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RUNWAY TO REALITY: A SMOOTH RIDE

Byline: Kristin Larson / With contributions from Rusty Williamson, Dallas / Kristin Young, Los Angeles

NEW YORK — The trickle-down theory will be in full practice for fall.
Based on the salable looks that strolled down the runways, vendors in the moderate, better and bridge sportswear markets should have an easy time translating those key trends into realistic clothes for those that don’t buy designer fare.
While praising the New York, Milan and Paris collections overall, retailers noted the extreme wearability of many of the designers’ offerings, although some were concerned that there wasn’t much new from spring.
“Most of the collections looked more salable,” said David Wolfe, creative director at The Doneger Group, a retail buying office here. “It’s not going to take so much translation and we’re not going to have to wait so long, and the stuff that was directional was so removed from reality that it’ll probably never see the mainstream, such as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. Whereas the most commercial are Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford — also the hottest designers right now.”
The overall salable, as opposed to wild, nature of the runway shows spoke directly to the conservative economic mood, said Wolfe.
“People are thinking seriously about the amount of money they spend, so it makes sense to try and walk that fine line and offer something that’s exciting to look at, but still salable,” he said. “And it’s good news — we’ve had enough crazy, it’s time to see some profit.”
And while fall usually represents one of the most creative seasons, Wolfe said the collections seemed to be a continuation from spring — again perhaps a reflection of the political and economic climate.
“Designers normally do their most creative thinking when planning fall, and this time, it seemed they were reworking spring, and maybe that’s a fallout of Sept. 11,” he said. “Perhaps it will take some time for them to get their equilibrium back.”
Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, cited as key trends “tight sheered pants that are a cross between pants and leggings,” noting Tom Ford at Gucci showed this look the best. “That’s a look that will be translated in America, especially at bridge. We’ll start seeing that in August and September.”
Oversized coats as seen at the John Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel shows will also influence sportswear, he said. In terms of color, Ruttenstein said winter white was important throughout all the shows and will make a big statement in sportswear. He also lauded the vivid prints seen at the Versace show in Milan.
“There will be wide pants and narrow pants as seen at Gaultier, Givenchy and Alexander McQueen,” he said. “There will be long, narrow skirts, which is really a bridge look, and chiffon was everywhere and will be a must-have for fall. Everyone showed chiffon blouses.”
Lastly, animal prints are back. Ruttenstein said: “Everybody in Europe was wearing animal prints. The shops on the Champs-Elysees and Left Bank were so crowded with women fighting for animal print tops. Animal prints always sell.”
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said novelty knits, outerwear, cropped pants and ethnic references were especially prevalent at the shows and will be among fall’s most salable trends — with a high potential to attract a wide American audience.
“We’re going to see beautiful novelty knit tops at every price range this fall, including pom-pom sweaters and unusual sheep-hair-inspired styles,” Kaner said. “They were all over the runway, including Helmut Lang, Christian Dior and John Galliano.”
Kaner also liked the variety and creative styling of outerwear, especially seen in trenchcoats, bombers, anoraks and leather jackets.
“Nearly every collection showed some outerwear, and most looked great,” Kaner added.
She noted that cropped pants have become a runway staple and said fall’s take includes capris, cargo pants and narrow and loose-fitting styles, as seen at Marc Jacobs, Marni and Gaultier. Kaner also noted the cross-cultural references from East Indian prints and trimmings to Middle European inspirations shown at Dries Van Noten, including Romanian and Hungarian gypsy styles.
Sue Patneaude, Nordstrom’s vice president of designer apparel, boiled the runway shows down to a few themes that could translate easily into sportswear: Cross-cultural — sort of an “American Indian meets Far East” — leather, feminine blouses and skinny pants.
“All the cultures are mixed up and worn together so there isn’t one pulled-together look, and there’s a wealth of opportunity for the bridge through moderate markets to interpret this,” she said. “We’ll see a lot of applique and embroidery in sportswear, such as embellished denim and a whole printed pants theme.”
Similarly, Patneaude said leather will be embroidered and embellished and focused on novelty, and will most likely become a major sportswear item — but not a basic commodity.
“The soft feminine blouse is going to be important at every level. It’s hot, hot, hot right now and will only get hotter,” she said. “Attached to that is the new skirts, which are more voluminous, longer, more flowing, fitted at the waist and hips. This is a big change from a year ago when everything was knit.”
In addition, Patneaude said skinny pants hearken back to the old leggings, which many designers showed.
“There’s a signal that pants will get skinny again and customers prefer skinny pants, and moderate customers love that she feels thinner in [them].”
Robert Burke Jr., vice president and senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, said he thinks there will be a strong interest in outerwear, as seen at shows from Christian Dior and John Galliano to Narciso Rodriguez and Gucci.
“You can go around this next season and buy a coat and nothing else,” Burke said.
In addition, Burke cited short styles, such as bomber jackets influenced by Balenciaga, cropped pants and handknit, bulky sweaters as having a strong influence.
“From a fabric standpoint, there’s a mix of soft and hard or perhaps a contrast, such as velvets mixed with tweeds and chiffon mixed with leather,” he said.
The feminine theme will most likely permeate into sportswear, he said, and at the runway shows, it was more sophisticated and elegant — with sheer black and dark navy taking precedence.
Overall, Burke said it was a season where ready-to-wear and sportswear makers will quickly emulate what was shown on the runways.
“Certainly the Internet has a lot to do with this, and the speed at which information is passed from one to the next,” he said. Still, “people are looking for one-of-a-kind designers and it’s a real moment for these smaller designers, particularly European and particularly Paris.”
While the Milan shows featured more wearable sportswear looks, Paris balanced creativity with wearable clothes, Burke said.
“Right now, no one is going to be inspired to buy safe clothes and we’ve gone after the real signature pieces,” he said. “I have a hard time believing people are going to buy black, white and navy turtlenecks right now.”
Mary Jo Scofes, vice president and director of trend merchandising at the Jackson, Mich.-based Jacobson Stores, also noted the embroidery and “folkloric” look as one that will have a big impact on better and bridge sportswear.
“We’ve already seen direct interpretations into the bridge line,” she said. “Embroidered jackets and cardigans will be a strong look and it really makes an individual look or statement piece.”
Scofes said her team liked the ruched jackets with velvet, such as ones showed at Yves Saint Laurent, and said this is a romantic, feminine look that should easily be a hit with consumers.
At Mervyn’s, the store’s vice president of design and product development, Chris Daniel, said Missoni’s take on color, texture and pattern should help drive newness in the sweater-coat category within the 286-store chain.
Sweater-coat lengths were much shorter and “that will translate well for us,” Daniel said. Mervyn’s buyers are banking on mohair, angora and spun yarn in knits.
At Bleu, a better boutique in Los Angeles, rich fabrics and vibrant colors seen on the runways will take the form of velvet coats with fake-fur trim, Mongolian lamb shearling shawls, textured velvet coats and suitings in opulent jewel tones. Pants silhouettes will be wide-legged and cuffed, while skirts will be A-line.
“Years ago, these [items] would have been considered couture because they were made by hand, but now they have machines for them,” said Gabrielle Zuccaro, the boutique’s owner and buyers. “They’re magnificent and they’re $300 instead of $3,000.”

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