WINNING THE SEASON: STORES APPLAUD PARIS AS MARATHON ENDS

Byline: Robert Murphy / Miles Socha

PARIS — The City of Light delivered.
After New York and Milan seasons that were rather flat, retailers said their prayers, for the most part, were answered in Paris thanks to collections that were diverse and highly individual in their take on spring.
Top trends included short skirts, shirtdresses, city shorts and a variety of takes on the Eighties. Retailers also zeroed in on the play on volume, with larger tops paired with more fitted bottoms, or vice versa, as well as a move away from last season’s structured, ladylike looks to more unstructured clothes.
“Is Paris burning? You bet,” said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s. “It’s been really strong. Perhaps everyone stepped up to the plate because Tom Ford was in the ballpark,” he said, alluding to Ford’s hotly anticipated first collection for Yves Saint Laurent. (See related story, page 6.) “There were so many great collections.”
Ruttenstein called the Balenciaga collection “amazing,” praised Stella McCartney for bringing sex and elegance to Chloe and said Karl Lagerfeld’s collection for Chanel was “light and frothy and new looking.”
Shorter lengths were a strong message from the French collections, Ruttenstein added, as was the return of the shirt, military and safari details and such items as shirtdresses and city shorts. He said he was planning a double-digit increase for his Paris buy.
“I felt there was more energy in Paris than we’ve experienced on the trip so far,” said Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager at Barneys New York. “We liked what we saw.”
Collinson cited standout collections by Dries Van Noten, Balenciaga, Ann Demeulemeester and Veronique Branquinho, but said most designers succeeded in putting their individual stamp on the season.
Eighties references figured prominently in French collections, but were given more of a rock ‘n’ roll spin, with biker, road warrior and military styling, she said.
Other key trends include ruching and draping, off-the-shoulder blouses, black clothing, big sleeves, white shirts, short dresses and floral prints.
“I think it’s a print season,” said Sue Patneaude, vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom, adding that she found the Paris collections particularly rich this year. Top trends for Patneaude were the new play on volume and a move away from more ladylike silhouettes to more unstructured looks. She was keen on tropical colors, nudes as well as turquoise.
“The productions here are full of grandeur,” she said. “But this season we also felt there was a lot of content.”
She singled out Chanel, which she called “superior,” Valentino, Celine, YSL and Collette Dinnigan, among collections best for the store. Patneaude was hesitant to embrace collections that interpreted Eighties themes too literally. However, she said she liked when designers revisited the Eighties but gave it a more modern angle by “playing with silhouette and giving it a softer and more feminine interpretation.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, who owns Jeffrey stores in New York and Atlanta, said he would spend five to 10 percent more on French collections. He said Paris designers hammered home some of the same messages from New York and Milan, including short skirts, dresses and a “feminine approach” to the Eighties trend. He also discovered a lot of strong looks in denim and satin charmeuse in Paris.
But he also praised designers for strong individual voices and cited several breakthrough collections.
“Givenchy I thought was stellar,” he said. “It seemed to have such a magical restraint to it. And I thought Ann Demeulemeester kept on pushing her envelope into new areas. And Veronique Branquinho’s collection was soft, pretty and very ethereal. It felt so nice to have a collection that didn’t have such an aggressive edge but was still modern.”
Sarah, the buyer at Paris retail emporium Colette who does not use a surname, said: “Paris was very exciting this season because of its scope, like classic items from Celine and Yves Saint Laurent, to younger, highly individualistic designers like Jeremy Scott, Viktor & Rolf, and Veronique Branquinho.”
Sarah said trends, like last season, ran the gamut from ladylike elegance to more punk glamour. “There was a lot of play in volume, and we are buying a lot of suits. Our main color concentration will be on beige, neutral tones and white.”
“In Paris the strength came from the quieter voices,” said James Aguiar, ready-to-wear fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, singling out collections at Veronique Branquinho, Balenciaga, Chloe and Andrew Gn.
Aguiar said Branquinho “may have had the most truly ‘modern’ collection I have ever seen.” He called it beautifully cut and “completely in step with what and how a cool girl wants to look.”
Gn, he said, delivered “beautiful jersey and leather trim silk blouses,” while McCartney managed to create the “fashion item of the week with her ‘Stallion Jeans’ and silk chiffon blouses.” Aguiar said he liked the blend of hard and soft edges at Balenciaga.
Jacqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue, said the two most important themes in Paris were tough chic and retro glam. She said skinny pants, short skirts and interesting shoulder silhouettes, whether exaggerated or very soft, were also key to the season. “We were very pleased with Paris. The magic was in all of the details.”
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said she was looking forward to a very strong selling season. Still, Kaner said she was a little frustrated by the move away from last season’s ladylike looks, to which customers had responded so well.
Main trends included satin and jersey dresses and skirts with neck lines or hems at asymmetric angles as well as floral and geometric prints and leather items, which she called a “must have” this season.
Kaner liked: Christian Lacroix, which she called softer than in the past; Emanuel Ungaro for its beautiful colors and softer, younger feeling; Dries Van Noten, which was pretty and “even better in the showroom than on the runway,” and the leather pieces and jersey dresses at Olivier Theyskens.
Meanwhile, she cited Chanel as one of the week’s strongest collections because it was both “traditional and avant-garde.” She also felt positive about Ann Demeulemeester, YSL, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Balenciaga, which the store is picking up for the first time this season.

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