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PARIS — Despite a so-so runway season in Paris, retailers said there were enough rich touches — plus a bumper crop of refined daywear — to justify maintaining or increasing their budgets.

This story first appeared in the March 9, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Ornate embellishments, embroideries, and elements of shine have been seen throughout and will be exciting for our customers,” said Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue.

“We planned an increase in our budgets for fall-winter 2012, and we’re sticking with that decision,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president of designer merchandising at Nordstrom. “We feel that now, more than ever, product needs to be truly ‘fashion,’ and not just merchandise, and that is what we looked for in Paris.”

“Browns is approaching the season with confidence in the luxury market, a strong currency hedge and a conservative stock position,” added Ruth Runberg, buying director at the London specialty store. “While it seems that the U.S. mood is one of recovery, London and the EU continue to feel recessionary pressures and some general instability. At the luxury end of the spectrum, our clients’ spending habits are far less impacted by these issues.”

Still, Runberg, echoing other retailers, said she would remain cautious throughout 2012, “editing collections to only the strongest pieces and exiting several nonperforming designer businesses.”

Buyers praised the bounty of luxurious and lustrous fabrics — particularly leather, jacquards, velvets, lace and furs — and strong offerings of outerwear and knitwear.

Pantsuits and masculine tailoring — often inspired by military and equestrian dress — were key directions, along with what is often referred to as “mixed media:” several fabrics spliced together to make one garment.

Givenchy, Lanvin, Haider Ackermann, Chanel, Valentino, Alexander McQueen and Celine were among the collections that received wide praise from buyers.

Retailers lamented the preponderance of black, hailing bottle green and dusty pastel shades as more salable. There were also some grumbles that the cost of designer merchandise is getting out of hand.

“Customers are quite worried about prices,” noted Tracey Cheng, merchandising manager at I.T Apparel Ltd. stores in Hong Kong and China. “Contemporary, edgy brands like Helmut Lang, Acne and McQ sell better, because luxury prices are rising.”

Here’s more of what buyers had to say:
Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong:
Sound off:
“Paris is huge business for Lane Crawford, and our core brands are absolutely giving our market what we need. We are making really strong fashion statements in the buys. It has not been the strongest, most exciting fashion season we have seen.”
Trendspotting: Scuba materials, velvets, leather, equestrian elements, sweatshirts, full skirts, color-blocked furs.
Favorite collections: Yves Saint Laurent, Haider Ackermann, Ann Demeulemeester, Givenchy, Lanvin, Carven and Neil Barrett.
Suzanne Timmins, fashion director, Hudson’s Bay Co., Toronto:
Sound off:
“Our open-to-buy is increasing as our designer business is currently in growth mode. Paris remains one of our most important markets.”
Trendspotting: “This was an incredible season for coats and novelty knitwear. Dresses will continue to trend strong, but we see the skirt as an item gaining momentum. The slim boot cut looks fresh again. We predict a strong season for accessories and footwear. I am so happy that footwear is coming down to earth. Our customers will love the new tall boots.”

Pascale Camart, director of women’s wear, Galeries Lafayette, Paris:
Sound off:
“Everyone gets so carried away with prices, but enough is enough. Haider Ackermann’s pricing was such a nice surprise. The market environment is difficult, but we still want to invest in real differentiation. Nevertheless, we always look at the price-quality ratio.”
Trendspotting: “There was a strong Hitchcock theme, with defined waists and high necklines. Another strong theme, which is easier to wear, was the men’s tailoring, with blazers, and cocoonlike coats.”
Favorite collections: Lanvin, Haider Ackermann, Alexander McQueen, Valentino.
Polina Kitsenko, co-owner, Podium, Moscow:
Sound off:
“Solid week, no bad surprises, but no stormingly good surprises, either. Stability is what everybody wants right now, whatever domain they are in, so it was reassuring to see a solid fashion week with solid collections.”
Trendspotting: “Black is coming back and everything black leather is in again. There’s still a lot of white around, though, which is unusual for winter, and pastels — baby blues, pinks and violets. The novelty was the use of reddish tones.”
Favorite collections: Givenchy, Isabel Marant, Nina Ricci and Rick Owens.

Tracey Cheng, merchandising manager, I.T Apparel Ltd. stores, Hong Kong and China: 
Sound off:
Despite cost sensitivity, “it’s still important to have strong pieces in the store. I won’t change my direction toward the real commercial.…I would rather spend our budget on something which is nice, and maybe slightly expensive.”
Trendspotting: “Burgundies, greens, dark and subtle…plus a lot of new fabrication,” and shifts to more luxury. “Other than that, I haven’t seen anything very new, because I think everyone is quite conservative.”
Favorite collections: Lanvin and Simone Rocha
Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction, Holt Renfrew, Toronto:
Sound off:
“Our open-to-buy is flexible and we will be spending a bit more this season to ensure that we are bringing home the sizzle. Consumers want beautiful, well-designed, quality clothes that are relevant to their lifestyle and [they] are compelled to buy because of the strong brand image more than the actual name of the designer behind the label.”
Trendspotting: “We saw strong categories in coats, suits, dresses and evening. Paris confirmed that the pantsuit is back.”
Favorite collections: Rick Owens, Balenciaga, Kenzo, Stella McCartney, Lanvin, Celine and Alexander McQueen.
Nicole Fischelis, group vice president and fashion director, Macy’s:
New discovery:
“I think there is a whole new generation that is very interesting to watch — those designers show on the first and second day, for instance, Damir Doma, Cédric Charlier and Anthony Vaccarello.”
Trendspotting: “I think coats and outerwear in general is major: leather and fur, anything knit, the new mood of motorcycle, military, the new pantsuit approach…feminine things with pretty lace, draping and asymmetry. There is also the idea of vintage that continues.”
Favorite collections: Lanvin, Dries Van Noten, Nina Ricci, Giambattista Valli, Jean Paul Gaultier and Akris.
Ikram Goldman, owner, Ikram, Chicago:
Sound off:
“Collections were superb this season, and I’ve definitely bought more from almost every collection that I’ve gone into.”
Trendspotting: “It’s going to be that easy, oversize kind of a sexy, androgynous look with lots and lots of lace and sheer. I’m seeing a lot of boy looks, like a lot of jackets.…A lot of knits, a lot of sweaters for fall.”
Favorite collections: Nina Ricci and Comme des Garçons
New discovery: “The name of the collection is Muviel, and it’s so charming, so adorable, so whimsical and so creative.”
Ruth Runberg, buying director, Browns, London:
Sound off:
“Many designers seemed to play it far too safe for our customers.”
Trendspotting: “Everyone is thrilled with the deep, rich bottle green color we are seeing on so many runways. It’s flattering on all complexions and looks right for the season. Our clients will love all the special pieces we’ve bought with handcrafted passementerie details, needlework or embroidery. And we’ve seen more shine, embellishment and sparkle than has been shown in many seasons. We are loving these Baroque elements from many of the shows.”
Favorite collections: Balmain, Bouchra Jarrar, Dries Van Noten, Lanvin, Revillon, Valentino and Vika Gazinskaya.
Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president of designer merchandising, Nordstrom, Seattle:

Sound off:
“We feel that no individual trend item or category is going to drive business next season. Our business will be driven by strong compelling individual fashion from all of our different brands.”
Favorite collections: Chanel, Junya Watanabe and Celine.
Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue, New York:
“There has been a focus on men’s wear tailoring, giving a powerful strength to the collections. The pant has become a key item and an important part of the layering story, especially when slim and slightly cropped. We’ve seen an emphasis on a defined silhouette, with peplums adding a feminine flourish. Outerwear has been strong, and I’m particularly liking the sportier and military-inspired styles.”
Favorite collections: Haider Ackermann, Sacai, Chanel, Valentino and Alexander McQueen.
Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman, New York:
: “Paris solidified the trends of the season as well as its reputation for encouraging the unique artistry of each house. It’s a darkly romantic and rich season. We responded most to collections with rich color and luxurious material mixes, especially velvet, leather and fur. We liked the abundance of new jackets, great outerwear, slim pants, higher necklines and sharp tailoring. We will proceed with caution on too much volume and structure.”
Favorite collections: Alexander McQueen, Haider Ackermann, Ann Demeulemeester and Givenchy.
Kelly Golden, owner, Neapolitan, Winnetka, Ill.:
Sound off:
“Our budgets for Paris are increasing by 10 percent from last year, as Paris always delivers those special pieces that our customers buy, regardless of price.”
Trendspotting: “Leather and more leather. Peplums continue to be a common theme as well. Still lots of emphasis on the waist and lots of looks with dresses over pants. Longer hemlines and long sleeves continue to be big trends. The mood in Paris seemed much darker, with several Victorian references.”
Favorite collections: Lanvin, Valentino, Alexander McQueen and Andrew Gn.
Stephen Ayres, head of fashion for men’s ladies and children’s wear, Liberty, London:
Sound off:
“There has been an increase in raw materials, particularly in knitwear.…With the increase in these luxurious fabrics, it seems a lot of brands are honing their collections to suit the Asian market. We have to be mindful that the prices don’t creep up overall. People are being more considered with their purchasing.”
Trendspotting: “Oversize, particularly in tailoring, there was that masculine tailoring edge. It was a lot more embellished this season, with lots of luxurious fabrics.”
Favorite collections: Haider Ackermann, Kenzo, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.

Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager, men’s and women’s apparel, Printemps, Paris:
Sound off:
“Nicolas Ghesquière is always three seasons ahead of everybody else. Pedro Lourenço was very interesting, and should be followed closely.”
Trendspotting: “Designers clearly wanted to offer something richer, in terms of fabrics with velvet and lace, for example, giving more sophisticated products added value, but which are still very elegant.”
Favorite collections: Cédric Charlier, Kenzo, Rick Owens, Haider Ackermann, Ann Demeulemeester, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Carven.
Leila Yavari, fashion director,
Sound off:
“Paris really seemed to be playing it safe. The brands are revisiting their heritage —with the exception of Leonard, which did a different take —compared with London and Milan, which seemed to be taking more risks. It was good old sophisticated Paris.”
Trendspotting: “This is really a great season for pants. There were a lot of oversize body jackets and outerwear in lots of interpretations. There was a lot of shearling, too.”
Favorite collections: Valentino, Véronique Leroy. The retailer picked up Olympia Le-Tan accessories and Eddie Borgo jewelry.
Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus, Dallas:
Sound off:
“It’s interesting to see the enormity of black on the runway. We are looking for things she [the customer] doesn’t yet have in her wardrobe. She understands black, but we are gravitating to color, such as the mixed greens, the lavenders and purple family, as well as the chinoiserie idea that is happening here.”
Trendspotting: “The return of the jacket; the abbreviated, ankle-bracing pant, which is going to be the basis of the women’s wardrobe for the coming season; the opulence of all the embroidery and embellishment, and all the mixed media, which is adding a lot of luxury with colorblocking that now becomes cloth, leather and fur.”
Favorite collections: Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen, Haider Ackermann and Celine.

Amanda Brooks, fashion director, Barneys New York:
Sound off:
“We have seen prices skyrocket with all the embellishment details, so it is important to find a real price-value relationship. There also seem to have been more late-night shows this season. It can make it very difficult to manage.”
Trendspotting: “A continuation of embellishment. We have also seen much men’s tailoring at Celine and Junya Watanabe, for example, and Japanese-inspired prints or details at Dries Van Noten, Celine and Haider Ackermann, who had kimono belts. There was a lot of leather this season, but it’s been more tailored than in the past.” 

Anne Maria Jagdfeld, owner, Quartier206, Berlin:
Sound off:
“We have always bought very client-oriented, but in tougher times like now, this becomes even more important. New labels we are taking on this season are Reed Krakoff and Givenchy. We are also very excited to restart with Haider Ackermann, whom we love.”
Trendspotting: Coats and fur details; dresses in every length; simple, natural elegance.
Favorite collections: Valentino, Givenchy and Alessandra Rich.
Tiziana Cardini, fashion director at La Rinascente, Milan:
Sound off:
“The trend for outerwear in very oversize volumes with big round shoulders, which everyone has done, will be difficult both editorially and commercially.”
Trendspotting: “Masculine tailoring and oversize forms were the most significant in terms of silhouettes. Pants were everywhere.” Also: Cropped pants, longer lengths, leather, black, thick fabrics.
Favorite collections: Balenciaga, Givenchy, Celine, Chalayan, Valentino, Alexander McQueen and Comme des Garçons.
Elizabeth and Emily Lepore, Jimmy’s, Brooklyn and the Hamptons:
“We saw quite a change to the typical evening dress that usually dominates the red carpet. Simple yet severe dresses were seen throughout Paris, transforming the average beaded gown into a new and modern sleek and architecturally lined dress, using lace and geometric cutouts. Following in the theme of simplicity, the Parisian sportswear designers brought the return of the great jacket this season.”
Favorite collections: Stella McCartney, Chloé and Giambattista Valli (sportswear); Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad (eveningwear).
Jack Cassidy, assistant buyer, LN-CC, London:
Sound off:
“There were some standouts, but it wasn’t the strongest season I’ve seen in a while. We’re looking to buy a lot more accessories and footwear as our offer grows, as we are only about 18 months old. Our budgets have tripled compared with our spring-summer buy.”
Trendspotting: “We are focusing a lot on masculine tailoring for next season, moving away from draping and looser shapes.”
Favorite collections: Haider Ackermann and Comme des Garçons.


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