There was nothing temperate about Stephanie Solomon’s spring fashion forecast. “Your tights, throw them out,” she urged. “Get rid of your hats, your scarves, but most of all those hose. You never want to see them again.” Solomon, the outspoken fashion director of Lord & Taylor, was as good as her word, turning up for lunch on a rare mild afternoon earlier this month, her own calves bared in anticipation of a season that is shaping up, in her assessment, as “the biggest celebration we’ve ever seen.”
Extreme though it sounds, hers is the feisty reaction to a seemingly endless winter, the emotionally charged response to months of pent-up yearning for a long-awaited thaw. Similar sentiments are being echoed this year by a cohort of merchants, trend seers and designers exhorting their customers to shrug off their woolly layers for a string of buoyant mood-lifters. What are they championing? Calf-grazing skirts; cropped, arc-shouldered tops that just meet the high-rise waistlines of the newest pants or skirts; and trousers so fluid they ripple. Just as high on their lists: zesty neoprene or mesh pieces borrowed from the gym. And, most compellingly, a profusion of flowers: a lavish visual metaphor for the promise of spring.
“You cannot talk about the season without talking about the floral printed dress,” said Beth Buccini, a partner, with Sarah Easley, in Kirna Zabte, the SoHo outpost for adventurous design. Easley was no less effusive, adding, “We’re seeing a garden explosion of florals in a thousand variations.” Like leopard and cheetah prints before them, florals have become so pervasive in the marketplace, she added, that they are poised to become “the new summer neutrals.” Poppies and peonies, daffodils and daisies and a gaudy profusion of hothouse blooms have overtaken the selling floors. Their outsize blossoms, moodily etched on dark grounds, lending vibrancy to everything from sculptured jackets to maxi-dresses, backpacks and Birkenstocks.
Mixed with dots or geometric computer prints, offered straight up in nostalgic wallpaper patterns or blown up in 1940s and ‘50s retro designs, flowery prints can soften the starchiness of an architecturally structured dress or a skirt that stands primly away from the body. They can provide a giddy counterpoint to a rigorously pared-down silhouette, as Sheila Aimette, a vice president of WGSN, a trend forecasting company, noted.
“There’s nothing old-fashioned or floofy about them,” she said. “They give women a reason to stray from their comfort zone when they shop.” Retailers are banking on it, making it a mission to take the floral message viral, spreading a contagion intended to tempt even once skittish consumers. “Whenever it’s hard to get women to engage in buying fashion, don’t be surprised if big, bold florals come out,” said Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst with the NPD Group, which reports on consumer trends. Noting that sales of women’s apparel have lagged behind men’s for the first time in a decade, he added that, along with pulsing color, eye-catching florals have become an essential merchandising tool. “They are a way of getting consumers to recognize that something new and dramatic is happening,” Cohen said.
London designers like Peter Pilotto (see left), Mary Katrantzou and Erdem Moralioglu have virtually built their brands on splashy botanical prints. But garden patterns were a brash departure for Markus Lupfer, who turned away from his customarily restrained palette this season to create a flurry of patchwork florals inspired by Tracey Emin’s sophisticated quilts.
“What I wanted to achieve,” he said, “is a play between something nostalgic and something very modern, between something feminine and a little naughty.” And the response to his cheery but worldly designs has been encouraging. “They were quite new for us, but good for our brand,” he said. “I feel like it’s something exciting to build up in the future.” Others began mapping out their spring direction as early as a year ago. “You have a feeling that something is in the air,” said Tom Mora, the vice president for women’s design at J. Crew, who took a chance on floral patterns unlike any seen in nature.