THE RUNWAY RATINGS FROM RETAILERS: SPRING IS IN SHAPE FOR SELLING

NEW YORK — Original? Not especially. Salable? Yes.
That’s the word from retailers who, by the end of last week, had had their fill of retro and satin. Still, they said, there was enough innovation, color and shape to entice customers.
The clear winners: Donna Karan, Bill Blass, Richard Tyler, Anna Sui and Todd Oldham.
Others collections that made the grade included Marc Jacobs — Saks is picking him up — DKNY, Carolina Herrera, Badgley Mischka
and Cynthia Rowley.
The widest swings in opinion were reserved for two powerhouses, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Calvin is still stirring things up with the New Length, while his collection overall was described as everything from “pure and modern” to “drab” and “matronly.”
Comments about Lauren ranged from “beautiful,” “classic” and “salable,” to “boring” and “repetitious.”
Most stores thought Anne Klein was a disappointment, while Isaac Mizrahi took a few lumps as well.
As for the trends, the shrunken look (Dayton Hudson says it’s “unflattering”) and satins (Barneys called them “cheap”) were the most controversial. But color, shape and suits are expected to pull in more than their share of open-to-buy.
Shelly Sams, senior buyer, Dayton’s, Hudson’s and Marshall Field’s, said shrunken clothing is unflattering for imperfect bodies. But Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, favored shrunken looks. “During the day, a sweater that ends at the hip, belted over slim pants is sensational,” Kaner said. “I love the return of shape. Retro is fun, too, when it has a modern edge.”
Kaner said her eye has become adjusted to slightly longer lengths, covering the knee. She likes it when the look is narrow and close to the body with a deep slit.
Sams didn’t think satin for day was such a good idea: “It is still largely perceived as a fabric reserved for evening. I am actually surprised to see such a degree of satin exhibited on the runway. I regard it as derivative from the past several seasons.”
Benny Lin, fashion director of Macy’s East, also felt there was way too much satin, calling it “satin overkill.”
Gene Pressman, co-president and co-chairman of Barneys New York, said he didn’t like most of the satin shown, with the exception of some satin pants.
“I think it looks cheap,” he said.
He said he likes the shrunken look for spring but noted that it’s not a new idea. “You see that a lot in the South of France and in the Hamptons,” he said. “It’s kind of cheap and cheerful.
Like most retailers, Pressman liked Richard Tyler: “Without being redundant, he makes beautiful suitings. He also makes beautiful eveningwear. I liked the dresses with the cutouts. I also liked the things he did for Anne Klein. I like some of the things that Calvin did, showing lingerie looks. The customer is going to be happy because there are a lot of selling points,” he said. “I wasn’t disappointed. But part of the problem is that what I want as a retailer is very simple, clean clothes, which does not make for good shows.”
Barneys has a general open-to-buy and whoever has the strongest collection wins, Pressman said.
“Our designer business has been very good,” Pressman said. “I would like to be able to give the designers a lot of business, but when they don’t ship well and then backload the shipments, it’s difficult. It has been a big problem.”
Among the collections most liked by Neiman’s Kaner were Blass — which she said was “very strong from beginning to end” — Badgley Mischka, Tyler and Herrera. Kaner said she felt that Cynthia Rowley had a strong showing with her dresses this season.
“The dresses have been the standouts of many of the collections. I also like the satin pants for day,” Kaner said.
Among the sportswear lines she liked most were DKNY and Anna Sui, particularly her gangster-stripe dresses.
Rose Marie Bravo, president of Saks Fifth Avenue, said she liked the refined way Americans handled shine and said this season had a lot of strong eveningwear. It is also a strong accessories season, she said, with handbags, jewelry for hair, hats, scarves at the neck, sunglasses and the belt. Top collections were Blass, Karan, Tyler and Lauren, she noted.
“There were a lot of great cocktail dresses here that we didn’t find in Europe,” she said, citing collections from Herrera and Blass.
“We loved Donna,” Bravo said. “This was one of her best collections. We loved the new color and the hot, sexy dresses, and the fabulous corset jackets.
“The color that we saw and loved in Europe continued here, as well as the shape and body-fitting styles,” she said. “There are more options here, particularly for women who go to work and those who go to lunch.”
She also cited Tyler’s modern looking suits,and said Ellen Tracy was very wearable and would be big business for Saks. Calvin Klein delivered a modern collection, while DKNY was imaginative and beautifully made.
As for Lauren, “We’re glad he’s back to doing what he does best,” Bravo said. “It was classic but modern.”
Saks will be increasing its open-to-buy, especially with its store opening in Short Hills, N.J., this week. Bravo also noted that Saks will add Marc Jacobs this season.
Macy’s Lin said Anna Sui provided a brilliant, idea-packed collection. He cited Tyler for his glamorous looks and Blass’s “great modern day suits and pretty-in-pink looks.”
“DKNY made retro fun, sleek and wearable,” Lin said. “Todd Oldham was very high energy with amazing drop-dead evening pieces. I also liked Badgley Mischka. It was very elegant.”
He continued, “Michael Kors really dresses the career customer with his wonderful collection. The one-shoulder top updates the suit and makes it sexy. Lin also had praise for Cynthia Rowley’s Las Vegas looks.
“The suit is a major part of our customer’s vocabulary, and we saw some great suits this week — at Calvin [Klein] and at Blass, for example,” said Joseph Boitano, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of Bergdorf Goodman. “We also like the look of a dress with a jacket.”
Boitano said that a lot of the newness comes from nontraditional combinations of either fabrics or traditional looks, such as pairing satin with tweed or wearing a twin set for evening.
“This was an extremely strong season for American designers,” said Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of fashion direction. “The addition of color and shape to their usual statements rounded out Europe and added the pow we have been looking for. There was more originality this season. Chanelisms and fake Gaultier mixes did not appear on any runways.
“Donna Karan ended the week with a smashing collection,” he said. “It was sexy and had a modern cut to it. She handled longer lengths better than anyone else — they didn’t look dowdy.”
Ruttenstein cited Tyler for sexy satin jeans and charmeuse shirts in great colors; Alfaro for tony cashmere sweaters — which he considered the best in town — and for proving he can do sportswear as well as sexy evening dresses; Oldham’s “clothes for girls who want to have fun;” Lauren’s beautiful pastel separates and strong jacket dresses, “a category sorely missed by our customers in past seasons,” and Calvin Klein’s new spare proportions, which set the tone for a narrow silhouette that makes oversized clothes look passe.”
“Marc Jacobs’s cropped sweaters and suit jackets looked fresh,” said Ruttenstein, adding, “Isaac Mizrahi’s focus on bright colors for daywear provide relief from the beige and black that’s flooded our stores for the past two seasons. Anna Sui may have looked retro, but the pieces were strong ingredients to mix in with a woman’s wardrobe.” Susan Falk, president and chief executive officer of Henri Bendel, said standouts were Oldham’s sexy cocktail suits, de la Renta’s patent coats and Hererra’s one shoulder dress with an uneven hemline.
While eveningwear is the strength of de la Renta and Hererra’s offerings, Falk said she expects their daytime dresses and suits to build spring business. She also liked Nicole Miller and Anna Sui’s collections.
Bendel’s budget has seen a double-digit increase against last year.
Julie Bridgham, buyer for collectors at Nordstrom, said it was a “very strong spring” and that customers should be excited by the options in Karan’s, Tyler’s and Calvin Klein’s collections.
Jackets with skinny belts and two-piece belted sweater sets were key at Calvin Klein, she said, while Tyler’s signature fitted jackets should stay important at retail.
Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor, said: “We’re really excited about the return to color and glamour because it will give the customer a reason to buy, and that’s what it’s all about. All the shiny looks in dresses, for example, should translate very well for our customer.”
Olexa said Lauren was “beautiful and salable,” Blass was “youthful and good-looking,” and Nicole Miller had “a lot of energy and her satin dresses looked quite good,” as did de la Renta’s patent leather coats over dresses.
Sams of Dayton’s said the best U.S. collections this season were Yeohlee, Blass and Mary McFadden.
The store’s open-to-buy is even with last year’s.
Barbara Weiser, president of Charivari, cited three shows as especially noteworthy — Tyler, Ghost and Anna Sui.
“Richard Tyler was the best show,” said Weiser. “He did beautiful fitted jackets, but he also did great dresses, which is very unusual because it’s hard to do both well.”
Weiser said her open to buy is up about 20 percent this season.
OK, so what didn’t they like?
Many cited Anne Klein as the biggest disappointment. “I don’t think I understand what that customer is about. I’m afraid she might be confused,” said one retailer. Another store described Anne Klein as too trendy and “junior-y” for the line’s customers.
Mizrahi garnered praise from some stores but was criticized by most. One executive said the designer “needs to understand New York lifestyles in the Nineties and tune out Nick at Night.”
Some retailers considered Calvin Klein “matronly,” due to lack of color and a relentless mid-knee silhouette. One retailer said Calvin Klein was too derivative of Prada and Jil Sander. Another said she was disappointed in Calvin Klein for his “dull, drab colors,” and for continuing to show the New Length, which has received a cool reception at retail.
Lauren, meanwhile, provoked strong positive — and negative — sentiments. One retailer said his repetitious use pink and blue was too much to endure.
“Oscar was not as strong as he could have been,” said another retailer. “Vittadini was weak, and Anne Klein was disappointing. And really, does a designer like Victor Alfaro need a whole big show? I think designers like that are better served with smaller shows.”
One executive was even less charitable about the entire season here: “After viewing the American runways filled with theatrical concoctions which have no validity to our lives, I wonder if I shouldn’t have spent more time in Europe. There does not seem to be much beyond absurdity in the New York collections.”

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