American designers seem to be listening to retailers’ demands for something “new.”
Retail executives said they saw newness on the runways of New York Fashion Week, including different silhouettes, colors and flat shoes. They have been desperate for anything that would inject excitement into the retail environment, which has been suffering from blah apparel sales for the last few seasons. Further evidence of the need for a jolt came last week when the U.S. government reported department store sales fell for the second straight month in August.
Whether spring will spark a turnaround — or silence buyers’ cry for change — remains to be seen, but many American designers were at least trying. Midi- and maxi-length skirts — which designers have been trying to introduce for a while — were once again prevalent, as were voluminous pants, and flat shoes reigned over vertiginous heels. Comfort — almost slouchy at times — seemed key.
“One of the biggest movements affecting the new direction of fashion, is flat, comfortable shoes and sneakers,” said Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction at Holt Renfrew. “They’re redefining sexy into a new world order of confident nonchalance and ease.”
“There’s great comfort in fluid, longer hemlines and trousers, and tunics topping shirts or pants,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “It’s relaxed chic.”
Designers showed some egalitarianism with the attitude of fashion for all, not merely those with well-toned midriffs. The season’s key looks “add up to ageless dressing and that bodes well for retail,” said Suzanne Timmins, senior vice president and fashion director of Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor.
“New silhouettes and volumes were refreshing because they were flattering without being revealing,” said Laura Vinroot Poole, founder of the mobile app House Account, and Capitol, a boutique in Charlotte, N.C.
“Designers are redefining sexy in a smart way that will not alienate the customer,” said Atkin. “They are offering many options for women of all sizes and ages.”
For some, the changes weren’t enough to push the sewing needle forward. “New York plays it too safe,” said Kelly Golden, founder of Neapolitan Collection. “It would be nice to see more risks being taken and more emotion and more drama on the runways.” Nevena Borissova, founder of the Curve boutiques, said it was the same old, same old. “I’m ready for novelty and special pieces,” she said. “I can’t wait to see some more feminine vibes such as lace, lamé and silk. I’m ready to put the sportswear vibe in the back of the closet and put a sexy dress on.”
Here’s more of what retailers had to say about New York Fashion Week.
“We are all awaiting that moment where we see something we’ve never seen before,” said Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue. “To be honest, there was not a lot of newness on the runways. We’ve already seen scuba inspirations, neoprene, mesh, crop tops, two-piece dressing and fringe. The technology that is going into fabric development is probably where we are seeing the most innovation in design today.
“Checks, from gingham to buffalo, were the surprise trend at Altuzarra, Diane von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors and Proenza Schouler. Other top shows were Alexander Wang, Derek Lam, Jason Wu, Ralph Lauren and Tome. The proportion of the week is the crop top with a longer, fuller skirt. Mesh, the textile of choice, indicates the active/sport trend is not going away.”
Sherin is watching up-and-coming talent such as Creatures of the Wind and Suno.
“The Row was the epitome of chic. You just wanted every look,” said Lianna Man, director of women’s wear at Lane Crawford. “It was such an ethereal collection, with silhouettes and proportions moving into next season. The Row has worked well for our China market. The brand’s taste level speaks to a new, emerging luxury customer we have seen in China.
“A lot of the new proportions have been influenced by footwear,” Man said. “Pants will be key. The proportion is long and voluminous. The sports trend mixed with the street trend influence will be strong for our market. We are working with a few collections on collaborations” with a sportswear sensibility.
Man said consumers will want to update their wardrobes with wide-leg pants, a midi-length skirt and a longer trenchcoat. “We are less enthusiastic about short/mini hemlines and body-con silhouettes,” she said. Lane Crawford is selling Tanya Taylor, whose first collection was fall 2012. It’s now looking at picking up Zana Bayne.
“More fashion revolution, please. We can never get enough newness,” said Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman. “Many of the designers gave us literal sportswear, albeit elevated and filtered through a highly designed lens. Alexander Wang probably did it best, and with the greatest innovation and almost acrobatic execution. The use of mixed-media materials lent a level of luxury to the sports theme in many collections. As a relief and counterpoint to the exciting sports motifs, there were plenty of pretty Picnic Chic references, gingham and flowers included.”
Fargo praised Marc Jacobs for his “remarkable originality and a much-needed convergence of art, theater and fashion” and Carolina Herrera, who put “a fantastic techno-Asian spin on her signature shapes. Her broken mosaic gown should be immortalized.”
“Runways are always a special moment that capture an instant, the vision of the designer for the season, the emotion, a fashion experience,” said Jennifer Cuvillier, style director, Le Bon Marché, Paris. “It is still very important and strong during fashion week. New York was a good season with new experiences, creation and innovation. The newness of the collections is always important. We particularly loved the Proenza Schouler show, which had a strong fashion statement and direction.
“Thom Browne was the most exciting show with amazing silhouettes, and, as always, with special work on textures and fabrics. The very modern and sophisticated silhouettes inspired the whole season. Blossom inspirations were also very important, used as a total look or as details. We love this feminine and modern trend.”
“The varied interpretations of knits for spring was commercially interesting, giving us buy-now, wear-now runway options more suited to a climate like the United Kingdom, where it’s generally cold until May,” said Stephen Ayres, head of fashion buying and merchandising at Liberty. “Victoria Beckham’s first foray into shoes was impressive. I equally loved both the floral appliqué flats and the chunky-heel versions.”
Ayres, whose top collections were Alexander Wang, The Row and Marc by Marc Jacobs, is keeping an eye on Sandy Liang, whose “collection looked well established for such a young designer. The standout piece for me was the floral-embroidered leather biker jacket.”
“We’re drawn to all the natural fabrics and hues that translated into elegant silhouettes,” said Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director of Barneys New York. “There are strong sport references, particularly to judo this season. The belted vest and jacket over a wide, relaxed pant is a look we are repeatedly seeing.”
Must-haves for Ogura included The Row’s hunting and market bags, Proenza Schouler’s cutout argyle sweater, Juan Carlos Obando’s tied, wrapped evening look and Mansur Gavriel’s natural canvas and vegetal-leather backpack. “Altuzarra was a compelling step forward and Thom Browne was a highlight for us,” said Ogura, who is watching Tim Coppens. “His debut was very focused and shows promise, and Public School continues to spread their cool energy and infuse it into their collection.”
“There were some real directional things in the collections,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, vice president, designer fashion director, Nordstrom. “Joseph’s [Altuzarra] take on stripes and gingham looked very fresh and very new. There was lots of direction at Proenza Schouler and Alexander Wang. I’ve never seen a black tweedy dress that cascades at the bottom into fringe like the one at Proenza Schouler. That’s the kind of thing that defines newness; it doesn’t look like anybody else’s clothes.”
Kalinsky said every customer will need an all-white dress, stripes and gingham, high-slit skirts, cropped tops and high-waisted pants.
“New York offers something that no other fashion capital offers,” Kalinsky said. “My favorite collections, Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang and Altuzarra, are going to hold up against any other fashion city in the world.”
“Spring 2015 offered just the right amount of newness. Good design affects the human psyche positively, which benefits the industry,” said Holt Renfrew’s Atkin. “The customer wants to wear clothes they feel good in.” Such options include refined sport mesh looks, cropped tops worn with longer dirndl skirts, high-waited pants, fuller, floor-grazing pants, culottes and midcalf fluid shift dresses.
“We loved all the fresh gingham, interpreted in fresh colors of pink, blue and green,” Atkin said. “The sleeveless knee-length jacket will also inspire customers.”
She cited Alexander Wang for taking the technology of the sneaker and working it into the fabric of his ready-to-wear, and The Row’s longer, looser silhouettes. “We were very impressed with the talent of Adeam,” she said of the five-year-old brand.
“There was no shortage of newness in New York,” said Brooke Jaffe, Bloomingdale’s operating vice president and fashion director for women’s ready-to-wear. “There are several new silhouettes — for example, off-the-shoulder tops. Color is another vehicle for newness this season. I like the evolution of the matched set with a little less navel exposure. My favorite new trends were the sunny, bright colors and happy clothing.” The one product Jaffe can’t live without is “shirting in all forms,” she said, citing as her favorite collections, Jason Wu, Narciso Rodriguez and Victoria Beckham.
Jaffe looked up rising designers Creatures of the Wind, Timo Weiland, Misha Nonoo and Novis.
A suggestion: “Can there be ‘uptown days’ and ‘downtown days’ in the show schedule?”
“There was a direction that came out of the runways,” said Susan Davidson, ceo of Scoop. “I thought there was a lot of newness. It was in silhouettes, longer skirts and looser pants. Things that were normally structured are now softer. The sport and active trend is a little repetitive.
“There were quite a few must-have items, which is good for our business,” Davidson said, citing shirtdresses, long-over-long looks, culottes, the soft trench and the long, sleeveless vest.
Davidson, whose favorite collections were Alexander Wang, Michael Kors, Phillip Lim, Zero + Maria Cornejo, Jonathan Simkhai, Suno and Opening Ceremony, said she’s keeping a close watch on talents such as Novis, Rosie Assoulin and Kaelen.
“This has been a good season, with a strong offer by many designers, an individual offer, rather than a trend, developed on the American designers’ trademark elevated sportswear,” said Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente, Italy. “There is a wave of very feminine sportswear, practical and functional at the same time, but very sophisticated.
“I was particularly impressed by the very interesting performances, which went beyond the traditional patterns of runway shows, such as G-Star, Opening Ceremony, Thom Browne and the 4-D Polo Ralph Lauren show,” Cardini said. “There is a very interesting new wave of brands: Hood by Air, Telfar and Gypsy Sport.”
“We’ve had an amazing week,” said Anita Barr, group fashion buying director at Harvey Nichols. “There has been such great energy in New York. We’ve seen lots of layering across the shows, a look we love, which is quite androgynous but done in a feminine way.”
Items Barr can’t do without include pleated skirts and dresses, long duster coats and cross-body bags.
“Victoria Beckham was breath-taking and will translate well into retail,” she said. “Opening Ceremony was strong and coherent, and Public School was really cool, with an amazing energy.”
“The longer-length day dresses were a key trend this season,” said Helen David, fashion director women’s wear, accessories, fine jewelry and children’s wear at Harrods. “There has been a great variety of prints and florals. Some of the best were at Oscar de la Renta, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Victoria Beckham and J.Mendel, where the prints were in a league of their own.” Full-on “lady of the manor” maxi evening skirts are high on David’s list, with favorites seen at Ralph Lauren. “Dennis Basso contrasted longer dresses with short Sixties-inspired eveningwear and exuberant swing coats,” she said.
“New York feels so effortless,” said Timmins of Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor. “The softly tailored yet relaxed silhouettes, longer lengths and cool flats all add up to ageless dressing that bodes well for retail.” On Timmins’ list of keepers is the easy coat, shirtdresses, culottes, silky dresses, summer suede, the relaxed blazer and anything fringed.
“The New York collections looked extremely confident this season,” she said, citing The Row, Thakoon, Rodarte, Altuzarra and Proenza Schouler as favorites. “Designers’ attention to detail in terms of artisanal and, in some cases, couturier treatments elevated American sportswear to a whole new level.”
Timmins has her eye on new talent such as Sandy Liang, Isa Arfen and Jennifer Chun.
“There was a freshness to the collections because of a trend toward realness and simply beautiful, uncomplicated clothes,” said Poole of House Account and Capitol. “The Row showed an epic collection, with luxe fabrics, delectable colors, and sophisticated shapes that looked special, new, and very personal.
“There were clothes for women who dress for themselves,” said Poole. “The new silhouettes and volumes were refreshing because they were flattering without being revealing.”
Poole’s keepers include Baja East’s cashmere hoodie dress, Thom Browne’s trippy electric tweed jackets, Rodarte’s long-legged pirate goddess and Rosie Assoulin’s cadmium-red tulip-sleeved suit.
For new talent, Poole is eyeing Tome this season.
“I saw newness. The big American guys surely had a strong statement,” said Nicole Fischelis, group vice president, fashion director global forecasting at Macy’s. “Francisco [Costa] was pure to the Calvin Klein DNA. Michael Kors was romantic sportswear with a hint of Fifties, but very modern. It was not bringing the past back. DKNY was going in a new, very modern direction, and Ralph Rucci, which is very couture and exquisitely handmade, went into a new direction himself. He had a new silhouette and proportion, a looser attitude.
“Ralph Lauren mastered the whole safari luxe, and Tommy Hilfiger was very charming,” Fischelis said. “Marc by Marc Jacobs was excellent. I called it ‘active at leisure.’ ”
Fischelis said bomber jackets, track pants, asymmetric tops and fit-and-flair dresses will be indispensable to spring-summer wardrobes. “There were a ton of collectible coats, shirts and blouses.”
In terms of up-and-coming talent, she’s eyeing Timo Weiland, Resurrection, a new line from Korea, and Konhoor.
“There’s an obvious trend toward more sporty, casual looks on the runway,” said Kelly Golden, founder of Neapolitan Collection, whose favorite shows were Wes Gordon and Altuzarra. “But New York plays it too safe. Flats were shown with everything. There was hardly a heel shown on the runway. Gingham has also evolved as the season’s must-have print.”
Golden’s must-have list includes “anything suede, spring’s luxury fabric of choice, and a white dress, clearly a must for spring.” She’d like to see less over-accessorizing on the runway. “Let’s go back to keeping it simple and focused on the clothes,” she said, adding that fashion-week traffic and the usual logistics of getting around New York were a nightmare.