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PARIS — Paris puzzled more than it sizzled.

Despite the lack of a compelling, unifying direction as the French capital wound up an international marathon of shows, some buyers said they would likely increase their spend on collections here by as much as 15 percent.

Balenciaga was the most-praised label, with retailer Linda Dresner crowning it “the richest collection in Paris.”

Other widely lauded lines included Lanvin, Rochas, Dries Van Noten, Yves Saint Laurent and Chloé, with newer names like Tao Comme des Garçons also earning accolades.

Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said fashion seems to be at a crossroads and confused as to which way to turn.

But there were recurring trends. The dress, a key element in Milan, was just as important in Paris, along with the pantsuit. Cropped jackets, trenchcoats, Bermuda shorts, embroidered blouses, platform shoes and wide belts were other styles frequently mentioned as key items.

Robert Burke, senior vice president of fashion at Bergdorf Goodman, said many designers in Paris played it safe.

“There is room for more creativity and innovation,” he said. “This season will require more merchant skills to give the homogeneity of the runway a new spin.”

Here’s how retailers translated a confounding Paris season:

This story first appeared in the October 11, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

  • Michael Fink, senior fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue: “Unlike Milan, which to me was about commercialism and sameness, Paris was about the exciting confusion as to fashion’s new direction. We saw punk, futuristic sci-fi, rock ‘n’ roll. But amidst all that, there’s a return to a demicouture statement from designers who know their customers and evolve gradually, such as Rochas, Martin Grant and Balenciaga.”

    As for trends, Fink said he “loved the volume falling away from the body such as at Chloé and the new slim pantsuit at YSL, Balenciaga and Rochas. It’s nice to see a beautifully tailored pantsuit again.”

  • Carla Sozzani, owner, 10 Corso Como, Milan: “Tight pants that are slightly shorter in the leg will be a key item next summer, such as the ones from Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent. They are feminine — a great alternative to the skirt. McQueen and Balenciaga showed beautiful and delicate refinement, as did [Tao Kurihara], the designer of Tao Comme des Garçons. Overall most of the collections continued on the same themes from their winter lines, except for Balenciaga, which made a big statement.”

    Sozzani said she would increase her budget for next summer by between 10 and 15 percent.

  • Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Lane Crawford, Hong Kong: “YSL was masterful. I believe [Stefano Pilati] totally hit the right note for this season. At retail we will see a significant move forward [for YSL].” She called Dries Van Noten “a masterpiece,” praising the addition of Japanese elements. “Lanvin was incredible. Turquoise, emerald and red patent platform shoes gave a new confidence to alter the viewpoint of Lanvin’s Japanese kimono dresses, the tighter proportion and wide patent and elastic belts added to this flavor. Also, Sharon Wauchob is a new generation designer that in her first season this fall has blown out immediately. Her take on folding and draping is urban, modern, with edgy femininity. She has incredible focus and is a star of the future.”
  • Joan Burstein, owner of Browns, London: “I think we are going to be very elegant and much less carefree with our clothes. Balenciaga was beautiful. The workmanship was splendid and the clothes were divine, especially jackets with embroideries. They are not affordable, but they were works of art and it set a tone.”

    Burstein said slim-fitting pants and a plethora of ladylike dresses would be keys for next summer. She noted dresses at Chloé for a younger clientele were “very pretty” and Lanvin’s slim-fitting style was ideal for a more grown-up look. “Dior was disappointing; however, Galliano was pure theater, I adored it. I couldn’t see the clothes but I was intrigued. I thought it was very profound.”

  • Julie Gilhart, vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York: “I think Paris is still the city that defines a season. The power and the energy of the designers here is the strongest of anywhere. Their influence is the greatest.”

    As for her favorites, she listed Lanvin for “redefining a new sexiness,” Balenciaga for designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s “best collection yet with such beautiful intense details,” and Rochas for “showing how simplicity can be so powerful.” She said those three collections “continue to inspire and influence fashion at all levels.”

    Her other highlights included Dries Van Noten, Nina Ricci and Tao Comme des Garçons. Gilhart said this “will be the season of the dress,” adding that belts are the most important accessory.

    “The trench is still the best coat silhouette,” she said. “Colors of white, creams, tans and soft natural colors are the base of the season with intense colors mixed in, while fabrics are with eyelets or in lace, chiffon and linen. Sexy shoes — platforms are best — are important because a lot of the clothes are sweet. The best bags are washed and soft and somewhat oversized.”

  • Suzanne Tide-Frater, creative director of Harrods: Tide-Frater characterized it as a season of consolidation, with a slight shift in mood “from a brash, glam, sexy femininity to something more subtle, womanly and sophisticated. We see sleeves appear; it’s a bit more of a covered-up femininity.” But there were some conflicting messages, too, with Alexander McQueen doing a “totally strong” collection, but one based on aggressive sexuality. Among new items to emerge in Paris were slim, high-waist trousers, Bermuda and knee-length shorts, cropped jackets and the blouse, she said.

    As for collections, she called Balenciaga “the absolute highlight.” She also praised Rochas for defining “that new femininity,” Lanvin for its toned-down embellishment and newcomer Giambattista Valli. She singled out John Galliano and Hussein Chalayan for showing “beautiful dresses,” a key piece of the season.

  • Cedric Charbit, general merchandise manager for women’s fashion, Printemps: “Couture-à-porter is a very interesting direction for next summer: A new couture with vintage elements and very elegant proportions. Dresses will be big. We multiplied about five times our orders [for dresses] for next season. Bermudas and skirts will also remain strong.”

    Charbit said black would be strong next summer, but lamented it was too dominant in some collections. As a result, he welcomed the khaki colors in Dries Van Noten, Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney, as it “always sells.”

    Overall, Charbit said Balenciaga was particularly strong, adding Chloé to his list of highlights for dresses and said Yves Saint Laurent’s eveningwear was “fabulous.” Charbit said he thought the high prices of ready-to-wear were becoming an issue. “Too many brands are presenting pieces that are not affordable.”

  • Robert Burke, Bergdorf Goodman: Burke said Paris provided the collections — Rochas, Balenciaga and Chloé — that “will most influence the season.” Among other collections he appreciated were Yves Saint Laurent for its “stronger direction,” Lanvin for its “boldness that was so pure and clean, but still very feminine,” and Christian Dior, which Burke said, with its “lightness and couture” quality, illustrated fashion’s “fluid and feminine direction.”

    Burke said play on silhouette, the waist and more tailored and sophisticated looks were fresh. Yet the season wasn’t about “any one style. There’s not one thing. Contrast will be important, as in a light dress with a chunky shoe.”

  • Joyce Ma of Joyce, Hong Kong: “I loved what we saw in Paris. I thought Balenciaga was one of the best collections. It’s just glorious.” Ma also praised the superlative quality of Alexander McQueen’s collection in the showroom. Other highlights were Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Chloé and Junya Watanabe.

    In terms of trends, Ma said: “I think volume is back. I like the volume.” She also detected the return of rock-style grunge. “One can’t say it’s just grunge; it is very luxurious grunge with a lot of workmanship,” she said.

  • Joan Kaner, Neiman Marcus: Kaner said Paris provided a “strong” showing, with standouts from Akris, “which is getting younger each season”; Yves Saint Laurent, which in a “season of blouses gave some beautiful blouses,” and Rochas, which was very “artistic.” Meanwhile, Kaner said Balenciaga had strong pantsuits and blouses, while Dries Van Noten had an appealing “easy mood.”
  • Sue Patneaude, executive vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom: “It’s a lace and embroidery season: less adornment and more workmanship. Key items for us are the waistcoat or cutaway jacket; full-sleeved embroidered blouses and slim capri pants. Our favorite shows were Balenciaga and Lanvin and we also loved Martin Grant, Chloé, Kenzo, Dries Van Noten and Valentino.” She added that she felt Yves Saint Laurent is “gaining momentum.”

    On the color front, Patneaude cited nude, white, navy and black as the main statements, with unexpected mixes of soft colors an alternative. As for prints, she said botanical prints and Asian florals were predominant.

  • Linda Dresner, who operates eponymous stores in New York and Birmingham, Mich.: “I find the season to be very item-driven. We loved Balenciaga: the jackets, great blouses and glorious eveningwear. We also liked the pantsuits at Rochas. The feminine-masculine mix was terrific. There were great coats and jackets from Junya Watanabe, T-shirt dresses from Undercover and Tao Comme des Garçons was absolutely exquisite, very feminine. And we always do well with Dries Van Noten.”
  • Beth Buccini, a co-owner of Kirna Zabête, New York: “I thought Paris was the best season of New York, Milan and Paris. However, I did not think it was the best Paris season ever. I loved the new direction at Chloé and Lanvin. I thought both houses needed a new direction, since they had been knocked off [so much]. And I thought there were some absolutely beautiful things at Jean Paul Gaultier. Stella McCartney was an easy, charming, great little collection. Balenciaga was absolutely incredible — one of my favorites, if not my favorite in Paris.”

    Trendwise, she noted “a play in volume — either lots of it or none of it. I think that was a fresh and new direction needed. Clearly, the dress is the massive news everywhere. I saw some wonderful accessories and shoes, platforms and wedges. They seem to be getting cuter and cuter.”

  • Jeffrey Kalinsky, president and chief executive officer of Jeffrey New York, and director of designer merchandising at Nordstrom: “I’m spending more in Paris. I just believe I should go for it with the collections that are really strong. Overall, the season had a real sense of refinement,” Kalinsky said, citing as examples Dries Van Noten, Tao Comme Des Garçons and Martin Grant. “I don’t look so much for direction as evolution and three great examples of evolution are Rochas, Lanvin and Balenciaga. The three of them hit huge home runs this season.”

  • Anna Garner, fashion director, Selfridges: “We found it quite hard to find fashion direction at the shows because there were so many. Modern minimalization has come through, however, as clearly illustrated at Lanvin, which demonstrated a really modern and very sleek look. The bohemian looks were very toned down and replaced with quite a rock ‘n’ roll edge. Balenciaga’s juxtaposition of hard-edge rock ‘n’ roll with beautiful 18th-century courtesan-style lace and embroideries was outstanding.

    “Accessories had punk elements coming through with a lot of metallic detailing. The key message coming out of Paris is the dress in a minimalist, grown-up and sophisticated style. Short is still very important as well as ruffles and Spanish inspirations, such as at Yves Saint Laurent, were very feminine.”

  • Pascale Camart, women’s fashion buyer, Galeries Lafayette: “Chic is the key word. I have seen new codes in Paris that are turning the fashion direction around completely. This summer will be bicolored, with white, beige, cream and black, added to one other strong color. Chloé, Lanvin, Marithé & François Girbaud, Jean Paul Gaultier and Nina Ricci were strong collections.”

    Camart, who noted a budget on the rise, said Bermuda shorts and bowl skirts paired with men’s cardigans designed for women will be key looks for the summer.

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