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Buyers Divide on Paris: Some Praise Season, Others Call It Lackluster

In one of the most divisive seasons in memory, retailers took distinctly opposing views of Paris Fashion Week: Some said sizzle, some said fizzle.

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“I liked bigger volumes, maybe in a voluminous skirt, an oversized jacket or a bigger pant,” she continued. “It will change the way we look at fashion the next few seasons. Paris gave us newness.”

Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, said Paris is always inspiring. “My favorite collection of all the collections this season was Jean Paul Gaultier for Hermès. It was stylish, sexy and charming, but it was really all about class. In ready-to-wear, Chloé was a standout. Phoebe Philo’s collection was feminine, beautiful, charming and sexy.”

Ruttenstein praised Paris designers for showing “the right way to do fur” and more sophisticated and subtle beadwork and embellishment. He also praised a “new and fresh” color palette of neutrals, led by pearly grays and beige.

“There is an interesting crossroads of masculine and feminine that is wearable and very new looking,” said Suzanne Patneaude, executive vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom. “The prevailing trend continues to be the plaid, tweed and argyle story: feminine haberdashery, all mixed up and not Savile Row — much sexier and more interesting.”

Key items she cited included capelets, cuffed pants, voluminous skirts and interesting dresses.

Given the lack of consensus on trends, retailers said they would be faced with some tough choices, especially at a time when the weak dollar is making European goods more expensive. “There is definitely a return to more elegance and more couture fashion,” said Joyce Ma of Joyce in Hong Kong. “The only problem is the euro-dollar exchange, which is very high for us in Hong Kong. One has to be more careful and reflect really on how much we can sell.” That said, Ma added that she “welcomes the return to the waist line and more elegant looks.”

Many observers detected in the disparate trends an uncertainty among Paris-based designers about where fashion is headed.

“Paris had a totally different take on the season,” said Michael Fink, senior fashion market director at Saks Fifth Avenue. “The play of feminine versus masculine has been done exceptionally well here, like at Chanel and Comme des Garçons, and then you had all-out glamour at YSL. What’s interesting is this search for what’s modern. It’s coming across as architectural shapes from younger designers and a sci-fi fantasy at Alexander McQueen.”
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