The big winner: Donna Karan. The big loser: Anne Klein.
That was the retailers’ take on the best and worst of the New York collections, which ended Wednesday.
Other, hot Picks, according to the stores, were Calvin Klein, Ralph Laure, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Victor Alfaro, Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs and Badgley Mischaka.
The disappointments, included Isaac Mizrahi and Richard Tyler: Drawing the toughest criticism was Anne Klein. Retailer reaction ranged from “difficult” to “disaster.” Some held out a shred of hope that it would look better up close in the showroom.
The harshest, most consistent complaints were reserved for the killer schedule, which followed three grueling weeks in Europe.
Because of the Passover and Easter holidays, the fashion world here was tilted on its axis, with the nine-day-long show schedule kicking off Tuesday, March 25, running over the weekend and ending Wednesday. A number of retailers lamented that the biggest names – notably Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren – were crammed into the last two days and, up until then, there was too little excitement on the runways.
As for the clothes, Karan’s collection in particular won universal praise as one of her strongest ever. Retailers described it as “pure,” “brilliant,” “unadulterated,” “the epitome of what Donna does best.”
Also scoring unanimous kudos were the matte jersey dresses from Calvin Klein.
Here, a rundown of store notes.
Gene Pressman, co-president of Barneys New York: “I loved Calvin’s show. I thought it was one of the best lines he’s done in a very long time. The one thing that struck me besides the styles is that there was a real quality factor. “His color combinations were wonderful. He did Seventies kinds of colors like purples and greens that were unusual and very beautiful together.”
Pressman also singled out Klein’s knitwear for day and evening and coats.
At Anne Klein, he liked the leathers and at Mark Eisen, he praised the suits, adding, “Mark did a very wearable, youthful collection.”
He added that sportswear is now having its moment which bodes well for American designers. “The Americans have a great opportunity to take advantage of the sportswear lifestyle,” he said. “That’s the statement that’s being made all over the world.”
Ellin Saltzman, corporate fashion director for Henri Bendel: “Donna’s collection was superb from beginning to end, from the first body-suit to the last evening dress. All of her jump suits, her narrow pants were phenomenal. Her jackets were impeccable from day to night. It was a flawless collection.”
She especially liked Mare Jacobs’s gold lace pieces and leather coats and Victor Alfaro’s wool coats and furs. Her favorite pieces from Bill Blass were his bright jackets with black skirts, his brown leather shirt jacket over brown lace pants and his checked cashmere suits.
A high point in Calvin Klein’s spare, sleek collection was a group of bi- and tri-color matte jerseys and long double-breasted jackets over long, slim pants. From Oscar de la Renta, Saltzman liked a golden evening dress and his pale shearling coats over pants.
Who is Bendel’s adding this season? “We are certainly looking at some new talent that showed in the tents earlier, including Ev and El, Janet Howard and some other young contemporary resources,” Saltzman said.
Carolyn Moss, fashion director, Macy’s East: Macy’s is looking to build its contemporary business with new POS software resources as well as existing resources – Parallel, Janet Howard and BCBG – that showed in the tents for the first time.
On another front, the company plans a major investment in new offerings from Tommy Hilfiger, Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Nautica, with designated areas for each.
Moss raved about Anna Sui’s Twenties-inspired collection, DKNY’S slim bootleg pants with a long belted jacket, Ellen Tracy’s wool sheen suit with a taffeta shirt and Mare Eisen’s pantsuits.
“Bravo” to Badgley Mischka and Bob Mackie for showing “glamour is out there.”
Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s: He singled out Calvin Klein for his “sleek chic designs” such as maxi coats, bicolor dresses and narrow silhouettes; Donna Karan’s jumpsuits, jersey dresses, and coats; and Ralph Lauren’s turtlenecks, flashes of color and his use of fabrics, which included velvet, camel hair and cashmere.
Ruttenstein also applauded Mare Jacobs for his Bloomsbury-inspired suits; Bill Blass for his plaid suits with matching coats – although the store will probably limit its Blass buy to the designer’s Sport bridge line this season; Anna Sui, for her Bloomsbury-inspired knitwear and mix of fabrics; and Victor Alfaro, for his simple shapes and great colors.
Ruttenstein pointed out, “Because the heavy hitters showed at the end, boredom set in Shows are also so strung out after Europe that American designers have too long of a time to second-guess themselves. They didn’t design from the heart. There was too much influence of Jil Sander, too much Prada too much Gucci.”
Rose Marie Bravo, president, Saks Fifth Avenue:
Key trends include the new uniform – coat, turtleneck and slim pant; the ski influence, the modern edge to eveningwear. She cited Blass’s separates; de la Renta’s cashmere knits and satin pants; Lauren’s eveningwear, shirts and ties; Karan’s “brilliant total collection,” especially the jumpsuits; Calvin Klein’s knitwear, especially the matte jersey dresses. Isaac Mizrahi’s peacoats and jumpsuits; Gieffeffe’s smart ski and high tech looks. Other strong lines include Carolina Herrera, Miu Miu, Badgley Mischka, Ellen Tracy and DKNY.
For fall, Saks is expanding its offerings for Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Jennifer George.
Saks which is going public within a few months, is also launching the bridge collections Gieffeffe and Oscar – which it will have in six cities – for fall.
Joseph Boitano, executive vice president of Bergdorf Goodman: Stretching the shows over the weekend was a killer, he noted, but, timing aside, the week was that’s a step out for American designers made a strong showing this year “with clean lines and luxurious fabrics.”
“The leather at Donna Karan, the suede at Ralph Lauren, the matte jersey at Calvin Klein, the velvet at Richard Tyler, the doubleface at Oscar, the return of fur and fur trim at Victor Alfaro – that’s a step out for American designing,” he said.
Despite his enthusiasm for various collections, Boitano said the store is adding only one name this season – Douglas Hannant, who presented his first fall line last week. “We’ll have him exclusively in New York,” said Boitano. “We think he’s a real talent.”
Boitano cited Marc Jacobs’ camel maxi coat and Lauren’s suede trenches, Calvin Klein’s boot-cut pants and the jumpsuit. “It’s not an easy sell, but it’s going to be a fashion item.”
Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor: Knit dressing, turtlenecks and sculptured jackets emerged as some of the hottest trends.
“I absolutely loved Calvin,” Olexa said. He took a very modern approach to a Seventies’ inspiration and was pure and simple without being too minimalist.”
Olexa also gave high marks to Oscar de la Renta’s daytime suits and dresses and shaped cashmere coats, and to Bill Blass for an overall strong collection.
For fall, Lord & Taylor will add the new Lauren by Ralph Lauren line and the Donna Karan Essentials line. Olexa said the store will also increase its buy on Yeohlee, Sully Bonnelly and Donald Deal, which represent some of the “up-and-coming” collections.
Joan Kaner, fashion director of Neiman Marcus: “I thought Donna was strong; Calvin Klein was exceptionally good and Victor Alfaro was really directional. I loved Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta. We have many customers who want to look that way – it was updated.” She also liked Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam and Badgley Mishka.
Kaner said Karan’s collection “was more pointed and more directed,” and she particularly loved the bodysuits. “It was quintessential Donna, and she does it sexier than anybody.”
At Calvin Klein, she liked the matte jersey colored blocked dresses. “He made a strong dress statement,” said Kaner. “Ralph Lauren showed American sportswear the way only he can do it.” She felt the day looks were strongest, especially the suedes.
The Down Side: Retailers said their hopes for designer Patrick Robinson at Anne Klein were dimming. “There was no point of view and the show just had a lot of shapeless clothes,” said one executive who declined to be named. “In addition, there were gaucho pants. That is so out of touch with today.”
Besides Anne Klein, some retailers also expressed disappointment in Isaac Mizrahi, calling it “uneven,” and Richard