PARIS — In a Paris season that left some retailers underwhelmed, there was one thing almost everyone could agree on: Less than two years after it was founded, Vêtements, the designer collective headed by Demna Gvasalia, is shaking up the French fashion scene.
Retailers credited the brand, which focuses on reworking generic styles with humor and gusto, with injecting the ready-to-wear offering here with a new sense of pragmatism.
“I feel there has been a sort of cataclysm around Vêtements last season, and that was felt in certain collections that were more realistic in terms of styling, and more fragmented in terms of the collections,” said Robin Schulié, buyer at Maria Luisa.
WWD’s exclusive report on the last day of Paris Fashion Week that Gvasalia had been appointed as artistic director of collections at Balenciaga, succeeding Alexander Wang, only served to highlight his meteoric rise.
“I think this is really significant. For a long time, each collection took a certain point of view and worked a theme, somewhat heavy-handedly, making dresses for girls who don’t exist. Now, we have a true wardrobe proposition, and that is the major change of the season, and this is good news for the customer,” Schulié said.
Sarah Rutson, vice president of global buying at Net-a-porter.com, said it was a positive development. “We can see good opportunities for business as we have seen collections being far more cognizant of building in categories and price architecture,” she said. “Brands seem more mindful of what can drive some volume in a runway delivery outside of pure dream making.”
Marie de Reynies, divisional merchandise manager for women’s wear at Printemps, credited Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent for pioneering a shift from seasonal themes in favor of building an add-on wardrobe. “In lots of collections, the clothes were more immediate, less conceptual,” she noted. “Our luxury business is performing very well, so our budgets for luxury are up significantly. We are strongly developing the segment.”
Judd Crane, Selfridges’ director of women’s wear and accessories, also felt a change. “We saw a very interesting balance between the conceptual and the wearable for spring-summer ’16 in Paris — as well an evolving dialogue between these two creative fields — both so important to us and the way we buy and sell fashion,” he said.
“In broader terms, we saw a developing idea of what fashion means now, and how the way people can interact with it is changing,” Crane said. “We’re excited about Vêtements. [It’s] much hyped but with good reason — the designers have combined the alternative and wearable like no one else this season.”
Natalie Kingham, buying director for Matchesfashion.com, is another fan.
“We absolutely loved Vêtements — probably one of my favorite brands right now,” she said. “The fall 2015 collection is performing incredibly well for us and this show had a real buzz and energy about it.”
The show was one of the highlights in a season that produced only a few clear-cut winners. The displays that garnered the most praise were Valentino, Dries Van Noten, Chloé, Céline and Stella McCartney.
Among the trends that stood out were lingerie and lace; folkloric influences; fluid pants; tailored jackets, and design details on the backs of garments.
“Certainly my expectations in Paris are very high and I’m always excited to be here to see the enormity of creativity that I would expect on the runways. And I feel it was a little slow to kick in this season,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. Nonetheless, he noted the season produced some powerful trends.
“Transparency, boudoir, turn-of-the-century Victorian sleepwear and corsetry and lace, being taken from the bed chamber and becoming streetwear — topping those looks with something structured, like a tailored jacket, will make the fluidity and transparency much easier to incorporate into the customer’s wardrobe,” he noted.
Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director at Barneys New York, also expressed some reservations. “Paris felt quieter than usual. Overall the shows were a bit flat and lacking in energy, but we felt more confident in the showrooms,” she said.
“The accessories were particularly strong in Paris and we will fuel the collections that stood out. We loved the new Margiela bags and the development of Delvaux, Paco Rabanne and Loewe,” Ogura added.
Sebla Refig Devidas, buying director of the ladies merchandise group at Beymen in Turkey, was banking on shoes to compensate for a more challenging outlook for rtw. “We do not forecast a major increase in budgets this season,” she said, explaining that the social and political circumstances in the territory are “affecting the level of confidence and causing us to keep the budgets flat.”
Buyers noted that Paris designers pulled out the stops when it came to showmanship, from Chanel’s massive airport-themed set at the Grand Palais to the wraparound video screens at Louis Vuitton, down to the guerrilla approach at Koché, which staged its show in the middle of the busy Les Halles shopping mall. And not everyone felt that Paris failed to deliver when it came to the collections.
“Paris delivered a series of standout shows this season with brands getting behind the production of the show and adding real theater to the catwalk and telling the story behind their collections,” said Anita Barr, group fashion director at Harvey Nichols.
“The absolute standout was Valentino. I had goosebumps throughout the show, which ended with a standing ovation,” she added.
Linda Fargo, senior vice president fashion and store presentation director at Bergdorf Goodman, was positive overall. “We saw some of the most extraordinary clothes here, which makes the month of shows all worthwhile….We are especially drawn to the collections that transgressed rules and opened up unexpected ways of mixing the messages of dressing, as seen brilliantly in the wonderful hybrids at Sacai, Céline, Haider Ackermann and Dries Van Noten,” she said.
“We will tread carefully in the boudoir trend as it doesn’t always translate easily from runway to reality. We liked it best when counterintuitively mixed back to sport and more masculine tailoring,” Fargo said.
“It was a season of fantasy and experiences, from The Row’s spectacular château presentation to Valentino’s entrancing universe,” said Steven Cook, senior vice president of buying and merchandising at Holt Renfrew. “Paris is a strong market for Holt Renfrew and we continue to plan for growth,” he added.
“Overall, we are delighted with what we’ve seen in Paris, and with most of the buys done, our budget is up along with our expectation for a great spring season,” said Scott Tepper, director of fashion buying and merchandising at Liberty. “The femininity of the season started to become a bit overwhelming to us, with ruffle and lingerie dressing overkill, but when kept to crisp poplins with a few ribbons, a few lantern sleeves here and there, the odd ruffle — a feminine but still cool look for us emerged.”
Ikram Goldman, owner of Ikram in Chicago, cited Koché among her new discoveries, alongside the revival of Courrèges under new artistic directors Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant.
“Courrèges was really spectacular,” Goldman said. “I thought that was like the highlight of Paris Fashion Week for me. Such a clear and precise message, and at the end of the day, I felt like everyone is going to want to wear that Courrèges jacket.”
She noted a shift in women’s wear buying habits. “I feel that women do not want to be inundated in merchandise. They want things that are really special and meaningful,” she said.
“I am finding that women are becoming more price conscious than before,” said Laure Hériard Dubreuil, chief executive officer and cofounder of The Webster. “They are really looking for timeless pieces to [invest in].”
She reported that business confidence was up. “We are fortunate to be continuing to add brands, and have increased the overall budget. We have a new and third location opening in Houston, Texas, to buy for,” Hériard Dubreuil said, adding that among her discoveries in Paris this season were Meyer and Vaillant at Courrèges, “which I thought was very smart, fresh and desirable.”
Emmanuel de Bayser, co-owner of The Corner in Berlin, said business increased 25 percent in September compared to the same period last year. “But you have to be flexible. Long-term strategies are no longer working, it’s about day-to-day business. We get more and more orders based on what people see on WeChat and Instagram, for instance. It’s getting really personal, and so it’s important for us to always look to new, young brands,” he said, citing Vêtements and Sacai as his favorites.
Hirofumi Kurino, creative director of United Arrows, said he specifically took the time this season to scout fresh talent. “Koché is our new discovery. But we also liked Nehera and Noir Kei Ninomiya,” he revealed.
Kelly Wong, general merchandise manager of women’s wear at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, included Australian brand Ellery among her picks of the season.
“It’s been a great season overall with a great surge of energy,” she said. “There was a lot of richness, textures and colors for the spring-summer collections; on the other hand, some Parisian designers strove for a new strident and playful expression of femininity.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, vice president and designer fashion director at Nordstrom, said its budgets would continue to grow. “We felt that all of the collections for the most part really delivered. The two most predominant trends that we saw in Paris were tribal and lingerie influences. Both of these trends will play a key role in driving our business, not only in ready-to-wear but also in shoes and accessories,” he said.
“There is a lot that is relevant commercially,” said Nicole Fischelis, group vice president and fashion director at Macy’s Inc. “I thought Paris was multidimensional and multiinspirational. I like the diversity and the various expressions of the designers.”
Tiziana Cardini, fashion director at La Rinascente, was equally positive. “The collections in Paris were as usual diverse, individual and inspiring. The common thread was a fluid, feminine mood — lingerie-style slipdresses, bohemian flair, volants, macramé lace, flounces and transparencies were everywhere. Pleats and ruching were also presented in many versions, adding to the romantic feel. They were substitutes for the embellishments and the bold prints of previous seasons,” she said.
“Change is in the air in Paris,” observed Roopal Patel, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. “Paris is less about trends and more about originality. This is the direction that fashion is moving in, individuality,” she said, singling out shoe styles including Chanel’s light-up Teva-style sandal, Saint Laurent’s Wellington boot, Chloé’s rainbow-colored sandals and Balenciaga’s embroidered slippers.
Shopbop’s budgets were up in Paris. “It’s all about longevity and pieces that transcend seasons,” said Stephanie Nelson, divisional merchandise manager of accessories and designer rtw, noting apron-top dresses, slipdresses, bow-backs, feminine ruffles and Victoriana carrying over for fall.
“I bought Dries Van Noten; it’s very colorful. We also really liked Undercover at the Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione, it was intimate and different,” noted Martine Hadida, co-owner of L’Eclaireur.
“Glamorous evening dominated this Paris season with long, cascading tiers of ruffles and boudoir-like lingerie having a strong influence. The use of floral appliqués enhanced this ready-to-wear season, making many resemble couture-like work,” said Elizabeth Lepore, owner and buyer at Jimmy’s in Brooklyn and the Hamptons.
“Confidence is high, it’s an exciting new chapter for Browns. Budgets are increased. We are mindful of the euro rate and its impact on tourists shopping in London,” said Laura Larbalestier, women’s buying director at Browns Fashion, which was acquired by Farfetch earlier this year.
And even though the show calendar stretches over nine days, she thought it wasn’t enough. “I wish the fashion week lasted a few days longer. It’s so hard to fit in everything you want to see,” Larbalestier said.