RETAILERS PRAISE SIGNATURE FRENCH FLAIR

Byline: Katherine Weisman / Miles Socha

PARIS — From her head down to her toenails, the French femme for fall 2000 is a lady, too.
Many American retailers praised the French collections for continuing the main themes in New York and Milan — sophisticated suits, opaque hosiery, trim tweed coats, fur, gold hardware and luxe accessories — and elaborating on them with their signature French flair and sense of humor.
Retailers also liked how designers explored leather and shearling, or how they mixed light and heavy fabrics in one outfit.
The ladylike look reached a zenith at Karl Lagerfeld’s standout collection for Chanel Friday, which summed up the trend with a modern, energetic edge.
“Chanel was a high point of this trip,” said Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of fashion direction. “Chanel is a creative and commercial phenomenon.”
But there were other trends to chose from, including punk and Eighties excess.
“New York had been on one note: ladylike and polished. We got the same message in Milan. And while it continued in Paris, a few designers really threw out some curve balls,” said Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of Barneys New York. “At Comme des Garcons, there was that 8th Street punky look, which was gently aggressive, but in the showroom, we found great, wearable clothes.”
Collinson also praised the first ready-to-wear collection from Viktor & Rolf. “There was creative, beautiful tailoring, unbelievable fit, combined with a great sense of humor,” she said.
Jean Paul Gaultier exhibited couture sensibility, said Ruttenstein. “His top- notch collection mixed men’s wear dressing with more romantic looks.”
“It was a strong season overall,” said James Aguiar, fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman. “The idea was the same: head-to-toe and complete dressing.”
Aguiar said the Paris collections were full of “beautiful trenchcoats,” great furs, sweater-like jackets and novelty hosiery. And he said established houses and newer talents showed strong collections, including Celine, Valentino, Chanel, Michael Kors, Andrew Gn and Veronique Branquinho.
Aguiar — and other retailers, including Nordstrom couture director Pia Rochon — singled out John Galliano for putting on a great show, one of the favorite features of the fashion week here after so many product-focused shows in Milan and New York.
Jaqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue, zeroed in on the ladylike trend as the biggest Paris news, the key ingredients being suits, back-belted tweed coats and all the accouterments, from opaque hosiery to luxe footwear. She noted a lot of details on the shoulders, including light padding and small tucks, reminiscent of the 1940s look, with nipped waists and more pronounced shoulders.
Linda Dresner, owner of eponymous stores in New York and Birmingham, Mich., said she found plenty to buy in Paris, but not an overriding trend, since designers dabbled in at least three different decades and offered a range of silhouettes.
She said skinny pants and fuller tops with dolman sleeves, like those shown at Chloe, looked fresh to her eye. And she agreed there was lots of great outerwear, including expensive shearlings and chenille tweed coats.
“You just chose things that are well-mannered and mixed in some accessories to give it some gaiety,” Dresner said, listing gold-mesh jewelry, rigid handbags, colored hose and alligator shoes as some possibilities.
Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner of Jeffrey stores in New York and Atlanta, said punk was an important trend that was unique to Paris, evident in collections as disparate as those of Comme des Garcons and Emanuel Ungaro.
For his clientele, Kalinsky said he considered skirts and blouses more important than traditional suits, citing as an example of this new look a georgette twinset paired with a suede skirt.
“The collections were refined and fanciful,” said Pia Rochon, the couture director for Nordstrom. “We have been referring to ‘Dynasty’ touches and embellishment seen at Christian Dior and Celine, such as gold chains, fur trims and interesting shoulder and neckline touches. At Dior, the ostrich and shearling pieces were incredible.”
Like Kalinsky, Rochon noted the attention to tops and blouses, citing the halters at Chloe and in general blouses that wrapped or tied at the neck in sheer fabrics.
In addition to ladylike dressing done skillfully at Valentino, Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, praised the prevalence of color, especially at Ungaro.
“Our ladies like color and many of our stores are in warmer climates,” Kaner said. “But also, there was pattern — geometric, graphic — and it’s been a number of years since we’ve seen that.”
Among smaller houses, Kaner singled out Veronique Leroy for a collection “which incorporated all of the trends, but which showed a very feminine touch.”
“All in all, there is lots to chose from. Paris was beautiful and luxe,” Kaner said. “It was very glamorous. Clothes have grown up.”

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