PARIS — Something for everyone.
That seemed to be Paris designers’ strategy for fall, and it left retailers almost breathless in their praise of the season as they lauded the city’s creativity and showmanship that trumped other fashion capitals. A wide range of trends and styles stirred buyers’ hopes that the several-years-long drought in women’s designer ready-to- wear sales at retail might finally be coming to an end. Karen Katz, president and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus Group, in reporting higher 2014 profits, said Tuesday, “We believe there is going to be a reason to buy ready-to-wear. We feel pretty positive about the kinds of trends we are seeing.”
In trends for fall, retailers pointed to a wealth of outerwear — particularly maxi coats, capes, fur and bathrobe styles — along with cropped pants, tall boots or short booties, lace dresses, turtlenecks, high-neck blouses, tunics, Mod footwear and bold earrings.
“Once again, Paris was the highlight of the season,” said Harrods fashion director Helen David. “Paris has slowly been taking more and more of our open-to-buy allocation, and now accounts for approximately two-thirds of our budget.”
“Paris has given us the strongest season out of all cities. In fact, it is one of the strongest seasons in years: Every major house has pulled out winning collections,” concurred Sarah Rutson, vice president of global buying at Net-a-porter.
Ken Downing, fashion director and senior vice president of Neiman Marcus, could hardly contain his enthusiasm.
“Once Paris kicked in, it was sensational,” he said, classifying the season’s fashion message as “that whole schizophrenic style that defined the Seventies — psychedelia, bohemia, folkloric, the Victorian reference and the early emergence of punk in 1976.”
“Up until Paris I was concerned that the runway collections hadn’t been as strong as they needed, but Paris delivered again and again to restore any doubts I had,” said Stephen Ayres, head of fashion buying and merchandising at Liberty in London. “Paris has been incredibly strong, and the buzz and energy surrounding the shows has been great.”
Collections widely lauded by retailers included Chanel, Dior, Dries Van Noten, Givenchy, Haider Ackermann and Maison Margiela, where John Galliano made his rtw debut and a return to the Paris catwalk after his flameout and conviction for anti-Semitic remarks in 2011.
Valentino was also a favorite, with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson walking in the finale to announce the sequel to their cult comedy “Zoolander.” “How can we not mention the Blue Steel moment?” said Downing. “This supersophisticated collection with a supersilly ending. It was great.”
“The Paris season for fall was exceptionally strong,” echoed Colleen Sherin, vice president and fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, adding that “the strong American dollar is making the European collections even more enticing.”
Given the strong dollar, Beth Buccini, cofounder of Kirna Zabête in New York, noted that her budget for Paris is up 20 percent. “We feel it for the first time this season, which is thrilling, because the customer is very price-conscious nowadays, regardless of how much money she has,” Buccini said, projecting sales in designer rtw will go up this year.
“We absolutely loved Paris,” she said, mentioning Valentino, Lanvin, Dior, Chloé, Saint Laurent and Givenchy among highlights. “These shows are the reason why we come to Paris. They’re inspirational and we do our best business here.”
Kelly Golden, owner of Neapolitan Collection in Winnetka, Ill., said her Paris budgets will be up, too. “We are adding new lines, more categories from current collections and, with the strong dollar, prices will be more attractive for our clients. Our business continues to grow and Paris is a key driver in that growth,” she said.
Laure Heriard Dubreuil, cofounder of The Webster Miami in Miami said: “We increase our buy, since we have more stores and our store traffic is growing, but we don’t speculate on the currency market. We stick to the fashion business, and as payments are at a different time, we don’t know where the dollar versus the euro will be at that point anyway.” In terms of fashion shown in Paris, she said: “I feel very confident, as the offer was so rich, beautiful and timeless.”
Sebla Refig Devidas, women’s buying director at Turkey’s Beymen, said more budgets would be allocated to Paris as it had scaled back somewhat on pre-collections.
“I feel more confident about the show collections and the most positive aspect was that the collections were more down-to-earth, wearable and easy to create stories,” Devidas said. “That perfectly matches with the client who still wants to spend on luxury, but wear it multiple times.”
New discoveries for the retailer included Ellery, Vanessa Seward, Kolor, Sacai and Pallas.
Charlotte Tasset, general merchandise manager, women’s apparel, lingerie, beauty and children’s apparel at Printemps, said her budgets were up again this season.
“It was a fairly dark season with quite a heavy atmosphere in the choice of colors, fabrics and silhouettes: a lot of jacquard, a return of velvet, a lot of tweed and thick bouclette wool,” she said. “Austere attitudes underlined the general impression,” she added, noting feminine touches came in the shape of fur, lace and embroideries.
“The overriding mood in Paris was darkly feminine and very, very sexy. Women love this look. Whether it be neo-grunge or a romantic Victoriana vibe, there are so many new items for all our customers to embrace and drive sales. Black is back, what can be easier than that?” said Suzanne Timmins, senior vice president and fashion director at Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor.
“When you get to Paris, there’s not one clear message: You get so many original options,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president of design merchandising at Nordstrom. “I thought Chanel was spectacular. You had so many choices there with one collection.”
Kalinsky said Paris offered an array of compelling outerwear and rich textiles including velvets and brocades. “I think our customer is going to have the same emotional reaction to them that I did,” he said.
“Overall, the fall season between New York, London and Milan was lacking some clarity and direction, perhaps due to the amount of change at numerous houses. But Paris crystallized the season for us with an impressive succession of powerful collections,” said Linda Fargo, senior vice president and fashion and store presentation director at Bergdorf Goodman.
“There was a lot of diversity of vision, there were also enough unifying specific trends, such as the curiosity in gender-blending, dips into the Seventies with midlengths, chunky heels and the blouses. You can’t miss cropped pants, T-necks, velvet, lurex, lace or shearling varietals,” she added.
“Designers explored the idea of what it means to be empowered and strong, yet feminine and sensual,” said Brooke Jaffe, operating vice president of fashion direction for women’s rtw at Bloomingdale’s.
“With millions of viewers watching live-streaming and Instagramming, designers need to make their viewers dream about fashion, start a dialogue, disrupt the norm and push everyday dressing into the future,” said Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction at Canada’s Holt Renfrew. “Paris succeeded by offering up purposeful collections with crystal-clear concepts. Collections were powerful, romantic, sumptuous and bold, with a sense of freedom as women are now in control of their individual self expression.”
Natalie Kingham, buying director for Matchesfashion.com, said “the mood of the season is a woman undone with raw edges, different to the bohemian trend that is also a strong theme. There is also a strong presence of bold color in collections from red to green, blue and pastels. This season feels ideal for a woman who embraces strong and diverse color, often offset with tones of camel.” While most were in agreement that the Paris shows offered something for everyone, others saw this as a lack of vision.
Detractors included Kazuyoshi Minamimagoe, senior creative director at Beams in Tokyo. “Generally speaking, there were no outstanding new trends,” he said. “Luxury brands shifted their collections more toward real clothes, thus allowing buyers more to choose from. Maison Margiela and Carven, both with their new designers, will probably match the Beams clientele.”
“In my opinion, it was not one of the most inspiring Paris seasons,” said Tiziana Cardini, La Rinascente fashion director. “Many shows lacked direction and vision and felt quite repetitive. Showmanship often replaced true innovation and new ideas. However, there were a few strong shows that confirmed established talents.” Cardini’s picks for Paris were Junya Watanabe, Céline, Givenchy, Dries Van Noten and Valentino.
But such sentiment was rare.
“We’ve seen opposing ideas and differentiated aesthetics that coexist beautifully within collections: rough and refined, tough and romantic, dressy and casual, fluid and fitted, shiny and matte,” said Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director at Barneys New York.
“The unexpected mixing of these elements and taking inspiration from different decades [and] centuries and modernizing them for today’s audience feels fresh and exciting,” she said.
Macy’s group vice president and fashion director, global forecasting Nicole Fischelis liked the pairing of romantic, feminine ruffles and sheers with more masculine coats, as well as tuxedos and high-end hippie styles. “There are a lot of great items to capitalize on,” she said.
Stylebop.com fashion director Leila Yavari predicted, “Come fall, a sumptuous dark romanticism will reign supreme. Amidst all the drama and fin-de-siècle embellishment, the mood was surprisingly upbeat — and the layering provided plenty of wonderful options that will translate from runway to real life.”
Yavari said her customers gravitate toward strong statement pieces. “We hope to encourage growth in that sector by investing in one-of-a-kind buys, of which there were plenty. Transitional dressing is also a key market segment — and designers certainly addressed this with many versatile pieces that move seamlessly between climates,” she said.
Jennifer Cuvillier, style director at Le Bon Marché, said the Paris season was strong on creativity and salability. “Accessories were strongly represented in this season’s shows, especially jewelry, which had long been absent from the catwalk, so that is a good commercial opportunity,” she noted.
“It’s been incredible,” said Ikram Goldman, owner of Ikram in Chicago. “I found that in a pool of so many designers, there was a precision in each designer’s voice that we looked at. The designers were very clear in their message. This season was like a pure understanding of the story.”
She praised the variety of pants shapes on offer. “It’s a sailor pant. It’s a high-waist pant. It’s a low pant. It’s a wide pant,” she said — a sentiment mirrored by several buyers when it came to skirts and dresses, too.
“We are optimistic about the autumn ahead with the rich textures, feathers, quilting and satin all pointing to luxurious wardrobing of strong and rich pieces with an abundance of fur (or fake fur as seen at Stella), which will increase desirability, and automatically raise ticket prices,” said Averyl Oates, commercial director, fashion divisions at Galeries Lafayette.
“The bohemian look will continue from spring into fall, but she will be much more luxurious. The haute bohemian will reign, adorned with suede and silk fringes, beautiful embroideries and elaborate macramés,” summed up Golden of Neapolitan Collection.
“In Paris, the diversification of fashion is huge [in terms of] creativity and price range. All sorts of designs can be found here, and this is why it is the most exciting place for fashion,” said Cindy Ho, fashion director of 360 Style in Kuwait.