THE RETAILERS REACT

Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — American buyers said the spring-summer 1998 London shows offered one of their strongest seasons in recent memory. British designers, they said, are finally exhibiting some business savvy.
The shows ended here Tuesday night.
The London season was its busiest ever, with more than 50 shows and buyers from such department stores as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys, as well as specialty stores Ultimo of Chicago and Fred Segal and Alan Bilzerian of Los Angeles.
According to the stores, the standout collections were Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Julien MacDonald, Antonio Berardi, Matthew Williamson and Clements Ribeiro. Other strong collections included Nicole Farhi, Lainey Keogh, Amanda Wakeley, Sonja Nuttall, Margaret Howell and John Rocha.
Off the runways, buyers said they liked Joseph Ettedgui’s line, Martin Kidman, the quill hats from Dai Rees, Elspeth Gibson, Anya Hindmarch’s handbags, Bellville Sassoon’s eveningwear and Fake London’s cashmeres with cutouts of the Queen or an English bulldog.
“The buzz about London has developed into a roar,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “It’s now also a business. The collections are more rounded and better merchandised. The talent has always been here, and now it’s a case of marshalling it.”
Kaner said Neiman Marcus plans to increase its budget for all the designers with which it currently deals — such as McQueen, Clements Ribeiro, MacDonald, Chalayan and Matthew Williamson — as well as looking at adding such lines as Abe Hamilton, Ghirani Strok and J. & J. Seaton knits.
Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director at Saks, said British designers “really typify what’s going on now in fashion, but are doing it with their own style and identity.”
Saks also plans to boost its budget with such designers as McQueen, Chalayan, Keogh, Farhi and Joseph and is looking at such lines as Nuttall, Howell and Helen David for English Eccentrics.
Barneys is looking at adding MacDonald, while increasing its business with Clements Ribeiro, Berardi, McQueen and such designers as Cathryn Avison, which it has carried for the last three seasons.
“As a whole, I think London has grown up,” said Bonnie Pressman, executive vice president and fashion director at Barneys New York. “They’ve understood that in order to compete with the rest of the fashion world, they needed to get their act together on quality, pricing and deliveries and they’ve done that.”
Almost all U.S. buyers said London is now a town where they buy collections rather than pieces and where they do serious business. It also remains a place where what’s happening on the streets and in stores, restaurants and museums is as important as what’s on the runway.
“It’s the whole package here and what serves as the inspiration,” said Saks’ Fischelis. “I really hate to leave London now. The shows are one day longer each season, and it’s never enough.”

The London Trends
Natural fabrics: Linen, cotton or wool.
Cropped pants: From capris to clam-diggers.
Fluorescents: It’s the umpteenth Sprouse revival.
Neo-Deconstruction: Unfinished hems, shredding and slits.
Sports influences: Patagonia couture.

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