From Runway to Retail: Big Chains Size Up Fashion Week Trends
Bold prints, tribal patterns and sporty looks are poised to turn up in America's malls this spring.
So said fashion and trend directors from Macy's (M), J.C. Penney (JCP) and Banana Republic (GPS), who weighed in on the salient trends and design themes that emerged during New York Fashion Week, which ended Sept. 15.
Chain retailers are watching the catwalk more closely these days. It's a sign of the times.
The popularity of style blogs, live streaming videos of runway shows on YouTube (GOOG) -- and the fixation on what celebrities are wearing -- have granted everyday consumers instant entrée to the once roped-off world of high fashion. In turn, mass retailers are impelled to respond to runway looks at a faster clip, catering to increasingly fashion-savvy shoppers.
"The world has changed," Simon Kneen, creative director for Banana Republic, Gap's tonier sister chain, tells DailyFinance. "Now with the click of a button, the morning after a show you know exactly what's happening. The customer is informed and knows what's going on, and they don't want to wait six months to share in some of the trends."
Fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Forever 21, which spit out clothes inspired by -- or many would argue, knocked off from -- high-end designers in a New York minute, have also helped nudge the shift, upping the ante for other retailers.
In recent years, Fashion Week has become more important, "mainly because of the growing fast-fashion world," Cyndie Washburn-Nester, women's trend director for J.C. Penney., tells DailyFinance. "Because customers in the mall are now being presented with interpretations of current runway looks so quickly, we want to make sure top trends are being represented for our customers at J.C. Penney."
And as the lines between haute couture and Main Street style blur, high-end fashion is being knocked off its lofty perch.
"Fashion used to be something unreachable for people, found in the pages of expensive glossy magazines," Kneen says. "It's fashion for everybody today -- not just for the elite." While before, "it was just an illusion, now it's accessible and real."
Here's what three of the nation's big clothing retailers had to say about Fashion Week, and what looks might spring up on their shelves come spring.
This season, Fashion Week generated a particularly high-energy buzz, and was a study in contrasting themes, said Nicole Fischelis, group vice president and fashion director for Macy's. "There was a lot of excitement, and several [design] directions and moods going on."
The preponderance of prints, as well as bright hues, including the return of neon -- were two of the big stories coming off the runway, she says.
These included an "interesting interpretation of exotic prints" from designers like Altuzarra, Donna Karan (with a collection inspired by Haiti) and Michael Kors, in looks that reflected "a very strong interest in global culture," be it Africa or Asia.
The looks mark an evolution of what's been selling well in Macy's stores. "Emotion creates instant buys. The impact of prints and the impact of colors basically drives sales. We've done very well in recent seasons with color and print," Fischelis says.
Designers turned the spotlight on "super bright colors" such as of red, pink, orange, yellow, aqua, lime and lavender, at times combining a cool and warm color palette in a single outfit, Fischelis says.
Meanwhile, global influences might turn up in an abstract animal print on a dress or blouse.
Flirty, girly, sexy and super-feminine looks also had their moments on the runway, evidenced by items with pleating, draping and ruffles from designers such as Diane von Furstenberg.
At the same time, "there was this strong direction toward athletic wear, in very modern, sleek but bold, bright colors," she says. "What was really interesting is the blending of all these attitudes together."
Banana Republic will look to adapt trends from the show that complement its brand proposition, Kneen says. "We definitely go after that modern, working woman aesthetic, which doesn't mean formal wear. It's seven days a week of what you need, classic with a twist."
The retailer's core shopper is not shy when it comes to color, and the runways were awash in "amazing color," he says.
Orange made such as splash that Kneen started to question, "Do we have enough of it? It's a trending color, so we'll consider making the buys bigger."
Neon colors (remember the '80s?) made a comeback, turning up in some surprising places, such as Oscar de la Renta evening wear, he says. At Banana Republic, it might show up in a summer T-shirt.
Kneen was also taken by both the "giant" and abstract florals from Narciso Rodriquez and Marchesa, which could easily be interpreted by Banana Republic in a summer top or shift dress, he said.
Tropical prints were another big presence.
And flashes of the tribal and safari prints on the runway will likely appear in handbags, woven bags and belts and necklaces from the retailer's Heritage collection -- but not until summer, Kneen says. "The tribal thing feels very early for me. Being seasonally appropriate in retail is also key to success."
While Fashion Week unveiled designers' spring collections, J.C. Penney won't necessarily wait until that season to feature trends culled from the shows.
Women no longer have two wardrobes," Washburn-Nester says. "Fashion has shown us that layering up and layering down is a modern way to dress, and women no longer have to replace their spring wardrobes with fall wardrobes after Labor Day," she says. "White can be worn after Labor Day, and leather can be worn year-round.
"What this means for runway interpretation at retail is that we can react to spring runway in fall, and to fall runway in spring, and bring runway trends to the consumer in just a few months."
"So which Fashion Week themes will be reflected in J.C. Penney's clothing mix next year? Washburn-Nester cited color blocking, color tipping (a border of color on a garment, such as a neckline or sleeve) and color banding as an important theme running through designers' collections.
In addition to the bold florals and tribal patterns, designers also worked to reinvent prints, showcasing "beautifully colored botanicals, '80s graffiti, dots and painterly prints," she says.
The absence of color was also key. "The white [pieces were] clean, modern and futuristic," she says.
Diane von Furstenberg, for example, made a bold statement with all white looks, from a lace dress to cargo pants.
Moving from the visual to the tactile, fresh twists on embellishments and textures were evident on the runway in "peplums on tops, skirts and dresses, open stitches, like crochet and macrame, and marabou feathers and fringe," Washburn-Nester says.
Like Macy's Fischelis, Wasburn-Nester also pointed to active wear-inspired looks as a recurring theme that could be sprinkled into its own assortment. These included "clean, wearable sportswear shapes" seen in anorak jackets, biker shorts and leggings, she says.