Relevance Seen Key Trend for Spring Runways

For the spring runway season, retailers and designers aims for high quality fashion while watching prices.

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Zac Posen Resort 2010

Photo By Talaya Centeno

Jason Wu Resort 2010

Photo By Robert Mitra

An exciting trend could emerge from the upcoming spring runway shows — relevance.

That is exactly what stores are eagerly expecting with the onset of the collections, even if they’re buying a lot less inventory. And brands are striving to deliver it, along with lower prices.

“In the pre-collections, we saw an emphasis on more wear-now products and an attempt to really understand the price-value relationship,” said Joseph Boitano, Saks Fifth Avenue’s group senior vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s.

“I believe we will see some serious fashion down the runway — realistic prices, good quality, beautiful fabrication, a lot of creativity and some very big happy surprises,” predicted Stephanie Solomon, Bloomingdale’s vice president and fashion director for women’s ready-to-wear and accessories. “There will also probably be less fanfare. It doesn’t seem like the right time to overspend on balloons, party favors and fluff. But the biggest relevance will be with reality-based prices.”

Designers appear to be thinking strategically, by merchandising collections with a greater variety of items and price points, while demonstrating less dependence on a classification or two that may have historically sold well. “It’s something we started to definitely notice with resort and spring,” observed Ginny Hershey-Lambert, Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president and gmm for women’s rtw, accessories and shoes. “Designer brands are offering a broader assortment so you can buy a great pant or a jacket that refreshes your wardrobe. They know they’ve got to offer individual pieces because that’s the way the customer is shopping. It’s also a better opportunity for pricing options.”

So are accessories, which enable women to perk up their outfits and dresses and forego spending more on new apparel. “Whether it’s an earring or a belt, it’s really important,” Hershey-Lambert said. “We loved it in resort. There were a lot of the pieces that inspired emotion. Lanvin did fruit necklaces with strawberries. Chanel did jelly shoes. Things that are fun, itemy. We want to see the same fun, unique pieces that refresh a wardrobe.”

For months, retailers have been pressing designers for change to better reflect their customers’ lifestyles and, even more, desire to spend less. “It’s one thing to say that you’re shifting more dollars into this category or price point, but you’ve got to make sure the brands are developing the product to be there,” said Ron Frasch, Saks Inc.’s president and chief merchandising officer. “We have been working with our brand partners since last fall to make sure we are covering these categories and price points.”

For spring, retailers will allocate a greater percentage of the overall budget to the highest-margin categories — which include bridge and contemporary women’s sportswear, private label, men’s accessories, women’s shoes and accessories — and to the best performing classifications within each designer or brand.

The designer category, being the most margin-challenged, will receive fewer dollars. If designer merchandise doesn’t move fast and at full price, it gets sharply discounted and becomes unprofitable. For the past year, the designer business has been very weak, elevating the level of caution retailers will take to the collections, which commence Sept. 10 in New York followed by London, Milan and Paris.

Retailers always go to shows with some trepidation, knowing the looks on the runways are usually more sensational than salable, though they still earmark significant open-to-buy to those styles. After buying resort and pre-spring, stores selling designer lines have anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of their spring rtw budgets left to spend heading into the collections, as in the case of Saks, or as much as around 40 percent, as in the case of Bergdorf Goodman.

For designers, the heat is on. They are aware that stores are downsizing their vendor matrix and are taking steps to increase their chances of participating in the runway buy.

“Everyone is working with very strict budgets, but at the same time, buyers want to have a reason to buy. They want to see something special,” said Yildiz Blackstone, president of Luca Luca. “We worked on each item like it is the only item that we will be showing, from the details of the seam to the finish, the type of fabric, the closure of the button.”

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