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Styles shift from runway to retail stores in record time


NEW YORK —The spring 2008 collections seen on the runways of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week certainly left an impression— yet so did the Playtex models who walked with mini TVs on their bosoms. The myriad of designs had one factor in common: simplicity and powerful, yet subtle detail. Prepare to see the designer looks walk the walk from runway to street in just a few months.

In the past three years, the transition period of high-end designer fashions to the mass retail market has shortened tremendously. Trends materialize simultaneously in order to appeal to the mass market. It’s not uncommon for fabric mills and factories to share insights with fashion moguls at all levels of product and retail. “Low-end retailers are looking at what it is that will be coming to stores from the designers and creating their own adaptations of the same trends,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, from The NPD Group. “So what used to be sacred territory for designers now is only sacred interpretations.” That said, the reverence for high-end designers flies sky high; after all, they are the drivers for today’s fashions.

From the women’s collections, expect to see plenty of dresses. Since no one length dominated the runways, no need to worry about pulling off Miss Sixty minis or drowning in an ankle length Tibi dress. However, the 7/8-length column dresses, like those seen at Lela Rose, left a definitive mark, thanks to the 1940s inspirations.

Fit played probably the most important role. Most designers, concentrated on keeping the silhouettes feminine and crisp, emphasizing the value of the classics, Carolina Herrera in particular. Her runway featured an array of knee-length dresses, some complemented by cardigans, and skirts that accentuated the waist, creating a defined hourglass figure. BCBG, for example, focused on maintaining the waistline by adding contrasting belts to the otherwise barely-there neutral fabrics, evoking a sense of femininity with a touch of gravity.

Metallics incorporated into the collections allowed the garments to shine, pun intended, creating a sleek futuristic look seen at Miss Sixty and Calvin Klein.

Fabric fluidity emphasized that these spring collections are all about rejuvenation and purity. Calvin Klein showed simple, uniform looks that were accentuated with solid white, grey and beigetan hues. The monochrome ensembles of skinny pants and jackets or narrow, long dresses and skirts create an illusive lengthening effect.

Vera Wang, on the other hand, allowed the fabric of her garments to balloon, mixing comfort with clean sophistication. Between the loose tops embellished with jewels and toga dresses, the collection created a sort of ‘walking on air’ effect that comes with extreme comfort. Vera Wang also honed in on using dark naturals, which are usually suited for fall, in her spring collection. Perhaps creating an ironic contrast between the dark fabrics used in the construction of these light, fluid garments.

Men’s collections will easily transition from high-end to the mass market, thanks to the recurring urban-cool-meets-preppy-resort looks that primarily consist of plaid, shorts and blazers. Marc by Marc Jacobs embraced the grey plaid, showing the pattern on blazers and pants alike, creating a school-boyish look. Nautica incorporated plaid in their vests, making the pattern a focal point of the outfit. Also seen at Nautica was their signature style of swimwear paired with deep V-neck sweaters and tailored jackets. The combination was kicked up a notch at Michael Kors as turtlenecks were thrown into the mix for a dollop of glamour. Ralph Lauren, who celebrated the brand’s 40th anniversary this year, has secured the look by juxtaposing blazer and tie with simple, flat-front shorts. Country clubs are in for a pleasant fashion surprise this spring.

“As we speak,” said Cohen, “brands and retailers are looking at photos in the media from the collections shown in New York for next spring and creating their own versions for merchandise selection to be developed for delivery—you guessed it—in spring.” Some, like Payless ShoeSource, are not wasting time thanks to the ventures between designers who are producing footwear for the retailer. Lela Rose, Abaete and Alice + Olivia put their best foot forward at the runway shows, mixing affordable shoes with the high-end apparel.

Sears and Kmart squeezed into Fashion Week in their own way with the Perennials and Paper Dolls Spring 2008 Apparel Preview right outside Bryant Park. Both have unveiled ensembles, to debut nationwide in February, that allow consumers to shop ‘the look’ for less without sacrificing style. “We have to take into account a broad customer base when designing for Kmart and Sears,” said Lisa Schultz, evp of design at Sears Holdings Apparel. “We are working to meet the needs of each of those segments by becoming increasingly focused in our merchandise. We are also increasing our attention on our in-house brands.”

Close to 200 SoHo-based designers have created ensembles for Kmart’s Route 66, Attention and Joe Boxer lines. With a focus on comfort, customers should have no problem slipping into light cotton shirt dresses and brightly printed tops. Sears took a more sophisticated approach with Apostrophe and Covington labels by incorporating apparel that transition from business to causal with ease. “The dresses, this year, are particularly strong,” said Amy Dimond, director of marketing public relations at Sears Holdings Fashion. “Editors visiting our suites compared the dress silhouettes to looks created by some of the top designers.”

And with an increased demand for quality items, throwing in fashionable and affordable merchandise allows shoppers to have their cake and eat it too. “Cross-merchandising or the ‘high-low’ mentality is the norm now for a wide segment of the population,” adds Dimond.

The swift modification of runway fashions has allowed more people to enjoy beautiful, trendy clothes. Yes, quality will probably be different—after all, organza does not sell cheaply—but these transitions bridge the gap when it comes to keeping up with the trends. As Cohen said, “No more separation of state or class society.”

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