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Jackets are making a comeback, and stores expect the category to gain strength going into fall.

Several leading European houses — Balenciaga, Marni and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel among them — helped turn fresh eyes on jackets by giving them top billing in recent runway shows. Unlike Nicolas Ghesquière’s street-smart approach for Balenciaga, Lagerfeld took on the trend in a not-so-subtle way by featuring an oversize replica of a Chanel jacket on the carousel that served as the platform for his models at his Grand Palais fashion show in February. Others have since jumped on the trend by creating their own updated versions of the jacket.

Roseanne Morrison, fashion director for the Doneger Buying Group, said, “There’s such good buzz about the jacket right now. It’s selling very well for spring and all indications for fall are full steam ahead. It’s the one item that looks really good and people are enthusiastic about having one.”

The tipping point for the trend was when Balenciaga showed a jacket with a downtown edge in its September runway show, she said. That spurred the jacket’s latest incarnation as an item instead of as part of a suit. “It will be worn with jeans, with riding pants or a skirt,” Morrison said. “It’s not this very pulled together look. It’s more the piece.”

Designers are responding to the increasing demand with more varied styles such as a flyaway silhouette or one with shorter sleeves. “There is so much more style interest,” she said. “People want to look a little more polished, and a jacket is the right way to achieve that look.”

Macy’s East has pegged the jacket as a must-have for spring. The retailer’s spring look book features a “Jackets Required” spread featuring a variety of styles — boxy, belted, trapeze, cropped blazers and active-inspired.

Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of women’s, said, “They are very versatile. They can be worn over printed skirts, wide-leg pants, a little dress, a full skirt, a slim skirt or skinny pants. The jacket is a fabulous item.”

AK Anne Klein, Michael Kors, DKNY, Tahari, Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein are best-selling labels at the retailer. Moschino, Jean Paul Gaultier and French Connection are also fueling sales.

This story first appeared in the April 1, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president, advertising, sales promotion and public relations at Lord & Taylor, is also on board with the trend. “Jackets look really good. They are more interesting, and they add a touch of newness and pizzazz with a touch of color,” she said. “Jackets are also a nice way to accessorize or update a dress, pair of pants or a skirt for another season. We’re ready for it again.”

Toppers from Nanette Lepore and Pink Tartan, short-sleeve styles from Michael Kors and Kenneth Cole, a structured fleece look from CK Jeans, a fitted blazer from Charles Nolan and a cropped jacket from Premise are popular with shoppers.

“The jacket has not been the number-one item in a woman’s wardrobe for a while. I think it’s only going to get stronger. A jacket works well over a little dress and there is an awful lot of color in jackets. Consumers are responding to color,” Olexa said.

Emmanuelle Linard, manager of Li Edelkoort Inc.’s U.S. office, Trend Union, said, “We definitely do see the comeback of separates. It’s been dresses, dresses, dresses everywhere. What’s happening now is dresses are being worn over pants. And the whole jacket thing works back to the concept of layering bits and pieces of different types of garments.”

Global warming might be helping the movement, Linard said. “It may be linked to the fact that we don’t have so many [proper] seasons. People need to be able to take layers off and put them on as they travel.”

It’s been at least five years since Henri Bendel shoppers were big into jackets, according to Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director.

“It’s also a bellwether of a bigger trend — more structured and tailored looks will prevail for fall 2008,” she said.

Henri Bendel tapped designer Philippe Adec, an important contemporary resource for the store, to design two jackets for spring. “It wasn’t about having a wide assortment but having the right styles in depth.

“These jackets have been bought by career women and one showed up in ‘Gossip Girl’ on [the character] Blair. That’s when you know you have hit a trend right on the head,” Watson said.

Pollini, Smythe, Helene Berman, Nili Lotan and Sharon Wauchob are among the top selling labels at Henri Bendel.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, shoppers are looking for jackets, especially relaxed styles like knit ones, as opposed to anything too highly structured, said fashion director Michael Fink.

“For the American woman, it is part of her uniform whether for fun or for work. That jacket takes her everywhere,” he said. “What we’re feeling is the jacket is a great topper for a dress. Going into fall 2008, it will become an essential part of that whole look.”

Knit jackets are driving the trend across all categories from designer to contemporary, Fink said. Armani Collezioni, Akris Punto and Theory are among the strong performers.

Fink was particularly enthusiastic about sleeveless jackets — something Yves Saint Laurent is a major proponent of this spring. “That’s kind of the next generation of sweaters — easy layers that can go over anything. We saw a much broader range of offerings for fall 2008.”

Louis Boston president Debbie Greenberg, who has made a point of rooting out stylish jackets to meet shoppers’ demand. “It’s been a successful component of our business for quite some time,” she said. “Personally, I really hate blazers. They have too much masculinity for a woman. There are a tremendous amount of women who shop in our store who work. It’s been a thing for me to go out to find jackets for them.”

At Louis Boston, Marni has been leading the charge by “always exploring different expression,” she said. She also singled out Dries Van Noten’s unusual silhouettes, Bryan Bradley’s “great spring suits” and Roland Mouret’s “phenomenal folds and tucks.”

The designer Nili Lotan, who has a freestanding store in New York’s TriBeCa, said she turned her attention to jackets after several retailers called asking for them. “I had been putting all my energy into dresses and pants,” she explained.

A peacoat designed to be worn indoors or outdoors that retails for $650 is a bestseller for Lotan, and a water-resistant mini trenchcoat at $675 and a $495 cropped blazer are also popular. Some of the interest might be due to the fact that suits are seeing a bit of a resurgence, too.

Homeira Lane, vice president of sales and marketing for Sonia Bogner and Bogner women’s wear collections, also said more women are asking for suits. Sales of shorter-length jackets have seen “an incredible increase” in sizes 4 to 14, she said. Many women are pairing them with wide-leg pants.

“The customer is not just going out and buying. If someone is spending $2,000 for a jacket, it has to hit them right. They have to feel like, ‘I want to wear it,'” she said. “Before the psychology used to be, ‘I’ll take one of this and one of that. I’ll find a place to wear it.'”

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