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NEW YORK — Retailers love Paris when it sizzles — and it did for spring 2004. The season rollicked with femininity and creativity, and best of all, they say, it will sell.

“It was one of the best seasons in years,” declared Barbara Atkin, fashion director at Canada’s Holt Renfrew chain, summing up the opinion of many international buyers as Paris wound up a marathon of fashion weeks on a high note.

This story first appeared in the October 14, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It has been a very good season,” agreed Joan Kaner, senior vice president, fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “We’re very optimistic. Paris had all the ingredients of what our customer is looking for: femininity, color and pattern.”

Praising runways chockablock with commercial pieces — without any shortage of creative sparks — they cited jackets, dresses, shadow prints, novelty pants and color among the top trends and Chanel and Alexander McQueen among the best collections.

Here’s what they had to say about the season:

Linda Dresner, owner, Linda Dresner, New York and Birmingham, Mich.: “Paris was pretty — and commercial. We’re finding wonderful jackets everywhere and I really feel that’s a trend making a comeback. The beautiful colors will also be appreciated: the greens, teals, pale yellows and metallic shades. We liked very much the evening dresses from Stella McCartney, the sophisticated evening dresses at Rochas and the jackets from Rick Owens and Viktor & Rolf. There’s also lots of wonderful dresses — everyone will be thinking about wearing a dress again.”

Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman: “Paris was strong. I thought it was very focused on couture elegance and a new sense of femininity. It was more creative than in the past and very fresh and Parisian in inspiration. Two shows that stood out were Alexander McQueen and Chanel. McQueen put out a brilliant collection that showed a great deal of evolution and showed that he is one of the strongest designers anywhere. And Chanel was brilliant. Karl [Lagerfeld] can do no wrong. Both of these collections were so well balanced and detail obsessive — but in a most feminine and modern way.”

Jennifer Woo, president, Lane Crawford: “It was quite an exciting season. The femininity in Paris is perfect for Hong Kong. For me, the season was all about liquid jersey dresses like the ones at Chloé, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent and the glamour and red-carpet rhinestones at Alexander McQueen.”

Cedric Charbit, women’s buyer, Printemps, Paris: “The message was diversity. There was eveningwear, nonchalant jersey pieces, rigorous suits and high-waist skirts. Designers moved toward such colors as green, yellow, pink and orange, and the looks mixed a casual late Seventies mood with eveningwear from the same period. A woman must have a provocative dress in a flamboyant color, such as the long orange dress at YSL, or the short and puffy black-and-pink fluorescent print dress at Balenciaga. Besides the ultra-feminine, there was pure elegance and rigor, such as Stella’s [McCartney] short jackets, YSL’s strong-shoulder short jacket and the short and structured jackets at Balenciaga.”

Judy Collinson, executive vice president, Barneys New York: “This is a season about the business of making beautiful clothes. Maybe because they are clothes made so obviously for the lifestyle of the women who will wear them. The season is incredibly feminine. There are Chanel influences, Thirties references. There are pleats, chiffon, ruffles and lingerie elements. So much is backless, cut out, draped, off-the-shoulder, lace, light colors, pinks, yellows, pale greens, gold and silver. Classic elements like trenches, shirts, shirtdresses and pleated skirts are interspersed.

“Lanvin was movingly beautiful. [Olivier] Theysken’s over-embroidered lace hourglass dress at Rochas is young and feminine with a strong delicate humor. Hussein Chalayan sent out a collection of wearable, well-shaped print vacation dresses. Martin Grant’s gold trench came out amidst a collection of clothes that had chic confidence. Balenciaga’s Thirties-inspired floral print dresses were vibrant, young and creative. And Viktor & Rolf’s evening gowns over one pants leg were great — the perfect comment to make amidst such a feminine season.”

Barbara Atkin, fashion director, Holt Renfrew: “It was all about seasonless, lightweight fabrics and new silhouettes, less about color and pattern. There’s a return to interesting jackets, layering, two-piece dressing and a new coordinated look. Highlights included Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Rochas, Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier and YSL. I think Tom Ford did a terrific job. Also, Stella McCartney had a beautiful collection. Her dresses were magnificent.”

Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus: “I think that since fall, there has been an attempt to be — shall we say — more commercial. It is definitely about femininity this season. The romantic dress is a key item. It is usually very bare on top, either with a décolleté or thin straps and halter top, and then a skirt that explodes either in pleats, godets — some sort of movement. There are also tons of novelty pants. These go from short — I especially like the rollup shorts — to cropped pants. It is a season of color and pattern, and the more the merrier. We feel very strongly about Chanel, Alexander McQueen, YSL, Stella McCartney, Lagerfeld Gallery, Martin Grant and Celine.”

Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner, Jeffrey: “I found Rochas so beautiful, it was mind-boggling. It just lifts your belief in what we’re all doing to have a talent like Olivier Theyskens making such beautiful clothing. The Rick Owens show was beautiful. And Dries Van Noten touched on all the trends of the season in a way that only Dries can.”

Sarah Lerfel, buyer, Colette: “Our key trends for summer from Paris are dresses, mini to long shirts, floral prints, yellow, green, and [ombré effects]. The fashion directions are traveling chic, from Hussein Chalayan, Bless and Y-3, new fluidity and lightness from Chloé, and a comeback of the body, as seen at Comme des Garçons, and the one-piece swimsuit, as at Yves Saint Laurent and Eva Herzigova.”

Joseph Boitano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager, Saks Fifth Avenue: “This season is a very light approach to femininity — a happy, uplifting, pretty approach. [Trend-wise], we start with a lingerie influence across the board — there was some sort of lingerie in every collection, but this was more boudoir lingerie, not vulgar, not overtly sexy. The second trend would be the whole Twenties Art Deco influence and the vintage fabrics with it. There were also crystals, either on garments or stacks and stacks of crystal bracelets. Dresses were full-skirted, waisted. The skirts were [also] full, almost Fifties-style. Another important classification was an abundance of lace. [In terms of prints,] the colors are very sophisticated. We thought Paris was very strong and that all the collections brought a lot. Chanel was an excellent collection for us.

“Alexander McQueen had a softer, lighter [comfort]. At Chloé, Phoebe [Philo] did a very good job this season moving the collection forward in her own way. We also loved Dries Van Noten, who continues to explore the lightness of layering. There is a new energy at Ungaro. We also think John Galliano did a great

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— a million great ideas came from that show.”

Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, owner, Villa Moda: “To me, Paris was a star in eveningwear — from Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Valentino — and feminine, soft sportswear, like we saw at Chloé and Stella McCartney. Normally, Paris goes to the edge, but this season I saw a lot of commercial pieces.”

Evelyn Gorman, owner, Mix in Houston: “I was waiting for a really wild show: something that grabs you and keeps you. Lanvin was that show. It was elegant and the proportions offered secure femininity without excess. It was colorful without being bold, dramatic without being dull, sexy without being too revealing. I absolutely loved it. The epitome of grown-up chic. I also enjoyed Chloé, Rochas, Rick Owens and Helmut Lang.”

Joan Burstein, owner, Browns, London: “There is a return to femininity, purity in clothing, there is less aggression; everything is softer and prettier. McQueen was the most outstanding. I loved the whole idea and use of chiffon, beautiful prints and colors in soft greens, pinks and reds. Next season everyone will want chiffon — a soft chiffon dress.”

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