STORES LIKE IT HOT

NEW YORK — Make way, utility belts. For spring, sex sells.
The spring collections shown here last week were defined by sexy, pretty, even frilly clothes. To retailers, it represented a seismic shift from some of the uniform looks or the other extreme — overly embellished trends inspired by Gucci — that have been paraded out in recent seasons.
Among the items already on several buyers’ shopping lists are:
Perforated leather skirts.
Dresses with ruffles.
Shrunken sweaters.
Miniskirts, or ones worn just above the knee.
Truckloads of denim.
Bright colors like lime, pink and cobalt blue, and muted ones like suntan and nude skin tones.
From the buyers’ perspectives, designers who showed here presented collections that mark a turn away from minimalist styles and ones dominated by sport-inspired looks like cargo and track pants.
“We noticed the [consumer’s] eye was becoming bored with the sameness of clothes,” said Linda Dresner, owner of signature stores here and in Birmingham, Mich. “There was a slight disinterest. We’ve noticed this season they’re more fascinated with the possibilities and they’re willing to try them.”
Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of Barneys New York, called the season’s looks very salable and said, “Definitely this season has really sexy, beautiful clothes so far. This is fun clothing, and it should be fun. You have to tempt someone to buy. You have to intrigue people.”
And Jeffrey Kalinsky, the Atlanta retailer and owner of Jeffrey, which opened on West 14th Street here in August, said he was bullish on the New York lines and ready to leave orders for items like plisse peasant tops at John Bartlett, sheer cobalt blue organza pieces at Helmut Lang and print dresses at Michael Kors that he called “a real turn-on.”
“If I didn’t feel confident buying now, then I wouldn’t,” Kalinsky said. “If I had any doubt, I’d wait until I get home [from Europe], but I want the best delivery possible. Yeah, the clothes will still be here when I get back, but I have a certain budget in mind and I saw things I liked a lot.”
“Everything is broken down into two categories — hot and sexy and sweet and pretty,” added Jaqui Lividini, senior vice president of corporate communications for Saks Fifth Avenue, which cited denim, color and leather and suede as the strongest trends for spring.
Perhaps the most pervasive trend throughout the collections was a prevalence of denim, be it in basic jeans at Anna Sui, “suntan” and white cropped ones at Kors, outrageous flame-embroidered styles at Tommy Hilfiger or Oscar de la Renta’s denim ballgowns.
Bergdorf Goodman, for one, plans to go “denim crazy” next season, said James Aguiar, fashion director, ready-to-wear.
“When you see denim at Oscar, you know it’s something,” he said. “I loved his double-faced denim. I’ve never seen that before.”
Added Ed Burstell, general merchandise manager of Henri Bendel, “There was so much talk about denim, and then you see a show like Anna Sui that was built around denim and it’s just terrific.”
Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction for Bloomingdale’s, also said his impression was that the key trend for the week was denim. And he means denim everywhere.
“It’s in all different colors and weights, and not just denim jeans,” Ruttenstein said. “It’s denim everything. There’s denim sportswear, dresses, trenchcoats and ballgowns. The colored denim at Marc Jacobs, the white denim at Michael Kors, and denim ballgowns at Oscar de la Renta were outstanding.”
“Short skirts are new again, like the minis at Tommy Hilfiger, Kors and the shorter skirts at Ralph Lauren — not micro-mini, but a few inches above the knee,” Ruttenstein said.
On the flip side, Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus, said the highlight of the week was “the return of the sexy-looking woman,” but some of the collections went “too bare and too naked” for real selling, and said some of the low-waisted dresses and skirts would have to be raised for the selling floor.
Ruttenstein went on to praise an abundance of sexy clothes, like Donna Karan’s navy draped jersey dresses that he called “the sexiest dresses in town.” There were also “serene and sophisticated” shirtdresses and sportswear at Calvin Klein and nude leathers, fabrics, color and short lengths at DKNY — two of the best collections he saw last week.
“The other thing we like are all the new leathers for spring, soft in color and sometimes perforated,” Ruttenstein continued. “Leather has suddenly become a basic fabric for spring designer collections.”
Neiman’s Kaner said body-conscious clothes in a variety of interpretations were important, as were colors and prints. She also said denim and leather were key trends during the week.
“There were some great-looking clothes for everyday women,” Kaner said. “Spring is a shorter season for us than fall, so I was glad to see things that were very summer-oriented.”
Bergdorf’s Aguiar also hailed pretty looks like “flirty dresses” with polkadots, floral prints and ruffles and soft fabrics like chiffon. He also liked sexy perforated leather, HotPants and “a lot of skin,” citing Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Marc Jacobs, Tuleh and Kors as strong collections for the week.
“We’re having a lot of fun with both sides,” he said. “It’s going to be a real pretty season.”
Barneys’ Collinson was moved by the ruffle trend, citing John Bartlett’s backless Seventies dance dress with ruffles and Ralph Lauren’s lightweight wool suits trimmed with them.
“Definitely things are really salable,” she said. “Prints are definitely around. We haven’t seen them for a long, long time. Tuleh, Kors, and Lauren were among the designers with a strong print showing.”
Sue Patneaude, vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom, said, “The season shaped up to be very feminine, slightly frivolous and individuality reigned.”
“There was a wonderful use of color,” Bendel’s Burstell said. “The mint at Michael Kors, the lemon yellow, and a great play of pink against orange, although it was softer than that — more like a raspberry and melon. It was really refreshing. I just loved the whole nude group. It was right there.”
Burstell cited Catherine Malandrino’s sexy looks, Lawrence Steele’s dresses with spatially tiled bands across them and a leather coat dress at Nicole Fahri.
“Spring is going to be really happy,” said Stefani Greenfield, an owner of New York-based Scoop, a four-unit chain. “Personally, I love the colors: the chartreuse green, the mint, the lavender. All these colors are really soft, really feminine.”
Greenfield cited three standout collections: Diane by Diane Von Furstenberg, for her prints and mix of natural colors and brighter shades; Michael Kors for his prints and shrunken sweaters; and DKNY, which has “never looked better,” thanks to outstanding color, “amazing” strapless dresses that gather in the back and leather and suede looks.
Connie Finell, vice president and general merchandise manager of Mitchells of Westport, said, “The biggest change is that the whole market is filled with color — either bright coral blues, lime greens, turquoise blues, bright oranges, or it’s very pale, nude colors.”
Linda Dresner said color is becoming a more acceptable way to dress.
“Women are going to give up their dark clothes with more confidence,” she said. “There don’t seem to be any rules any more. The only rule is that pieces are being mixed together and finished with the designer’s point of view.”
“He felt strongly about breaking the rules. He wasn’t kidding around with color. He just did it,” she said.
Dresner also liked the “hand-touched” items from Daryl K and Susan Cianciolo, Alexander McQueen’s easy silhouettes and Helmut Lang’s modern twist. As designers walk away from conformity, she expects consumers to follow.
Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor, said “The whole femininity approach to fashion — young, spirited, full of color and embellishment — was the strongest trend.”
Olexa said this was particularly evident in the collections of Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Carolina Herrera. She thought Ellen Tracy and Yeohlee captured the mood of the season with “pretty, feminine” collections, and liked the ruffled and scalloped dresses and skirts on the catwalk.
Kalinsky of Jeffrey’s also saw a lot of colorful, glamorous and sexy clothes for men and women, as well as many references to different eras. His favorite collections included Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Tuleh, John Bartlett, Alexander McQueen and, from Miguel Adrover, cutaway skirts and pants in red satin.
“I was impressed by McQueen’s spirit, the freedom and his total expression of ‘This is what I’m doing and this is who I am,”‘ he said. “People have to express themselves. To me, the bondage and the chain mail were to provoke me to think as a person about fashion and just to think.”
In terms of denim, Saks buyers liked how Oscar de la Renta dressed it up and how Marc Jacobs dressed it down. De la Renta and Bill Blass were cited for “big bold tropical prints that were a hit, as well as Badgley Mischka’s pretty shades.” Michael Kors also earned points from the Saks buying staff for his use of tangerine, pool blue and pale lime in cashmere knit sweaters.

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