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NEW YORK — Individual, handmade and quirky don’t sound like recipes for big sales, but retailers believe that’s exactly what will inspire their customers come spring if the New York runways are any indication.

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Designers made statements with unusual pairings of materials — leather and crochet at Proenza Schouler, leather laser-cut to look like lace at Jason Wu and reembroidered lace at Vera Wang. Elsewhere, there were dresses that combined silk, chiffon and satin or mixed prints and patterns. Retailers insisted consumers will splurge on such distinctive looks.

“It’s giving the customer the chance to be an individual,” said Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction at Holt Renfrew. “The real phenomenon is that we’re [stores] all buying the same brands, which are getting bigger and bigger. Yet in a world of homogenized brands and key items, everyone looks different. We’re seeing many trends coexisting.”

Relaxed chic, or casual couture, is a trend with big commercial implications, though. “It’s about comfort,” said Atkin. “Silhouettes have a more pared-down feeling. Nobody’s teetering on high heels and nobody looks uncomfortable. You can look perfectly fashionable in a flat, pointy shoe.”

Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director of Barneys New York, agreed. “Simplicity is taking us in a new direction,” she said.

A fresh breeze could also be felt coming from the direction of new designers — some said the biggest crop in many seasons — such as Marissa Webb, Tanya Taylor, Ostwald Helgason, Tia Cibani and Houghton.

“They had perfect collections,” said Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s. “Often when you look at emerging designers they’re a little green. Not these.”

On the down side, buyers said there continue to be too many shows and presentations up and down the island of Manhattan; prices remain a concern — although designers are attempting to address that with lower entry price points — and some retailers are worried over the large amount of black on the runways for spring.

Here, buyers’ views of the New York season:

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman:

Sound bite: “The season was energized by abundant sunshine and the tradition of American sportswear.”
Favorite collections: “The most promising news came from the escalating strength of young designers. Jason Wu and Joseph Altuzarra showed extraordinary sophistication and craft. The highlight of the collections was Proenza Schouler’s innovative, energetic, sporty, luxurious, desire-inducing collection. Advanced contemporary designers Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, Theyskens, Helmut Lang, Rag & Bone, all escalated their game. This is an increasingly important tier.”
Trends: Leather dressing, sportif motifs, futurism and the new Mod, transparent layers and palate cleansing whites.
Must-haves: Leg-baring slits, knee-high gladiators, something blue, shorts and great jackets.
Last word: “The sheer number of offerings in the U.S. market indicates an escalating interest in fashion on a national level. It’s a good thing, albeit a demanding one.”

Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president of designer merchandising, Nordstrom:

Sound bite: “There were definitely some ‘love’ moments, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Favorite collections: “Altuzarra, Thakoon, Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler because they weren’t just merchandise, they were designed and original. All of these designers had new propositions that will excite our customers. We loved the graphic nature of Marc Jacobs’ show, the little jacket shapes and skirt shapes and long lengths. Proenza Schouler’s perforated leather dress, patchwork denim jackets made of python and water snake and photo prints pieced and grommeted. Thakoon’s prints mixed with knitwear were very sophisticated. Joseph Altuzarra’s split-sleeve blazers, prints and men’s workwear fabrics for outerwear. Proenza Schouler are established American designers. They’re a reason to come to New York. They have a global view of fashion.”
Last word: “Stores don’t need more merchandise. Our customers are looking for something they don’t own already. There are more and more shows. Designers feel that if they don’t have a show, they’re not valid.”

Ed Burstell, managing director, Liberty, London:

High hopes: “We were looking for that rare combination of original thought and commerciality. Overall, it was hit and miss, with a number of young designers still being inspired by last season’s Paris.”
Trends: “We were encouraged by both muted, and, when available, strong color. The Liberty customer is quite an independent thinker and usually doesn’t follow trends, but we always sell color and print. The pre-collections were, for the most part, all well thought-out with regard to fabric seasonality, price and more frequent deliveries to address the growing global demand for seasonless, affordable clothing.”
Favorite collections: “Marc Jacobs — like a hit to the head! Masterful! Victoria Beckham, relaxed, playful and feminine. A nice move forward. Joseph Altuzarra was original and thought-provoking, proving the hype was genuine, and Diane von Furstenberg just gets stronger and stronger.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus:

Favorite shows: “Proenza Schouler’s embrace of color and ability to mix technology with craft, especially the leather and snakeskin pieces held together with crochet, and photo prints punctuated by embroidery. Altuzarra’s spectacular collection with strict tailoring, The Row’s quiet, understated elegance, Vera Wang’s reembroidered lace and Alexander Wang’s futuristic palate of black, white, nude and silver.”
Trends: “Bold brights, electric blues, hot pinks and orange — the new neutral of the season. Warm-weather leather laser cut to look like lace, full skirts, sleeveless jackets, relaxed chic with utility or cargo details, fit and flare silhouettes and dresses mixing prints and fabrics.”
Sound off: “The enormity of black on the runway was a little surprising. I don’t consider black to be a statement. I consider it to be a staple. It’s not something that will emotionally engage customers. It’s not a conversation starter. I’m going to be talking about orange as [the] new neutral.”
Last word: A lot of people are showing in New York, which bodes well for our industry. People are feeling confident and financing new businesses.”

Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue:

Sound bite: “The top priority entering fashion week was to find beautiful, wearable fashion, infused with exciting new ideas, strong color, and print, and New York delivered on this promise.”
Trends: “Two color stories for spring: bold, brilliant brights, especially yellow, blue, orange and green. To balance the brights, soft, muted, washed-out colors of blush, sea foam, pale blue. Also, lace, especially lace in colors and realistic floral and botanical prints; leather, python, suede, newest in white, color or metallics, perforated or laser-cut. Slouchy pajama pants, shorts, flared and A-line skirts and dresses, some with cut-out details. Sporty and utility-feeling motorcycle jackets and vests, bold graphic stripes and Mod, streamlined silhouettes at Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors.
Favorite shows: Proenza Schouler, Vera Wang, The Row, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Altuzarra, Helmut Lang, Thakoon, Jason Wu, Ralph Lauren, Creatures of the Wind and Suno.

Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction, Holt Renfrew:

Sound bite: “It was a happy, upbeat season, with lots of newness, sexiness and boldness. It was strong. What I loved most is that it was real clothes. Beautiful, structured, tailored separates and little jackets really answered a need.”
Color story: “Color is completely moving. We’ve come out of this world where black rules. The biggest message we’re telling customers is that color is seasonless. Jenny Packham had the most incredible bright orange evening gown. Zac Posen did a burnt orange cocktail dress. Also, vibrant blues and bright greens. A potpourri of prints, florals, digitized [images], organic seascapes, geometrics, plus all the color are giving the customer the chance to be an individual.”
Favorite collections: “Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, Prabal Gurung, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Altuzarra, Tory Burch, Reed Krakoff and Rodarte. Marc Jacobs can change our view of fashion in seven minutes. The stripe has been around forever and he takes that and puts it in our face. Donna Karan did a beautiful job, Victoria Beckham looked fantastic and extended her collection, The Row had a really distinctive point of view, and Oscar de la Renta had a new eye.”
Up-and-comers: Tanya Taylor, Dean Quinn, Wes Gordon, Osklen. “I have a whole list of them that I’m sending my buyers to see.”

Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale’s:

In summary: “It was a very optimistic season with lots of new reasons to be optimistic, because the trends have shifted.”
Trends: “Op art; the Sixties and Mod, and sport, with bra tops, track pants, anoraks, tennis dresses and halter dresses with cutouts. Comfort with less aggressive footwear, based on the sneaker and moccasins, easing of pants and fuller skirts, the jacket reigned as reinterpreted at Alexander Wang.”
Favorite collections: “Helmut Lang’s blockbuster collection with Crayola brights, netting and seaming, Narciso Rodriguez’s color palette and craftsmanship, a superior collection, Marc Jacobs’ obsession with op art, black- and-white and stripes was very commercial. Milly’s new sporty direction, a departure from designer Michelle Smith’s usual ladylike and uptown style.”
Up-and-comers: Marissa Webb, who worked at J. Crew and Tanya Taylor, formerly with Elizabeth and James. “I will absolutely buy them.”

Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director, Barneys New York:

Favorite shows: “Narciso Rodriguez’s uplifting show with beautiful details, Proenza Schouler’s fantastic python patchwork pieces, Rag & Bone, Alexander Wang, Jennifer Fisher’s fine jewelry, Juan Carlos Obando’s beautiful presentation with papier-mâché animal heads on the mannequins and prints he designed 12 years ago as a graphic designer, Martin Cooper’s first spring collection for Belstaff and Greg Lauren’s for repurposed fabrics.”
Trends: “A simplicity in dressing emerged on the runway and feels like a ‘moment.’ There’s been so much color, designers have pulled back. Designers could incorporate more color in the showrooms.”
Last word: Prices are often challenging; we keep talking to designers about the price-value relationship. If our customer finds value and beauty in the simplicity of dressing that we feel will become more relevant, and beauty in the subtle details and craftsmanship, they will pay for it.”

Nicole Fischelis, group vice president and fashion director, Macy’s:

Trends: “Black-and-white, new graphics and geometrics, pale shades, artistic prints, merging materials and sport combined with femininity.”
Favorite shows: “Alexander Wang, Calvin Klein’s art of craft fused with high-tech, Ralph Lauren’s happy collection, Michael Kors, Prabal Gurung, Jason Wu, Bibhu Mohapatra, Rag & Bone, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Ruffian. Ralph Rucci is really the couturier of America, Marc Jacobs was fresh and modern, Nanette Lepore was charming and feminine, and I loved Vera Wang.”
Up-and-comers: Ostwald Helgason, who showed at Milk Studios with Made, Alexandre Herchcovitch, Misha Nonoo and Louise Goldin, a designer from London, who is relaunching her collection.
Kill that trend: “I’m seeing a lot of knee shorts. They don’t look good on most people. Also, I’m glad we’re out of this whole vintage movement.”

Suzanne Timmins, senior vice president and fashion director, Hudson’s Bay Co.:

I’m coveting: “Narciso Rodriguez’s embellished tops, Jason Wu’s sexy black dresses, Proenza Schouler’s python jean vest and Rodarte’s fringe jacket. Also, Phillip Lim’s patchwork denim, and Altuzarra’s knee high sandals by Gianvito Rossi — they were killer!”
Trends: “Black-and-white, the most wearable new trend to emerge, collage patchwork, the full skirt as an item will take a bite out of the dress market share next spring. The new stripes are changing direction and alternating widths for graphic impact, caged footwear.”
Production notes: “No drop in designer prices, but designers are offering duplicate styles or silhouettes in fabrications with more accessible price points. Some houses addressed this with diffusion brands, resulting in increases in the main line. Many new designers are targeting entry price points.”
Up-and-comers: Ostwald Helgason, Tia Cibani and Houghton.