Beth Buccini, an owner of the SoHo boutique Kirna Zabete, was wrapping up her spring orders in Paris last week when she decided to clear her head and drop by the Lanvin shop on the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honore. But if Buccini thought a hectic runway season was over, she was mistaken; it had, in a sense, only just begun. A customer wanted to know when she could get her hands on the wide black stretch belts that Alber Elbaz had shown with Lanvin's lustrous slim dresses.
"I thought, `My God, the runway show was on Sunday, and it's only Wednesday,"' Buccini said.
With consumers getting their fashion news almost as quickly as buyers and journalists, and more selectively if they are only paying attention to the labels they care about, there is no way to predict what looks will still matter in March. The belt that looks hot today may be forgotten tomorrow. Maybe that's the reason the spring collections resembled a duck-hunting contest in Central Park. The thinking among designers seemed to be that if they fired off enough buckshot -- that is to say trends -- in a limited space, they might actually hit something. And don't be surprised if fashion writers are talking (more than usual) out of both sides of their mouths, extolling the merits of, say, Stefano Pilati's slim high-waisted pants for Yves Saint Laurent and, after a polite pause, suggesting that you would look adorable in Marc Jacobs' elephant trousers. If fashion seems confusing right now to journalists as well as buyers,it's because the consumer has moved the fences.
She decides what the long-running trends will be. She determines what looks will be copied. And to make things more confusing, she has different aspirations than her sisters in Asia or just down the road at the mall. That's what the spring 2006 collections made clear in its democratic sprawl of looks. Taking a purely Darwinian view of spring, some trends appear stronger than others.
New York designers like Narciso Rodriguez and Carolina Herrera opened their collections with dresses, and the trend just kept gathering momentum -- through Francisco Costa's ethereal cotton voile dresses for Calvin Klein; Miuccia Prada's naive, hand-painted shifts; Phoebe Philo's breathy baby-doll shapes for Chloe -- until at a certain point you just gave up and drew a triangle in your notebook. Voila: a dress.
To Robert Burke, the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, a loose, floaty shape looks new, especially with the balance of chunky platform shoes. "Calvin Klein really set the tone for Milan and Paris with its very refined, very light fabrics," Burke said. "I thought Prada had the same message -- very simple dresses, cut away from the body, in these pale colors that emphasized the lightness of the fabrics." How many ways can you say white?
Costa's predominantly white collection, with subtle shadings of light gray and beige, turned out to be the most varied expression of the theme, with pleats and unexpected volumes conveying the same mood of air and lightness. That's something you will probably want to keep in mind next spring when you face racks of white clothes. Is there enough detail and precision in the cut of a garment to save it from looking like a glorified sack? Rodriguez engineered his Empire linen dresses to get the most from their minimalist cut, but no more than was necessary. Costa often added a layer of voile for weight. Prada gave her chalky dresses a sepia tint, and for perversity's sake she had one look tied loosely up the back, hospital style. (OK, it's just a thought.)