in both black and neutral.
Asked what surprised her about the spring season, Henning said, “There was a significant return to trousers for our customer. We are seeing our client restoring her closet with elevated day dressing with relaxed separates. She is returning to the real world in baby steps, and she wants to look polished and this piece is an easy approach. Trousers are replacing jeans, and we notice our clients buying into looser-fitting, full-length, effortless styles.” New to Moda are By Malene Birger’s Cymbaria striped linen-blend wide-leg pants, which she called a “”perfect example of our clients’ ideal summer trouser.”
As for the biggest trends that she believes have staying power, Henning said, “Tailoring had a light reintroduction in pre-fall 2022 with relaxed trousers and matching vests. It evolved further for fall 2022 with casual suiting. Now for resort 2023, we’re seen the reintroduction of tailoring in a big way that feels more formal, with the shift to three piece suits — i.e., a more fitted trend, blazer and trouser. We expect to see plenty more suiting come spring 2023.
“Suitcase-ready resort pieces are here to stay, specifically more conspicuous styles such as Louisa Ballou’s adventurous Sex Wax one-piece swimsuit,” she said.
Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear at Matchesfashion, said in the contemporary category, the retailer has seen strong performance from The Frankie Shop, Toteme, 16 Arlington, Jacquemus, Blaze Milano, Ashish, Nili Lotan, Zimmermann, Norma Kamali, La Vie Style House, Bernadette and Self-Portrait. “This diverse mix is a reflection of the way our customers have been shopping. From strong occasion looks for all of their summer events and weddings to more interesting wardrobe staples like a patchwork jacket from Cawley Studio, which has been a bestseller this season,” Wiggins said.
As far as which new brands have sold well, she said bold, exclusive styles from Kika Vargas (ruffled silk blend taffeta dress) continue to perform, along with Ulla Johnson (quilted patchwork jacket), Shushu/Tong (floral embellished wool blend coat) and a new brand exclusive to Matchesfashion, Caro Editions (reworked Levi’s denim patchwork jacket).
“We knew occasionwear would be back in a big way for spring 2022, but it has also been great to see such strong engagement with interesting wardrobe staples and our tailoring from brands such as Blaze Milano and Sacai. We are seeing our customers invest in statement wardrobe pieces to carry them through fall.”
She said Matchesfashion has seen its customers really engage with occasionwear, especially its exclusive styles. Highlighted brands include Bernadette (Maddie floral cloth print maxidress and Winne blow-shoulder taffeta gown) and Self Portrait (bow-tied crystal-embellishment taffeta minidress).
As far as the biggest trend she’s seeing that will have staying power, she said tailoring, wide-leg denim, blazers, new neutrals, shimmer and shine.
Blue and Cream, the four-unit retailer in New York with stores on Madison Avenue, the Bowery, Bleecker Street (opening this month), and East Hampton, is having brisk sales with contemporary sportswear for events, weekends and work.
“Contemporary has been holding steady and doing well for us, despite all the craziness,” said Samantha Greenes, head buyer of Blue and Cream. “People need some new fashion and trends for spring. Everyone has weddings and parties and are coming out of COVID-19. They want contemporary and they want something new and fresh.” Blue and Cream is more a “weekend destination store,” she said, but it has also done well with clothing for work, such as L’Agence blazers in different colors. A purple one, for $575, was a particular bestseller.
For the weekend, she said people are into sexy cutouts and she’s been doing well with cutout dresses by Zimmermann and crop tops and miniskirts from Cotton Citizen.
In jeans and pants, she said the wider the better. She’s done well with wide-leg trousers from Nili Lotan, and wide-leg jeans from Moussy. She also noted that the rise is going lower.
As far as dresses, she said bold bright colors are selling well, along with both long and minis.
Blue and Cream continues to sell comfortable sets, such as terry cloth sets from Aviator Nation and its own private label terry cloth set.
Overall, she said, “Work is definitely more casual now. People are not wearing a suit to work anymore. They’re wearing a blazer with wide-leg pants to work. The dresses are more for events.”
Dina Grossman, partner and co-owner of Great Stuff, the five-unit contemporary specialty store chain, based in New York, with units in Scarsdale, Rye, Chappaqua, N.Y., and Westport and Greenwich, Ct., said, “For us our business is up over the last couple of years. We’re having double-digit increases which is great.
“We’re seeing a lot of pent-up demand for occasionwear, dresses and pretty things to wear. They want to wear skirts and dresses and want to feel dressed up again,” Grossman said. “A lot of occasions are back on the calendar, and people are sick of looking sloppy and want to wear more fitted things and want to show their figures more. They wants prints and color.”
Floral printed dresses from Ulla Johnson “have been fantastic,” and Cara Cara dresses have done well, as well as Fuzzi, she said. Dresses and skirts from Xirena have done well. Other strong sellers have been Staud and Ciao Lucia.
She said cutouts aren’t for their customer, who don’t find them age appropriate.
As far as jeans, they’re straighter and more fashion forward, not skinny. And pants are a little bit drapier and looser. “We’re selling a ton of Nili Lotan,” said Grossman, especially her pants and shirts.
She said the biggest surprise was how much skirts and dresses are selling. “In the past, they’d buy a few, now they’re buying twice as many,” Grossman said. In particular, they’re selling long dresses and tiered skirts. “Everything is a lot softer, and printed,” she said.
As far as which trends she anticipates will continue into the fall, she said, “Definitely a softer shape, not as skinny, more feminine blouses and dresses for sure.”