The Retailers Reacts
NEW YORK — The frill is not gone.
After falling in love with feminine fashions in Europe, American buyers lapped up more lace, chiffon and ruffles.
At the spring ’97 collections here last week, romantic looks in sheer, wispy fabrics were the big theme, and buyers, for the most part, loved it.
Other hot trends included The Dress — draped, with fishtails, off-the-shoulder and in sheer layers — plus sophisticated prints, jersey fabrics, and leather and suede.
As for the winning collections, buyers heaped praise on Donna Karan, Richard Tyler, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren and Isaac Mizrahi.
A cooler reception was reserved for Calvin Klein, while Todd Oldham, Michael Kors and Victor Alfaro took some lumps from the stores. One retailer criticized Kors for “losing some sophistication.” Another described the Alfaro show as “a disappointment.”
“It’s a great season with a lot of options and new directions,” said Nicole Fischelis, vice president, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. “One is streamlined and one is softer and feminine.”
“All the sheer and knitwear and clingyness for spring is quite nice,” said Gene Pressman, co-chairman of Barneys New York. “It’s very sexy.”
Donna Karan came through with a focused, pure collection that appealed to retailers.
“It was one of the best collections of the season,” said Kal Ruttenstein, executive vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s. “I loved it for the sheer, the diaphanous and the cuts.”
“I thought it was one of her best collections,” said Pressman. “It was incredibly modern. The silhouettes were very close to the body. She used very sheer, beautiful, interesting fabrics, like mesh over sheer. It was very refined.”
“It was sensual, chic and sophisticated Donna doing what she does best,” said Rose Marie Bravo, president of Saks Fifth Avenue.
Richard Tyler, whose collection was roundly panned last fall, emerged as the torch bearer of romance and scored high last week.
“Richard Tyler looked superb as did Ralph Lauren,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus. “Richard Tyler was exquisite, refined, the ultimate in femininity, but wearable.” She also liked Ralph Lauren’s tribal designs and his blue tie dye group.
“I loved Ralph because Ralph is always Ralph,” said Bonnie Pressman, executive vice president and fashion director of Barneys. “In the midst of everybody changing and all this romanticism and sheerness and chiffons, he remains very true to himself. There were some great pieces in the show. It’s a great collection.” And apparently Ralph and Barneys have patched up their differences. Lauren refused to sell the store for several seasons, after Barneys opened up on Madison Avenue, but Pressman told WWD, “We’re going to start selling Ralph for fall and we’re very excited about it.”
Fischelis liked Marc Jacobs’ handling of paisley and sheer, and cited Mizrahi’s glamour and femininity.
“I also liked Isaac’s whole new direction in prints,” she said. “Some were quite sophisticated, such as those with lace trimming, the printed chiffons and abstracts. I also thought the color blocking was very well done, and nude suitings mixed with colors looked very new.”
“The highlights were the people who did their own things, like Richard Tyler for glamour, Mark Jacobs for young romance, Michael Kors for sleek clothes, Isaac Mizrahi for color, Bill Blass for class and Anna Sui for her great interpretation of the trends,” said Ellin Saltzman, corporate fashion director at Henri Bendel.
High on Fischelis’s list was the Badgley Mishka collection — “very refined and very beautiful. It sells very well. The whole collection was fishtail, and had exquisite detailing, beading, color and workmanship. It was extremely sophisticated eveningwear.”
On the other hand, Calvin Klein’s collection was a disappointment for some.
“I think Calvin did a beautiful job with what he did, but it’s very obvious where the inspiration came from,” said one retailer. “I think he’s trying to find himself. It’s probably good that his customer is not aware of Helmut [Lang] and Ann [Demeulemeester]. There’s a lot of similarities there.”
The surprise comeback kid was Mary McFadden, who let go of her signature pleats and took her inspiration from Africa.
“I liked the new direction of Mary McFadden,” Fischelis said. “There were great colors and new silhouettes. There were new, softer, exquisite colors. We have the customer for couture.”
After a preponderance of pants, the dress also made a strong comeback, as it did in many European collections.
Carolyn Moss, Macy’s East fashion director, expects spring to be an important dress season and dubbed Cynthia Rowley’s dresses “standouts.”
“There are a lot of great dresses out there,” Bonnie Pressman said. “Off-the shoulder and one-shoulder dresses. Women are ready for that.”
Kaner nominated a flesh-toned cowl neck dress from Bill Blass, a navy matte jersey wrap dress from Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren’s matte jersey dresses as her favorites in the category.
“Overall, there is too much similarity, which makes it hard to develop a selling point for various lines,” Moss said. “There’s been no structural fashion change. There was more news in wonderful beading, lace, fabrics, and print details.”
“There will be lots of leather and suede, and we sell it very well,” Pressman said. “We’re excited about that. If you get it in early enough, you can have a very good season with it.”
“The strongest message is that anything goes if you have the conviction to wear it,” Saltzman said. “We’re talking about the importance of leather and suede for spring/summer. That goes with chiffon dresses. The diversity of the runway shows pointed that out.”

On the Scene
FRANKLY SPEAKING: Elisabeth Shue was at Calvin Klein’s show Friday morning because, she said, “He’s a designer I wear a lot of, and I was in town because I have a part in Woody Allen’s new movie.” Tea Leoni also loved the looks, but isn’t quite sure she can wear them. “Calvin was kind enough to dress me for Cannes, and I’ve never looked so good,” Leoni said after the show. Whether she’ll be wearing his latest tight stretch pants and dresses is another matter. “Not unless the ass comes with the pants,” she said.
OOPS: Would the real Donatella Versace please rise. Who was that masked woman on the arm of Paul Beck at the New York Halloween party thrown by Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss? Donatella, of course. But that didn’t stop one guest from pushing his way up to the svelte muse-cum-designer and yelling, “Oh, my God! You dressed up like Donatella Versace. You look amazing!”
STARTER TIMES: Does it seem shows start later and later each season? Well, they didn’t — at least according to Timex, which kept a tally on 7th on Sixth’s show times. On average, shows started 30 minutes late, and several improved their lag time from last season. Anna Sui, for example, cut the wait from 31 minutes last time to 20 minutes this time. But the latest starter was Susan Lazar, at 55 minutes — although her show was delayed because models were traveling from Ralph Lauren’s Madison Avenue show. But they weren’t thirsty while they waited: The fashion crowd knocked back 43,200 11-ounce bottles of Evian during the week.
EVITA SIGHTINGS: The much anticipated Madonna vehicle, “Evita,” is creeping into lots of designer minds. Betsey Johnson, Jill Stuart and Oscar de la Renta all served up ruffled dresses, Pamela Dennis will show fitted suits in tapestry fabrics at her show/party on Thursday and the crowd at BCBG by Max Azria shuffled in to the beat of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” from the movie’s soundtrack.