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NEW YORK – A tricky path between safe and surprising.

This story first appeared in the September 21, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That was the fine line designers had to walk during New York Fashion Week — and buyers generally gave them a thumbs-up for hitting the mark in a commercial way, even though some criticized the lack of creativity. “They were trying to push forward without being too challenging,” said Tiziana Cardini of Italy’s La Rinascente. “They have taken risks, but in a very smart way. It was prices. Some store executives said creativity suffered as a result of the strong emphasis on the bottom line. “Instead of having free rein to design whatever you want, you’re [constrained,]” said Kelly Golden of Neapolitan in Chicago. “It showed in the clothes. Fabrics weren’t as elaborate or embellished. The season was very commercial.”

Louis Boston’s Debi Greenberg, agreed, saying, “I find lowering price points to be a very dangerous territory. Designers were price conscious with some pieces. The fabrics were not as good as they were before due to the pricing. You’re changing the product.”

Other retailers took a different view. Stephanie Solomon at Bloomingdale’s said, “I saw commercial, which to me is not safe, it’s smart. I saw experimentation and I saw lots of creativity, more than in other years. All designers are focusing on price, but they didn’t skimp on the beauty of the fabrication and focus of their craft.”

Collections most often mentioned by buyers as standouts included Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Rodarte, Oscar de la Renta, Narciso Rodriguez, Phillip Lim, Tory Burch and Alexander Wang, while several pointed to relative newcomers Prabal Gurung and Joseph Altuzarra.

Retailers found newness in cut-outs and transparencies, shorts, harem pants, color, crisp shirts, ruffled, ruched or tucked dresses, leather and oversize boyfriend shirts. Realizing that a little shoulder pad goes a long way, designers moved away from the aggressive Eighties silhouette to a softer Forties feel.

Here is what the buyers had to say:

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus: “I’m loving all the denim and chambray with denim jackets, skirts and dresses and denim motorcycle jackets, and the amount of color on the runways. Our customers crave color, from shades of blues mixed to greens and a sunset color palette of marigold and terra-cotta mixed with neutrals. It was nice to see the aggressive Eighties girl morph into a softer Forties attitude. I liked the newness of very artistic painterly prints, peep-toe boots under dresses and gymnasium chic with a bit of a nod to Norma Kamali. I’m also loving anoraks, which will replace the women’s trench, the shirtwaist dress and crisp men’s-style shirting. I feel very strongly about shorts, casual and relaxed or worn with a jacket.

“I loved Narciso Rodriguez’s ability to keep his collection very architectural and still have softness and movement and the sleeveless jackets and beautiful dresses in prints. Also, Donna Karan’s take on the suit, Proenza Schouler’s amazing sportif morphed into tribal, Rodarte’s spectacular pieces, Phillip Lim’s beautiful dresses, Richard Chai’s washed leathers in neutrals or faded colors and Marc Jacobs’ effusive ruffles, great safari jackets and coats.

“The customer is buying things she doesn’t already have in her wardrobe. She’s very item driven. Newness is paramount and a price tag that brings a smile to her face is nice. The newness we’ve seen on the runways in New York will help add to the success we’re looking for in this challenging economy.”

Colleen Sherin, fashion market director of Saks Fifth Avenue: “The spring-summer 2010 New York collections exceeded expectations and provided us with a healthy dose of fantasy along with accessible fashion. Key trends included architectural influences, with sharp, clean lines, contrasted by a softer, more sensual way of dressing, with a casual elegance. A chic, natural color palette was dominant in many collections, although bright shots of color are equally important.

“Mini lengths looked fresh and young, and lent themselves to the season’s optimistic mood. Cut-outs and transparencies were seen on body-conscious dresses. Feather trims added a playful touch of whimsy and have become the summer equivalent of fur. Must-have items include the new soft, relaxed pants in fluid fabrications; flouncy shorts, which have become the new skirt of the season; one-shoulder silhouettes; shirts and shirtdresses. The jumpsuit continues. I am especially excited by the artful dresses that we’ve seen, with origami folds and flowers, asymmetric cuts, pleating and draping details.

“Standouts were Vera Wang for the ethereal beauty of the collection, Proenza Schouler for fabulous mixed-media cocktail dresses embellished with paillettes and feathers, Marc Jacobs for never failing to delight, Rag & Bone for chambray shirting and waistcoats, Ralph Lauren for his fresh take on all-American sportswear. Others included J.Mendel, Marchesa, Phillip Lim, Calvin Klein, Thakoon and Oscar de la Renta.”

Ed Burstell, buying director of Liberty of London: “Overall, New York Fashion Week was a little bit hit or miss. Some things were a little forced. Michael Kors doing Space Age, for example. I loved Alexander Wang. He showed some skin, but it wasn’t vulgar. It was a light take on Americana and the perfect spring show. I also liked Diane von Furstenberg and Joseph Altuzarra’s pretty collection with some wonderful details. Since I’ve been [at Liberty of London], part of my mission has been to introduce more American brands. In the last six months, we’ve started selling Wang, Vince, Rag & Bone, Griffon, Marchesa and Opening Ceremony. We also buy Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

“There’s definitely a conscious effort to keep prices down. When you put a lot of that together, you need to come up with an original idea. Things were a little safe and there were not enough risks. When times are tough you need to give the consumer a compelling reason to buy. You need something that changes your attitude. That’s why I was a little disappointed.”

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director La Rinascente:
“The real value of this season is that every designer has been trying to make his or her vision more clear, more precise and more individual without following trends for the sake of it. The common trend is that everybody has tried to be innovative but with an eye on the market. They were trying to find the special pieces that will always be interesting for the customer. Customers are becoming more choosy. They’re going to spend money with an eye toward quality, craftsmanship and ideas. We are all trying to do the best to attract the customer in a smart and creative way. Designers have all opened up the price range. They are making the best out of the conditions they face.

“Calvin Klein did a great show and I liked Proenza Schouler, Narciso Rodriguez, Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang. I loved Marc Jacobs. He has this outrageousness, this courage, which is really unique. He has a brilliant way of putting references together, mixing them up and spitting them out in a very original way. Even if some of his shows are more coherent than others, every season he gives you some inspiration and a unique point of view. This season was a very sophisticated, insider approach. If you know fashion you really appreciated it. We are also following the new designers very closely. New York is really good for that because it offers a real platform for new designers to be seen.”

Stephanie Solomon, vice president and fashion director for women’s ready-to-wear and accessories at Bloomingdale’s: “It was a very strong fashion week. Donna Karan continues to amaze with her ability to evolve her aesthetics. Somehow she hit the right note this season with fabrications and color palette. It’s easier and more casual. You can see the workmanship and appreciate the craft of designing. I felt the same way about Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein; they came to this moment. I love that Marc Jacobs took a romantic approach to dressing. It may have been over the top, but you know there are key pieces in the collection. Calvin Klein’s fabrics were awesome to look at and the architectural designs would let the woman wear the clothes rather than the clothes wear the woman. Phi’s collection was something to rave about; Andreas Melbostad is on a whole different wavelength with novel ideas. We’re so happy that we’re showcasing Prabal Gurung. We plan to pick up Kimberly Orvitz, a new designer on the scene with eight or 10 looks.

“There are really two dresses for spring — one very fitted with texture of cut-outs and another with foldings or ruffles and a not-in-your-face, less overt sexiness. In general, dresses are much more sophisticated. Key items include harem pants and shorts worn with jackets or worn as a suit. I loved all the different juxtapositions that came together with a very peaceful feeling. There was more emotion in the clothes. But it was ridiculous to go to from the tents to Milk Studios and back. It just added to the stress of these shows.”

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York: “Spring 2010 will be inspiring to the customer. I am dreaming every night about Rodarte. The imagination, the inspiration of the endangered condor, the colors and applications of fabric, the silhouettes, the edge. The condor was a metaphor for the season. It’s a prehistoric animal that has survived this long, but was almost extinct.

“Proenza was a charmer and had great day clothes and must-have short evening dresses. Alexander Wang raised it a notch from last season and Phillip Lim’s show was so pretty and smart. Altuzarra is growing fast in his talent. Narciso Rodriguez’s show was beautiful and his long dresses were the best in New York. The research and development of fabrics at Marc Jacobs, Proenza and Rodarte were spectacular. Because of computer technology, almost every collection had prints whose origins made the clothes seem modern, not retro. Many designers placed a strong emphasis on price. The showroom tells all but I think there is a place for lower price point lines but only if the approach is fresh and new. Lower price does not mean lower quality or less creativity. I think Richard Chai did a great job of introducing his Love collection, full of great style. We loved the khaki trenchcoats on the runways and particularly loved the red one at Phillip Lim.

“We learned a lot from Fashion’s Night Out. It really helped us. There are more customers out there than we think. We must entice and lure them into the stores with things that engage and educate them.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation of Bergdorf Goodman: “The new season showed collections that were far more relaxed and at ease than fall, which favored more aggressive moods. Many designers showed more volume, draping and softness around the body. Fuller looks newer. Maybe as a reflection of our new world, designers embraced imperfection and asymmetry — a kind of controlled chaos. We were happy to see the preponderance of prints that started in resort carry through, as well as a better balance of color to black. This always enlivens the floor and can cause a shopping swoon. We loved the use of classic American utility fabrics such as fatigue green, denim, T-shirt, jersey and khaki and were particularly keen on all the ‘borrowing from boys,’ as seen in softly tailored jackets over fluid dresses, and deflated shorts and pants. We will proceed with caution with all the slashes, peekaboo and transparencies.

“We are most excited about the momentum and design quality coming out of Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, Rag & Bone, Adam and Richard Chai. They have been more democratic in their pricing without losing any of their edge and integrity. Rodarte once again drew us into their unique and special world. Diane von Furstenberg gave us the best showroom appointment thus far, with clothes that can easily fulfill many fashion whims come spring.”

Sarah Lerfel, buyer, Colette, Paris: “I think there was a good energy. I loved Proenza Schouler, Rodarte and Marc Jacobs. For Proenza, it was very fresh to see the color and the soft inspiration. For Jacobs, it was what he knows well. Thakoon did a good, balanced collection with easy to wear pieces. Alexander Wang was very good and Phi confirmed their direction. I went to see many young designers, [including] Josette Atudant and Matthew Ames, which was a great first collection. There were interesting accessories and some interesting jewelry, including a collection by Emily Love.

“I don’t consider prices at the fashion shows, but, yes, I suppose there will be a greater emphasis on price. Our shop is in a very special position. We have customers who want new trends anyway [without such an intense focus on cost]. I’m not worried that it will be a good season. There are strong pieces everywhere. The season was not a big surprise, there was no big revolution. The designers did what they know how to do. Maybe they started leaning to a new direction, but it was a little bit safe.”

Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction at Toronto-based Holt Renfrew: “The week was very optimistic with a beautiful lightweight feeling to the clothes and beautiful palettes. The season was fresh and modern and spoke to a new generation who is traveling and packing light. In this economy, it’s all about fit and quality, looking at clothing and saying, ‘This is worth the money I’m spending.’ If it’s not going to jump out at the customer, she’s not going to buy it.

“Oscar de la Renta understands his woman and understands the casual lifestyle. At the same time, he knows this woman needs a structured, tailored suit, and he still makes it feel modern. Marc Jacobs is a visionary. He took essential pieces and cultural elements from around the world and gave it back to us in a very interesting way. Where’s the salability? Underneath it all. He had beautiful toppers and trenches and the most beautiful soft ruffled dresses. Tory Burch got it right by taking the essentials and putting them together in a new way and democratizing fashion. She’s giving us beautiful clothes at not extraordinary prices. Donna Karan took the skirt suit and dress and made it modern. Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang are speaking to a new generation and I love their vision.

“Everything looked very salable. There was an eye toward salability, yet there was enough art and newness that will compel women to buy.”


Jennifer Wheeler, vice president of women’s designer apparel at Nordstrom: “Designers clearly made an effort to keep their runway presentations focused, relevant and yet compelling. There is definitely optimism in the hemline, meaning…they’ve gone up. Not only short shorts, but short skirts and dresses. The one shoulder trend that emerged for fall continues. Knife pleats, ruffles and sequins were the feminine details that finished off the looks. Perforated leather, ruffled details, bolder prints and athletic/track suits all looked fresh. The best colors were yellow, nudes, acid greens and teals.

My favorite shows were Proenza Schouler, Oscar de la Renta and Donna Karan. In all cases we really thought our customers would respond to those collections. We’re looking for [designs] our customers will find compelling. Also, Jason Wu this season took his polished perfection to new heights. It’s truly special. Alexander Wang is the go-to collection for the downtown girl.

Debbi Greenberg, owner of Louis Boston: “American designers pretty much have got the pulse of what people are wanting to wear. They’re exercising their creativity. They’ve decided not to be derivative of some kind of vintage look and have moved forward with a modern approach. I’m looking for something that has a little bit of design and intellect to it.

“Brian Reyes is a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about. He’s constantly doing things that make you say, ‘That’s fresh.’ I loved the Rorschach ink block prints on dresses. When he did a frill, it was a frill of newness.

“Proenza Schouler had a lot of creativity and a lot of over the top elements that at the same time were phenomenal. They were exploring but never forgot that women will actually wear the clothes. About 70 percent of it was stuff I said ‘yes’ to.

“For past few seasons I’ve been seeing short evening pieces, which I’m really enjoying. Right now, wearing a gown isn’t the message you want to send. Also, I’m happy to see that people are finally working on pants. They’re the hardest thing to make well. I like the return of the modern suit. The Eighties was all about the suit because women had to prove themselves at work. Now, I see people exploring jackets. I’ve seen some really outstanding ones.

“In all, it was a good week. But it’s a bloodbath out there and I don’t see that changing any time soon.”

Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of Macy’s
: “It was a season of great energy, lots of options and a ton of best-seller items. The use of shine, new sequin treatments, different kinds of lamé, metallic and brocade fabrics and coats and dresses was seen at Phillip Lim. Ralph Lauren’s message was very clear and quite beautiful and very appealing. Michael Kors was very sleek and had a clean, pure aesthetic with a balance of sophisticated and easy clothes, great sweaters and jackets, and wonderful skirts in new materials. There was an interesting new take on volume at Nanette Lepore. Ruffian had great boyfriend jackets and trenchcoats. Rachel Roy was very sophisticated and beautifully made. Marc Jacobs had great energy. If you analyze every look there are some fabulous items there. Marc by Marc Jacobs was very fresh, with fabulous prints and great silhouettes. I liked the evolution of Hervé Léger, the refinement and modernity of Tuleh and I thought Chado Ralph Rucci was exceptional. I loved Donna Karan and DKNY was an excellent collection.

“I feel strongly about blouses with ruffles, tucking, pleating and ruching, the impact of color and emotional prints. We are addressing key items and intensifying that. Most stores are doing that now. When you study customer profiles, that’s the way she buys. She wants new pieces to build on her wardrobe. Designers are lowering prices at the request from retailers. They realize that there’s so much price resistance at a certain level.”

Kelly Golden, owner of Neapolitan, Chicago: “You didn’t see as much creativity this season. Fabrics weren’t as elaborate or embellished. Everything was very commercial. You want to have a product that’s commercial up to a certain point, but the customer at this end of the market wants something unique and special. I’m not sure that was fully achieved. Even designers at the high end were conscious of price, trying to keep cocktail dresses, previously $2,500, under $2,000 and taking the $1,500 day dress to under $1,000.

“Zac Posen’s show was great, some prints were fantastic and it was fresh and different from what he normally does. Derek Lam and Lela Rose had great sportswear pieces. J.Mendel had gorgeous cocktail and evening dresses and was able to manipulate his furs to where you could wear them for spring. I really liked Marc Jacobs’ knitwear with ruffles and his military coats and jackets.

Beth Buccini and Sarah Easley, co-owners of Kirna Zabête:
“We loved the sexy, short oceanic dresses and Proenza Schouler and the mix of loose and tight in the ethereal dresses at Narciso Rodriguez. Also, the Japanese-inspired dresses at Thakoon. We also liked Alexander Wang, Jason Wu, L’Wren Scott and Joseph Altuzarra.”


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