PARIS — Let the sunshine in.
This story first appeared in the October 3, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That appeared to be the motto of the Paris shows, as designers channeled the Age of Aquarius amid balmy weather that left retailers buoyant and ready to up their budgets for spring.
“Easy, breezy, joyful, happy and sexy: It’s just been a super, super upbeat season. The weather has been fantastic, everyone in Paris is actually joyful themselves, and there have been beautiful clothes to buy,” said Beth Buccini, co-owner of Kirna Zabête in New York, saying her budgets were up 10 percent.
For Helen David, fashion director of women’s wear, accessories, fine jewelry and children’s wear at Harrods, Paris came as a relief at the end of what she termed a “relatively flat” season. “As per the last few seasons, Paris has been the strongest city by a long shot,” she opined.
The shows in the French capital marked the culmination of this season’s Seventies trend, with key elements including fringe, flares, denim, suede, lace, florals, peasant blouses, military inspiration, black and white, transparency effects and gladiator-style shoes.
“Paris has been great. It is the first time in a long time that it feels that every city has been in sync with the emotion of the moment, and I love that,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus.
“It is about escapism, and as the news of the day becomes more and more treacherous to be able to absorb when you turn on the television or pick up a newspaper, the ability to escape reality for a moment in how you dress yourself, the dream of what fashion is really all about, is here, and the time could not be more right for that,” Downing added.
See the Spring 2015 Paris Collections Here >>
Buyers singled out Valentino, Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, Lanvin, Céline, Haider Ackermann and Saint Laurent as highlights of the season. Many were energized by Karl Lagerfeld’s mock feminist protest at Chanel and enchanted by the romantic mise-en-scène at Dries Van Noten, where models lounged on a carpeted catwalk resembling a mossy path.
Nicole Fischelis, group vice president and fashion director, global forecasting at Macy’s, noted it was a season full of headline-making news, including Jean Paul Gaultier’s last ready-to-wear collection and the death of Chloé founder Gaby Aghion (not to mention the two-week Air France strike that scuppered many a travel plan).
It also marked the start of a new round of musical chairs, as Peter Copping and Guillaume Henry showed their swan-song collections at Nina Ricci and Carven, respectively.
“I thought Paris was excellent. There were lots of currents going on, from romantic to leisure to retro-futurism,” said Fischelis. “On the one side, you have the beauty of the craft, which makes sense in France, and on the other hand, you have this whole mood of high-tech and leisure. What is interesting is the mixing of the two worlds.”
Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction at Holt Renfrew, said Paris delivered a “tour de force” of design, innovation and an exercise in nostalgia.
“The strong Seventies influence that offers a multitude of new silhouettes will appeal to a younger generation of high spenders who have not yet experienced this wonderful Age of Aquarius,” she predicted.
Tiziana Cardini, La Rinascente’s fashion director, said she found good commercial potential in the showrooms.
“The season was polarized in two different directions: One is feminine, girly, fluid and bohemian, the other clean, precise, tailored but always with a gentle ease,” she said, noting that both trends offered “an abundance of great choices: real clothes for the modern wardrobe as well as room for self-expression.”
Ikram Goldman, owner of Ikram in Chicago, observed that, increasingly, the clothes cost more. “Things are a lot more expensive, not because they raised the prices — I think the intricacy of the work requires more handwork,” Goldman said.
Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, said the rich decorative effects contributed to what she termed a “standout” season.
“The emotional appeal of the exquisite pieces we’ve seen this week should resonate with our customers and ultimately lead to strong in-store results. Not only have the collections been strong on the catwalk, but seeing the quality and craftsmanship up close in the showroom has elevated them to another level,” she said.
Stephen Ayres, head of fashion buying and merchandising at Liberty in London, said the high level of craftsmanship put the spotlight on talent. “This level of skill cannot be faked like the digital print revolution of a few seasons ago, so [it] instantly gives the designs integrity and high appeal for the end consumer,” he argued.
Sebla Devidas, women’s buying director at Beymen in Turkey, praised the strong and varied collections but noted, “Luxury retailing has been more and more challenged by the contemporary segment, considering the increasing prices. We are happy see great show pieces in fashion collections. However, pre-collections should better reflect the needs of everyday people.”
Buyers said customers have embraced the flat-shoe trend and were likely to snap up easy items such as shirting and cropped trousers in culotte shapes.
“Surprisingly, the Paris collections, which typically showcase those special, icing-on-the-cake type of pieces, instead delivered a wide range of functional, wear-anywhere clothing,” said Kelly Golden, founder of Neapolitan Collection in Winnetka, Ill. “There was a clear direction of utility, wearability and mobility.”
Suzanne Timmins, senior vice president and fashion director of Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor, agreed.
“The look-at-me style of yesteryear seems to have all but disappeared as a new feeling of practical chic sets in. Silhouettes are eased, heels come down, models of all ages walked the runway. We are seeing real clothes for real women, and we welcome it,” she remarked.
Averyl Oates, fashion director at Galeries Lafayette, lauded the breadth of the offer.
“The brands offered multithemed shows [that] were fresh and contemporary, offering a wide variety of product to different customer bases. ‘Buy now, wear now’ was evident in the wide variety of leather on offer and in response to our customers who use leather all year round,” she noted.
Emmanuel de Bayser, co-owner and head buyer of The Corner in Berlin, observed that women were favoring separates over dresses. “Sometimes, fashion just needs to be pretty and not too intellectual, giving off a timeless, soft and modern vibe,” he argued.
Jennifer Cuvillier, style director at Le Bon Marché in Paris, was especially taken with plain white looks. “All the designers presented us their white vision, and we loved it,” she said.
Budgets were up globally.
“I had planned a large budget growth for Paris, and I will completely and easily fulfill it,” said Justin O’Shea, buying director at Mytheresa.com.
Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, at Bergdorf Goodman, felt there was enough of a “sea change” to stimulate clients to refresh their closets.
“We may have to rob Peter to pay Paul for Paris buying. Items and trends we’re tuned in to include high-waisted pants, the tailored vest, peasant dressing, clothes with fluidity, length and lightness, strong florals, sophisticated primitive and lots of flat-style footwear, with the exception of the refreshing new platforms,” she said.
Eda Kuloglu, general manager of merchandising at Harvey Nichols Dubai and Bloomingdale’s Dubai at Al Tayer, said her overall spend for the season was up 5 percent. “We always see something new in Paris, and they are the last and the best collections, so we always try to find more budgets,” she explained.
Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director at Barneys New York, was taking a selective approach. “There’s opportunity to grow our designer rtw business, and we’ll build upon a strong Paris pre-collection season and focus on the designers we believe in,” she said.
Hirofumi Kurino, general manager and chief creative director at United Arrows, said budgets are stable, but the focus has shifted. “Show-off is over,” he deadpanned, adding that Japanese women feel increasingly uncomfortable buying expensive luxury bags.
Laura Larbalestier, buying director at Browns in London, said, overall, budgets have been increased “as customers continue to be so involved in the shows. With instant access to images, the key looks are already on the consumer’s radar.”
Laure Hériard Dubreuil, cofounder of The Webster Miami in Miami, said customers are increasingly getting the information from social networks. “They are now requesting looks straight off Instagram by calling the store a few minutes after seeing pictures on their smartphones,” she reported.
Leila Yavari, fashion director and head of buying at Stylebop.com, felt the mood in Paris was “almost euphoric at times,” adding that, by and large, spending was up. “Labels’ past performance is definitely an indicator of the depth of our buy, but also consumers’ increasing appetite for runway-direct statement pieces,” she said.
Jeffrey Kalinsky, vice president and designer fashion director at Seattle-based Nordstrom, was also enthused. “Paris for us doesn’t feel like work — it feels like inspiration,” he said, hailing Jonathan Anderson’s debut at Loewe as a standout of the week.
Among rising talents, Sasha Sarokin, buying manager at Net-a-porter, singled out the revival of Sonia Rykiel — by newly appointed designer Julie de Libran, who charmed guests by greeting them herself at the brand’s flagship store on Boulevard Saint-Germain — and Julien Dossena’s sporty-chic collection for Paco Rabanne.
Elizabeth and Dominick Lepore, owners and buyers at Jimmy’s in Brooklyn and The Hamptons, N.Y., said the season produced timeless pieces. “From the summertime weather to the collections we saw, this season was truly a special one for us,” they said.
Not everyone was wowed, though.
“The Paris collections have been hit or miss for me. What was lacking was joy,” lamented Linda Dresner, owner of her namesake boutique in Birmingham, Mich. “Businesswise, I’m trying to bring together, from each of the collections that we buy, a fresh and lighthearted mix to alleviate the fashion fatigue from sameness.”
Brooke Jaffe, operating vice president of fashion direction for women’s ready-to-wear at Bloomingdale’s, said Paris again delivered but offered a caveat. “I was surprised by how much black there was, but there was also plenty of color and great mixtures of color and print to be excited about,” she noted.
Among the main logistical gripes this season was the traffic.
“Unfortunately, because of a lot of roadwork, the traffic has been really not so easy. Also, Air France’s strike made our lives even more difficult. I wish we could be more focused on fashion, which the designers have been working on for months, more peacefully,” said Cindy Ho, fashion director at 360 Style in Kuwait.
Charlotte Tasset, general merchandise manager, women’s apparel, lingerie, beauty and children’s apparel at Printemps, said matters were made worse by police cracking down on drivers wheeling fashion editors and buyers around town. “The overzealous police could back off a little during fashion week,” she remarked.
Atkins at Holt Renfrew said the calendar, which spans 10 days, should be shortened.
“Paris needs to be condensed, with the big houses showing closer together and the young emerging designers later. With the chaotic traffic, the manifestations and the Air France strike, our time in Paris was rather frenetic. However, Paris is Paris and a city that constantly ignites all the senses,” she concluded.