PARIS IN THE FALL: NOVELTY AND DIVERSITY CAPTIVATE RETAILERS

Byline: Miles Socha / Robert Murphy

PARIS — Finally, something to cheer.
American retailers left the City of Light on a high, citing several standout collections brimming with novel ideas and appealing trends, from romantic gypsy looks to new interpretations of Victorian style.
They said the city’s fashion renaissance reached a crescendo with Tom Ford’s collection for Yves Saint Laurent, and strength across both established houses and young, up-and-coming designers.
“There seems to be an explosion of ideas, creativity and individuality on all levels,” declared James Aguiar, fashion director for ready-to-wear at Bergdorf Goodman. “The creativity in fashion is here right now.”
Sue Patneaude, vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom, agreed. “I would give Paris an A, and a standing ovation. It exceeded our expectations. Not only did we have great showmanship, but also, most of the collections were very salable.
“My favorite is the Victorian direction, with all the ruching and tucking, lace, Belle Epoque blouses, high defined waists and corsetry. It looks fresh and new, and I think the customer is going to like it.”
Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, said the week’s fall-winter 2001 runway shows, which ended over the weekend, “provided a wealth of diverse ideas. Paris was slow in getting started, but when it got going, it was like a locomotive.”
Judy Collinson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Barneys New York, said the Paris collections reflected trends seen in Milan and New York, which centered on interplays between masculine and feminine, hard and soft, and bohemian and urbane. But the ideas gained greater complexity and were handled with more sophistication here.
Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner of Jeffrey stores in Atlanta and New York, agreed that Paris offered more alternatives, subtleties and original thinking, with some collections taking on a gypsy theme and others leaning in a Goth direction.
Collinson said the Victorian trend seen earlier on the international circuit took on aspects of “lingerie and bordello” in Paris, and Art Deco prints and motifs morphed into Art Nouveau concepts at shows like Balenciaga.
“There were so many strong shows,” she said, citing Comme des Garcons, Junya Watanabe, Viktor & Rolf, Olivier Theyskens and Yohji Yamamoto.
“There were a lot of ideas,” she stressed. “It wasn’t just one trend you saw pounding down the runway.”
Jaqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue, agreed that there is strength in diversity. “It serves different customers and gives them a choice,” she said.
For example, even though black emerged as the predominant color for the season, Paris also offered a range of accents, including purples, burgundies and pinks.
Some cutting-edge collections, notably Junya Watanabe, had explosive Pop Art colors, suggesting a new direction, according to Collinson. “Theyskens was the one collection that used color very beautifully,” she said. “His magenta was gorgeous.”
For silhouettes, retailers said collections focused on the waist, with curvy hourglass jackets and corsets. Bergdorf’s and Barneys said skinny trousers and leggings were also big news, given a mixed bag of skirt lengths.
Several retailers said Paris solidified its reputation as a hotbed for new talent this season.
“What is so exciting about Paris is the wealth of young talent here,” said Anna Garner, fashion director at Henri Bendel. “Some play to the trends and others, like Bernhard Willhelm, for example, do completely their own thing.”
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said Viktor & Rolf and Nicolas Ghesquiere showed new maturity with their fall collections, which were tailored and grown-up and able to appeal to young and more mature customers. “It was about real dressing,” she said.
Ruttenstein also praised Viktor & Rolf for a “fantastic” show. “The clothes were beautiful, traditional, but still very modern,” he said. Other strong independent showings included Josephus Thimister, which Bloomingdale’s purchased for fall, and Jean Paul Knott, whose collection Ruttenstein called “wonderful and very sophisticated.”
Patneaude also praised Knott, who also designs Krizia and Krizia Top in Milan, as well as Jeremy Scott, Cacharel and Marcel Marongiu.
Aguiar said Bergdorf’s search for young talent proved fruitful in Paris, with finds including Jose Enrique Ona Selfa and Frederic Molenac.
And the big guns delivered, too, with Tom Ford turning out the “stellar collection of the week” for YSL, Aguiar said.
Patneaude was also high on YSL, especially Ford’s outerwear. “I loved every one of those coats,” she said. “I thought they were spectacular. I almost fainted. And the peasant blouses just knocked me out.”
Kaner said the Paris collections would require editing, given the diverse directions and the lack of any singular, groundbreaking direction. Among the new details that caught her attention were double-breasted looks in suits and coats; Empire-waisted dresses and other high-waisted styles, as well as a bounty of rich-looking shearlings, leathers and furs.
Aguiar said Bergdorf liked the “touches of romantic and Victorian done in a modern way,” citing Chloe and Olivier Theyskens as exemplary.
Anna Garner, fashion director at Henri Bendel, cited “strong” collections across the spectrum, from young designers to more established houses, with key trends for Bendel’s to include masculine-feminine, soft-hard dressing. “We’ve seen it elsewhere, but it was done in a more personal way here,” said Garner. She cited the structured details in Martine Sitbon’s coats and the “pure cuts” at Lanvin as examples. “Givenchy also had a beautiful mix of masculine-feminine, but in a soft way,” she said. Garner said hard-edge glamour would give way to more romance for fall. Her must-have items include tuxedo pants, such as those shown at Alexandre Mattheiu, shearling coats, crisp striped shirts, and mini skirts. “What is so exciting about Paris is the wealth of young talent here. Some play to the trends, and others, like Bernhard Willhelm, for example, do completely their own thing.”
In addition, Paris offered many ideas in the accessories category, retailers said, with must-have items including thigh-high socks, tall boots and belts of all persuasions.