BUYERS: PARIS IS GREAT, SCHEDULE ISN’T

PARIS — They may be weary — and testy too — from having been dragged from one end of the city to the other over a nine-day stretch, but American buyers say that for sheer creativity, Paris is still the place to be.
They took angry swipes at Europe’s drawn-out schedule and the excessive influence of Gucci and Prada in Milan, but buyers praised Paris for offering individuality, deeper collections and more options for the selling floor.
Here, a spot check of the Americans in Paris.
* Bergdorf Goodman’s executive vice president Joseph Boitano said BG is focusing on depth and fashion companies that will provide growth. “We sell through better when a collection has been bought more deeply, rather than selling a smattering of pieces from many different designers. Our customer appreciates it when she finds several options from one label.”
Did Paris deliver this season?
“It seems that French designers have made a more concentrated effort on understanding what stores need,” Boitano noted. “They seem to realize, especially this season, that women can’t be forced into head-to-toe dressing.”
He cited Chanel as the best example of giving women a choice of shapes, classifications, colors and fabrics. And if the store adds a new name this time around, it will likely be Eric Bergere.
* Barneys’ executive vice president of women’s, Bonnie Pressman, and Charivari’s women’s president Barbara Weiser noted that collections from non-French designers like Helmut Lang and Ann Demeuelemeester are coming into their own.
“We are putting a Costume National boutique in our Madison Avenue store this fall because the line has become so diverse,” Pressman said. “Lang’s boutique will expand because of the new depth of his collection and the building of classifications like coats, knitwear and dresses.”
“We are very excited about the changes at Demeuelemeester,” said Weiser. “There is color, a lot more choice in silhouette, great skirts, and she’s sexier than she’s been,” Weiser observed. “She’s letting the customer have more fun.”
Charivari is adding Junya Watanabe and UK designer Alexander McQueen, who held a show in the Marais. “At Watanabe, there were very exciting, dramatic pieces — which corresponds to fashion’s direction toward a stronger mood,” Weiser noted.
Charivari will also bring Dirk Bikkembergs back this fall, after skipping this spring. Last fall was the first time Charivari carried the line.
“Originally, his women’s line was men’s for women. Now, he has very strong women’s clothes,” Weiser said. “He has the edge Mugler had 15 years ago. The knitwear and the jacket shapes are wonderful.”
* At Bloomingdale’s, Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president, fashion direction, said his group’s Paris buying budget is up by double digits, thanks mainly to planned openings of several California stores next fall.
Like Bergdorf’s, Ruttenstein said he’s hoping to add Eric BergAre, noting that the designer, in the second season for his own label, is “very French, all ‘good taste’ and high quality.”
Ruttenstein is also planning to continue with newcomers like Paris-based American Steven Slowik and Parisian Catherine Malandrino, who made their debuts at Bloomingdale’s this season.
* Even the conservative set was looking — and booking — some directional designers. Ernest Marx, president of Saks Jandel, from the decidedly less-than-trendy Washington, D.C. area, said the store is adding Dirk Bikkembergs this season. “We don’t go for the extreme,” Marx said. “In Washington, like other cities, you don’t have the occasion to walk and be seen. But we decided to add Bikkembergs. It’s another look for the younger, more forward customer.”
Regarding other collections, there were plenty of shared opinions, across retail lines: Chanel, Herve Leger and Yves Saint Laurent were especially well received, while Chloe and Ocimar Versolato’s first collection for Lanvin took a fair share of knocks.
But the real blast was reserved for the grueling schedule.
“It’s a shame. Everything is so spread out, and the shows run so late that I feel I don’t have time to discover new resources,” said Ellin Saltzman, fashion director for Henri Bendel.
“It’s not difficult, it’s impossible,” exclaimed Charivari’s Weiser.
Big names like Chanel and Christian Lacroix defected from the Louvre. And many said it was “inconsiderate” and audacious of John Galliano to force his audience to go to the outskirts of Paris for his show in the Bois de Boulogne, and then, to Saint Denis for the Givenchy show.
“Fashion is not entertainment, it’s business,” said Neiman Marcus fashion director Joan Kaner noted. “We just want to see the clothes.”

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