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PARIS — Bookended by strong collections from Balenciaga and Lanvin, Paris Fashion Week delivered enough fashion excitement to leave retailers smiling.

This story first appeared in the March 4, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

While some lamented a preponderance of all-black dressing, a dearth of fresh trends and a strong euro that dents their purchasing power, most buyers said the French capital redeemed itself with strong tailoring, terrific costume jewelry and everything from fur to appealing new takes on the little black dress.

“Paris always crystallizes the season,” said Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman. “It’s clear that there’s a balance of options, dominated by sharp, clean, neo-ladylike dressing [on the one hand]…and soft, languid romanticism on the other.”

“The Paris collections add up to a season of glamour and restraint,” added Barbara Atkin, vice president, fashion direction, at Canada’s Holt Renfrew. “Overall, there was a sense of refinement through beautiful tailoring, volume and surface interest and an eclectic new autumnal color palette.”

Most retailers said budgets would remain flat to slightly up, with each item scrutinized for a strong value-excitement quotient.

Strong-shouldered jackets, high-neck blouses, statement necklaces, body-conscious dresses and sharp stilettos were cited as key elements of the season, while widely praised collections included Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Dries Van Noten, Lanvin, Junya Watanabe, Givenchy, Chanel and Alexander McQueen.

Here’s what retailers had to say:

Averyl Oates, buying director, Harvey Nichols, London: “Paris has been an incredibly strong season with a fresh boost of energy, giving food for thought going into a fall recession. It’s difficult to choose from, but our favorite shows were Balenciaga, Givenchy, McQueen, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent. The print is over, with dominant trends focused on the silhouette (molded, clean), color (black, possibly a nod to the current general economic feeling) and understated luxury. There is a strong return to tailoring, power suiting with shoulder detail and trousers. Hemlines have also fallen. Midcalf has been everywhere, not just in Paris. Tight jackets with volume skirts are key. When there’s a buoyant economy, hemlines rise, and when there’s a slump, hemlines fall. We’re calling it recession dressing.”

Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president, designer merchandising, Nordstrom: “I found it to be a good season and what I treasure about Paris is there’s something around every corner. This time, I’m in Paris a total of nine days and that’s because there’s so much shopping to do. You have to extract messages, and what I took away was a very studied, lean, clean, precise message. My four favorites were Balenciaga, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten and Yves Saint Laurent. The black dress is going to be such an important item. Jewelry was very important, and I thought there were outstanding shoes on the runway: very high or very flat.”

Kalinsky said budgets for Paris would be at least “the same and possibly more. For example, I found a new shoe designer, Charlotte Olympia, that blew me away, and you can only find that in Paris.”

Joan Burstein, owner, Browns, London: “Paris was pretty good, especially after Italy. It’s still the fashion city. Balenciaga was a defining moment in a very sophisticated and very wearable way. At the other extreme, I loved Junya Watanabe, and Lanvin was wonderful and modern for a younger person. Givenchy was a delightful surprise. And I adored Dries Van Noten, which was a nice continuation of summer. Other favorites included Yves Saint Laurent, Balmain’s dresses and Alexander McQueen’s gorgeous coats. Paris didn’t deliver any significant trends, though florals still continue and there’s wonderful fur to be had in Paris. Jewelry seems to be the new bag, and shoes are still very important.”

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president, fashion director, Barneys New York: “Paris is still so much stronger in terms of overall ideas and creativity. Rick Owens continues to successfully evolve his cultlike collection and had great new jackets. Balenciaga can, in a small amount of exits, show the most beautifully ‘classic’ black dresses to intricately painted latex coats. Givenchy showed a well-rounded collection with the best shirts and pants. Dries Van Noten continued his genius play on prints from spring. YSL was strongly minimal, but luxurious, and showed Stefano Pilati’s beautiful tailoring. Alessandra Facchinetti’s debut collection at Valentino was exactly what we wanted — chic and classic, yet something that felt new. And finally, Lanvin’s powerful collection showed that women can be strong and sexy, but beautiful at the same time.”

Polina Kitsenko, co-owner, Podium, Moscow: “We’ve seen lots of checks, military elements, such as cargo pants, and male tailoring for women, in particular tuxedo jackets and tailcoats. Black has really been overused. Standout collections were Givenchy, Balmain, Rick Owens, Ann Demeulemeester, Balenciaga and Rue du Mail. I was fascinated by Givenchy. We’ve seen lots of furs. Revillon’s collection by Peter Dundas was really beautiful, and [Rick Owens’] Palais Royal line is always amazing.”

Beth Buccini and Sarah Easley, owners, Kirna Zabête, New York: “The season was a little disappointing in terms of shows, yet there were still plenty of wonderful things to buy in the showrooms. The black dresses at Balenciaga were beautiful. Stella McCartney always provides real clothes in a cool girl kind of way. Same with Rick Owens. Chloé was better. Nina Ricci had such an amazing palette. The prints were gorgeous, but the pants were difficult. Lanvin is always a favorite and we did like it, but we left wanting more. We’re excited by newer designers like David Szeto and Louise Goldin. We can’t wait to see Azzedine Alaïa. Luckily, New York was great, which is especially timely with the weak dollar.”

Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong: “Paris again has been a standout over all other fashion capitals, even though I feel it is too dangerous to be overall all-black. It leads to a very dull floor visually. Paris had a film-noir sensibility: a stronger sexuality with poetic romanticism mixed in. It’s been too much about the dress these past few seasons, so thank you Paris for spearheading a return to tailoring. Without question, the top shows were Balenciaga, Givenchy, Lanvin and Alexander McQueen, plus a special mention for two new-generation designers: Haider Ackerman and Sharon Wauchob, which are extremely consistent, growing businesses for us.”

Rutson questioned whether the customer would embrace narrow, midcalf skirts. Other key details include high-neck Victorian blouses, wrist cuffs, big necklaces, narrow and cropped pants and pointed stiletto shoes.

Michael Fink, vice president and women’s fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue: “It’s back to the gym as the sleek, lean, precise lines at YSL, Lanvin and Balenciaga show off a woman’s shape again. Tailored jackets at Chanel, and especially as interpreted by Junya Watanabe and Yohji Yamamoto, are contoured around the body, emphasizing shoulders and hips. This looks newest this season. Although it’s still a season of black and gray, there is color to be found in winter florals, multicolored prints, and decorative fabrics scattered throughout the collections…an antidote to the severe tailoring elsewhere. The absence of accessories on the runways has been extremely interesting. Everyone will need a boot wardrobe for fall. And when in doubt, add a big and bold necklace to any outfit.”

Carla Sozzani, owner, 10 Corso Como, Milan: “Paris is never disappointing. Balenciaga was my favorite. He has a strong vision of a woman that is ever contemporary. I also liked Alexander McQueen very much. It was beautiful in shapes, forms and colors. It made me dream. There are not too many collections like that anymore. It’s a moment when we need to see clothes made by somebody who knows how to make them. I’m really tired of vintage. I’m not a fan of the late Seventies. I prefer to look at today.”

Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of women’s, Macy’s: “Christian Lacroix was at the top of the list this season: the black dresses were superb, as well as the multicolored hand-painted coat. Paris Fashion Week was about collectible pieces such as Giambattista Valli, Jean Paul Gaultier’s trenchcoats and pantsuits, Chloé and Kenzo, while tailoring at Karl Lagerfeld was perfect. Sonia Rykiel’s explosion of colors and Lanvin’s one-shoulder dresses were also highlights. As for Emanuel Ungaro, it was a great new beginning very much in the vein of what Ungaro stood for.”

Cedric Charbit, vice president of the buying office and general merchandise manager of women’s fashion, Printemps: “Paris was the best of all the fashion weeks. Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin and Dries Van Noten have continued to prove their reign over the Paris runways. Chanel and Givenchy are always very good, but this season’s collections were particularly strong. “

Charbit cited bohemian luxury, hardened somber looks (some with metallic detailing) and a return to classics with a modern touch as key directions. “Rick Owens was superb. A combination of chic and futuristic or very modern is a very important direction, as are elongated and defined silhouettes.”

Majed Al-Sabah, owner, Villa Moda Lifestyle, Kuwait: “You really need to edit a lot of collections to get what our market needs. The strongest collection in Paris was Miu Miu. I really loved Dries Van Noten for his colorful silhouettes that are perfect for every woman in our market, YSL’s futuristic approach, Lanvin’s chic collection and Rue du Mail’s embellished dresses. Also, I was so happy with Alessandra Facchinetti’s Valentino collection, which is perfect for our sophisticated customers. It offered the best eveningwear in Paris.”

Kelly Golden, owner, Neapolitan, Winnetka, Ill.: “Paris was uplifting and romance ruled the runways. The jacket continued to evolve, with lots of sleeve detail, coattails and with a more molded silhouette. There were still punches of color, which was a nice continuation from spring. Lanvin and Alexander McQueen were both standout collections and continue to push fashion in a new direction. Alessandra Facchinetti’s first collection for Valentino was fantastic and Andrew Gn pulled off an amazingly gorgeous collection with minimal embellishments — a departure from his usual over-the-top embroideries. Overall, we are investing more than last season in the European collections despite the weak dollar. Paris delivered some special pieces that were too good to pass up.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus: “The body-conscious shapes Nicolas Ghesquière and Alber Elbaz showed ignited a new modern glamour — one that I anticipate and hope will continue into the spring season. Also, Stefano Pilati’s strong, confident shapes made for a very exciting collection at YSL. Color and pattern are important to our customers and Dries Van Noten’s florals and marble prints played against black were outstanding. We are enthusiastic about the autumnal shades and interesting fabric mixes that enlivened the sportswear at Nina Ricci. Another strong collection is Chanel: Karl Lagerfeld delivered great new jacket shapes that were on the money. In general, we’re seeing lace everywhere; we love all the satins, and there were great accessories, including open-toe booties and spectacular stilettos.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman: “By category, dresses are newest when they approach a longer sheath; coats wonderfully varied and integral to outfitting; jackets newest when sculpted. A must-have item will be the statement costume necklace, and an aggressive modified stiletto to play back to the newer long, lean silhouettes. After black, the noncolor color of the season: purple. Valentino struck a nice balance between tailoring and softness, and reached out to a new audience. The beautiful killer chic was a welcome shock at YSL, and ultimate applause to Lanvin for creating the most desirable effortless chic. Ralph Rucci defines modern luxury with rare originality and a celebration of beauty.”

Barbara Atkin, vice president, fashion direction, Holt Renfrew, Canada: “Paris is the grand finale to the season, reconfirming its position as incubator of new ideas; from bold, confident power women at YSL, Akris and Balenciaga, to the soft romance of light, seasonless clothes in a kaleidoscope of prints and materials as seen at Dries Van Noten, Chloé, Jean Paul Gaultier and Nina Ricci. Key elements include strong-shouldered jackets, enveloping coats, easy knits, feminine dresses and blouses that will soften the masculine tailoring, and hemlines — whether long, short or asymmetric — that add newness. Paris is the city where we hunt for new names and this season we will buy Commuun, Sacai and To Long Nam. The collections we loved were YSL, Balenciaga, Akris, Dries Van Noten, Nina Ricci and Lanvin.”

Linda Dresner, owner, Linda Dresner, New York and Birmingham, Mich.: “I feel individuality is more important than ever. There’s so much to choose from and it’s all expensive, so it better have a message. [Given the strong euro], we’re spending as much, but bringing home less. We’re trying to choose clothes that are animated and wearable at the same time. There was a hint of English tailoring, a lot of interesting sweaters and fur everywhere in chubbies and vests: sometimes fake, sometimes real and mixed with leather. We loved the black dresses at Balenciaga, Undercover’s wonderful tunics and ponchos, the fake Persian coat with the cutout lips at Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe’s strict suits with caped backs and long curving skirts — very seductive — and Tao’s mohair dresses.”

Elizabeth and Dominick Lepore, owners of Jimmy’s, Brooklyn and the Hamptons, N.Y.: “Our standout collections in Paris were Balmain, Rick Owens, Elie Saab, Emanuel Ungaro and Giambattista Valli. After a season of print and color, the little black dress looks so fresh again. The new dark leg continues to be seen with texture, looking newest with colored heavy shoes.”

Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director, Henri Bendel: “Paris can best be summed up as a tension of opposites. The severity of austerity chic as exemplified by YSL and Louis Vuitton contrasted against the more opulent mix of colors, furs and prints and patterns featured at Dries Van Noten and John Galliano. Key messages were the long and lean silhouette, the statement necklace, and the new refinement of layering with the tailored jacket and the skinny pant being pivotal components. Some key items that will be must-haves are weightless furs and fur scarves, the new Asian-inspired floral prints, men’s wear and school uniform plaids and the continuation of sweater dressing. I am also really excited about the color palette: the range of winter pales to midtone brights. Favorites were magenta, persimmon, ocher, hot pink, cherry red, yellow and the variety of blues and purples like mallard blue and royal purple. Favorite shows were Sharon Wauchob, Alexander McQueen, Haider Ackerman, Balmain and Ungaro.”