Friday, April 06, 2007

Stan’s the Man

Yesterday I attended Fashion Group International’s noontime Audio Visual Fall 2007 Ready-to-Wear Presentation held at FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre.

Under the guidance of Marylou Luther (FGI’s venerable Creative Director), it was (as always) a comprehensive look back at the runways with the objective of looking ahead and projecting what will most likely make it from the runway to reality. As the organization’s President, Margaret Hayes stated in her introductory remarks, their objective is to hone in on “what will sell” and “what consumers will ultimately buy”.

And from the look of things, retailers should have a lot to rejoice about since based on what was shown in the slide presentation, the emphasis for next fall is on decidedly “wearable” (dare I say, ‘commercial’) clothes and “the new propriety” (say hello to fashion’s “new lady”). This is something the customer hasn’t seen in awhile and something that has been missing from the racks and shelves of the stores.

Of course, there are always two sides to the coin and other big ‘trends’ which were singled out are “oh savage” (as seen in all the long-hair furs); “the new waistland” (a renewed focus on the waist and a plethora of belts being offered); “the cloth of creativity” (fabric that has been “designed by designers”); “knitwear” (jerseys, cardigans, twinsets, boyfriend styles, etc.); “fabric manipulation” (as exemplified by Ralph Rucci’s ability to “transform the face of fabrics”); “shine” (gold, silver, pewter, bronze, gunmetal); accessories (gloves, belts, frame bags, clutches, lace up oxfords, platform pumps, gloves, belts, boots and booties, headwear, dark legwear, Art Deco references in jewelry); hair and makeup (while kissable red lips are the hallmark of the season, there was also the minimalist clean bare face; and while in New York hair was mainly pulled away from the face into twisted buns and chignons, in Europe, it was all about long hair worn down (thanks to hair extensions).

To sum up the Fashion Group Committee’s ‘Best Bets’ (those items most likely to make it from the runway to reality): The New Propriety, Color, Outerwear, Knitwear, The Jacket, Fabric Innovation, Fur, The Glove, The Belt, Patent, Shine, The Shoe, The Bag, Legwear.

When the first portion of the presentation was over, it was time for the panel discussion to begin and Marylou Luther introduced the panel which was comprised of Ken Downing, Fashion Director, Neiman Marcus; Stephanie Solomon, Fashion Director, Bloomingdales; Ed Burstell, SVP & GMM, Bergdorf Goodman, and Tim Blanks, Host Fashion File on CBC Newsworld (who was unable to attend at the last moment so Marylou ‘sat’ in for him).

She then introduced the moderator, Stan Herman, former CFDA President, soon to be author, and multi-tasking designer, observing that as the designer of uniforms for McDonalds, FedEx, Jet Blue, etc., “more people wear his clothes than any other designer’s”). The ever entertaining and engaging Herman wasted no time asking the retailers how they “dive into all this diversion” and make sense of it for their customer.

KD: “We talk to our customers. I’m always thinking of her closet.” He also admitted that his blog, recently added to the Neiman Marcus home page (boy, everybody blogs there days don’t they?), enables him to personally sustain that ongoing conversation, and added that many customers actually ask him for specific items online.

SS: “We have a trend driven customer and this move away from girlie to the dressed up look of a woman (for fall 2007) will be grabbed up by her”.

EB: At Bergdorf, it’s about finding the right edit; finding restraint.”

Stan then quickly related the questions and discussion back to the slide presentation with its emphasis on the new propriety and wearability, the continuing importance of accessories (bags, gloves, shoes, belts), and the renewed interest in color.

When he looked around and commented that everyone on the panel was wearing black even though color was the message of the trend report and slide presentation, and touted as the Next Big Thing, Stephanie said, “I think women, even New Yorkers, will embrace color this season” but agreed with Ed Burstell that customers will most likely get their bright hits of color from accessories. Everyone also agreed that another quick and easy way to get that all important shot of color is by wearing bright red (or pink) lipstick.

They were all on common ground about the resurgence of the long glove this season (Ken exclaimed that “they finish everything”) since there are so many capes and so many fall coats have short or ¾ sleeves (or are sleeveless) -- at which point Stan recounted that he designed “the first Aris Isotoner glove…and they fired me and got Anne Klein to do the rest: the story of my life!” (Who knew?)

Another point of agreement: the importance of the matte, lacquered leg. And though Stan couldn’t help but notice that “women are bigger in the waist than they’ve ever been”, the panelists felt strongly about the focus on the waist and importance of belts in every width and style. As Stephanie sees it, “the focus on the waist is new; we haven’t seen this in a long time what with all the low rise jeans and babydoll dresses”. To prove her point she stood up to show that she accessorized her years ‘old’ black dress with a brand new belt. Ken chimed in, “the wide belt updates everything for this spring”.

As for the customers’ well documented love affair with shoes and bags, Stephanie noted that “the handbag doesn’t have a size” and a woman doesn’t have to fret if she can’t fit into that fabulous “size 2” dress, and Ken exclaimed, “Our customer can’t get enough shoes and bags and I love them for that.”

As for the relationship between the press and retailers…Stan posed the question: “Do you trust the power of the press? There are more new designers now than ever…if they get bad reviews, do you still go to see them?” The answer was a resounding “no”!

KD: “This is a business and we have to find terrific clothes”.

SS: “You have to use your instincts and you have to stick with them. The showroom is where you see the talent…not the runway”.

Stan then noted that he often looks at the shows and asks himself, “What happened to great American sportswear?” He wanted to know if they also felt as though there are too many evening clothes being shown and not enough daywear. Ken disagreed and said that in fact, his customer looks for and needs eveningwear and it’s an important category for the store.

At the end, Stan asked each panelist to list his or her favorite shows of the season in New York, Paris, and Milan. Marylou read Tim’s list: Jil Sander, Alberta Feretti, Marni, Miuccia Prada in Milan, Stefano Pilati for YSL, Galliano, Theyskens, Chanel, Balenciaga, Chanel, Miu Miu in Paris.

KD: “Marc Jacobs, Proenza Shouler, Thakoon, Philip Lim, Doo.Ri, Zac Posen in New York; Jil Sander and 6267 in Milan; Balenciaga, Nina Ricci, Olivier Theyskens for Nina Ricci, and YSL in Paris.

SS: Marc Jacobs and Zac Posen in New York; Armani and 6267 in Milan; Chanel and Stella McCartney in Paris (for the record, she seemed surprised that she singled out Armani since his collections have not exactly been critically acclaimed for years now).

EB: Olivier Theyskens for Nina Ricci, Ric Owens, John Galliano, Chanel in Paris; Versace in Milan.

By the way, not everyone in attendance was as enthusiastic as the panel with the idea of the cinched waist or the big belts…When Stan asked the audience if they had any questions or comments, one woman (a fashion industry veteran ‘of a certain age’ shall I say), stood up and made mention of the overwhelming statistics that prove the majority of women ‘out there’ are not only over a certain age, but are WAY over a model size…in fact, they are size 12 and over. So, with that in mind, she challenged the panel who felt strongly that a defined waist and big belts would indeed ‘fly’ or make a big dent in terms of retail. It was hard to argue with her; she certainly has a point.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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