THE VERDICT: SALABLE, BUT NOT SCINTILLATING
Byline: David Moin
NEW YORK — Yawn.
Fashion week produced sound, bankable trends, say retailers, and that will probably be great at retail. But at the same time, a little risk-taking would have been nice to see.
Make no mistake: The stores aren’t complaining about having clear-cut trends — specifically, equestrian and clean-cut minimalism in sportswear, new twists on denim and a soupcon of vintage-inspired looks — since those make for easy merchandising and, hopefully, easy selling.
There were even highlights — Helmut Lang, Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein, to name a few. And there are a few changes that are evolving slowly over the seasons, including a shift in silhouette that is bringing emphasis to the shoulders and waist, as well as the continued importance of accessories like chunky belts and the introduction of the new evening shoe — the boot.
But privately retailers of all sizes said the week had been pretty dull, and enthusiasm for fall’s prospects is muted.
“There were a lot of looks on the runway that should have been reserved for the racks,” said Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of fashion direction Kal Ruttenstein.
“It was not the most exciting, or the most directional week,” admitted Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager at Barneys New York. “We did see some beautiful things, and some salable things, and some nice things.”
“Calvin, Donna and Ralph saved the week,” said Ruttenstein. “Ralph’s equestrian looks were more than that. They were elegant and luxurious.” Ruttenstein also cited “Donna Karan’s sensuous jersey dresses, strong coats and suits, and modern evening wear — everything shown with boots. And Calvin was so on target with short skirts in leather and suede and long sensuous crepe de chine dresses, also shown with boots.” In fact, said retailers, the prevalence of boots for all times of the day looks like another important trend.
“Calvin’s leathers were so beautiful,” agreed Jaqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue. Vests, she said were a common theme of the week, ranging from casual and sporty to “the ultimate vest: the floor-length sable at Oscar de la Renta.” Overall, she said, Saks found that collection full of ideas, such as “beautiful blouses that really stood on their own.”
Lividini also liked sweater coats at Miguel Adrover and Ralph Lauren, and said the shearlings at Kors were “outstanding.” And in fact, several retailers praised Kors’s presentation and collection.
“That was a retailer’s dream,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner of the Jeffrey New York stores. “It was totally luxurious, very glamorous, very modern, and very salable.”
“I thought Marc’s show was perhaps his best ever,” said Collinson, who also loved Geoffrey Beene. And although Miguel Adrover’s collection had its controversial moments, she said the designer is showing a new maturity by picking up on certain themes from last season and making them new.
“There were trends,” added Collinson, as she assessed the week. “Western evolved into equestrian, and there was a slight Twenties, Chanel-esque feeling at some shows. We saw a lot of belts, we saw double-breasted, which we haven’t seen in a while and that looked good. We saw a lot of good coats, and a lot of interesting pants, with low-waists or details like ruching.”
“There’s a lot going on above the waist, with the dolman sleeve, the blouson,” said Lividini. “It’s the return of the waist, which has changed the silhouette of fashion. It makes the shoulders more important, and it’s a beautiful silhouette.” Lividini zeroed in on riding pants and jackets, shearlings, vests and tuxedo separates as her top picks for fall.
“Everything was about uniforms this season,” said Ruttenstein. “Not only military uniforms, but also hunt club uniforms, varsity club uniforms, cheerleader uniforms, marching band uniforms, schoolgirl uniforms. It was the Army, the Navy and the Marines.” In addition, Ruttenstein cited mens’ wear tailoring, vests and plenty of men’s wear fabrics like houndstooth, plaid and herringbone as strong trends. “We loved the men’s wear fabrics at Adrover,” said Lividini.
Femininity wasn’t obliterated though — there were lingerie references with corsets, bustiers, ruffles, lace, flirty skirts and miniskirts very present.
Another trend: tuxedo separates, including tuxedo pants with pleated and ruffled shirts, tuxedo skirts with strips of satin on the side seams and tuxedo vests. “There is a lot of variety, which is good for selling,” said Ruttenstein.
Critical of the season overall, Ed Burstell, vice president and general merchandise manager of Henri Bendel, said, “I don’t think it was a definitive season. You really didn’t come away saying, ‘it’s all about this.’ Everybody, in a lot of respects, went back to doing what they do best.”
Retailers said they saw some impressive collections, from some non-mega designer brands, like Lars Nilsson designing for Bill Blass, Helmut Lang, Jacobs’s signature and Marc lines, and Anna Sui. Still, the list of disappointments was longer, but retailers preferred not to go on record with that.
However, Peter Rizzo, president of Bergdorf Goodman, saw a positive shift. “Compared to spring, which was difficult and transitional, fall collections were much more interesting. There’s a lot more direction. It’s more bohemian and sophisticated. As you shift from extreme feminism, the real bohemians are going to rise to the top, and the clean modernists are going to do well.”
Rizzo pointed to Calvin Klein, whose collection was “crisp, and true to who he is.” He also liked both Jacobs lines, as well as Lang and Blass, where Nilson “put together the most beautiful little show. He’s a talent to watch.”
Among Rizzo’s favorite pieces: Klein’s silk matte jersey dresses, Diane Von Furstenberg’s wool jersey dresses and chiffon separates; Marc Jacobs Collection’s white and black cutout short dresses, and from Marc, felt tailcoats and blue denim jackets with white camisoles. His pick for item of the season: Lang’s short black dress and military coats.
Sue Patneaude, vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom, said she saw a lot to like during the week, particularly luxury fabrics in outerwear. She praised Kors, Karan, Klein and “Chado Ralph Rucci, for a beautifully executed, beautifully luxurious collection,” as well as Zang Toi.
Bendel’s trend list for the season includes short skirts, high boots, a lot of black and all types of belts, particularly thick, low-slung ones.
“There was a wonderful rock ‘n’ roll exuberance at Anna Sui, and sharp black, perfect New York clothing at Helmut Lang,” Burstell said. He also liked Kors, Von Furstenberg, Daryl K and Alice Roi.
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus put a positive spin on the week, saying: “It’s been interesting. There were a lot of ups and downs. The consistent thing is inconsistency. There was not one big trend, and I’m happy about that. There were tons of options. I’m happy to see so many suits and jackets back.”
She cited Bill Blass for wonderful pants, evening suits and a wine gown with a wonderful play of colors; Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren as “very wearable;” Chado Ralph Rucci’s coats were “a standout;” Donna Karan’s dresses; Oscar de la Renta’s tweed group of suitings and coats, and Marc Jacobs’s dresses and blouses.” Of Klein she said: “It was a terrific collection. I loved the coats, the patinated suede pieces and the reptile jackets. I loved the dress that ended the show. [The collection] was modern, young and wearable.”
Stefani Greenfield, co-owner of Scoop, a four-unit specialty store here that plans to open another unit in Miami in May, said, “It was a very individual week. It was much easier last fall with luxe and ladylike. This is much more about individual designers.”
Ladylike hasn’t gone away, but the trend is “much more streamlined and sexier, and without the excesses of last year, such as fur. It was there, but as an accent.”
Several designers did equestrian looks that were “cool and classic,” such as tweeds, corduroy, and had lots of colors — plums, loden, black, navy and grays. “I don’t do a huge suiting business, but I loved Helmut Lang’s black suits,” said Greenfield. “The jackets almost looked like shirts and they were sexy. To me, you could wear that during the day with a sexy boot. He also showed it with a bare chest with chiffon, and it was a sexy evening look.” She also loved Lang’s black wool coats.
Among her favorites: Katayone Adeli’s black jacket, smoking trousers, black wool coats and lace blouses; DKNY’S Ultrasuede double-breasted shearling jacket; Jacobs’s black jersey dresses with patent leather shoes; Chaiken’s Victorian lace turtleneck and black and white slit skirt with lace inset; Von Furstenberg’s wool stretch jersey dresses in russet, navy, lodens and blacks with knits underneath.
She also liked Marc’s faded scribbled jeans and the faded blue turned-up jeans. “They’ll become the downtown uniform. That show was literally walking into my SoHo store. It was everything my customer would want.”
In addition to Calvin, Ralph and Donna, Bloomingdale’s Ruttenstein cited Lang as a hit, for his “remarkable tailoring and hidden luxuries like fur and beading,” as well as Jacobs, Sui, Kors, and de la Renta’s furs and sexy evening clothes with full skirts.