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Fashion's most relatable new trends arrive early

By Samantha Critchell
AP Fashion Writer / December 21, 2011
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NEW YORK—You'll find a drop-waist dress when you set off on your first shopping spree of the new year, and you probably already can find a flouncy ruffle attached to a chic, trim jacket or sheath in stores. But for all the talk about fast fashion, few looks move directly from the runway to the real world without some tweaks and adjustments.

Designers, manufacturers and retailers use the months between splashy previews and on-sale dates to harness big ideas and turn them into the garments they hope people will find appealing and flattering, and motivate them to buy.

"People want fashion with a little `f.' They're not ready yet -- or interested in -- fashion with the big `F,'" says Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of the Tobe Report, a fashion and retail trend consultancy. Those same consumers, though, would be fully underwhelmed if the Marc Jacobs, Miuccia Pradas and Karl Lagerfelds of the world trotted down the catwalk practical, utilitarian clothes.

The runway is for big ideas that need to be translated into actual trends, agrees Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire.

Maybe all it will take is lining sheer clothes with an additional layer, or stretching the hem of a miniskirt. Sometimes it's a cost decision and pricey pearls will be swapped for paillettes. There is a middle ground to meet, experts say.

Thinking back to Raf Simons' Jil Sander show in October, Coles says the stark white looks were so exaggerated you couldn't help but think of chic nurses. When she went into the label's showroom a few days later, however, she saw the commercial appeal of the clean, optic separates -- especially the button-down shirts.

It was the same thing with Prada's over-the-top 1950s theme. Styled as if they were pinup girls in Hollywood's heyday, the models looked like they were in costumes, but when she saw those pleated skirts and lace coats up close, she saw them becoming an instant hit to refresh springtime wardrobes after many months of winter doldrums.

That's what editors, retailers and stylists do: After they've taken in the drama of runway, they attend "re-sees" in designers' studios to see what is really planned for commercial shipment.

Some of it could still be edgy and fashion-forward -- that's what pushes trends -- but then there'll be more of the staple items that don't need a coveted spot in a fashion show because everyone knows that Diane von Furstenberg makes a good wrap dress and Burberry does a fantastic trench.

"You need to identify who and what are the real under-the-radar fashion drivers," says Stephanie Solomon, vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale's. "You're always keeping your antenna out to new ideas, and we can't be afraid to take those risks, but they have to be wearable. We try to make the trends happen for a broader audience than the fashion tribe who pick up on trends immediately."

There's a cycle that can take months, Solomon says, although it's definitely speeding up now that everyday shoppers can see shows as they happen. Bloomingdale's, for one, put a rush on neon colors and printed pants. "Some seasons basics have more importance than other seasons, but during tough economic times, they don't do well. Novelty items do better," she explains. "It might not make sense, but it's all emotional."

Adviser Moellering expects tastemakers -- and then their followers -- to pick up on the exotic safari looks, the candy colors, the flattering `50s-style dresses and touches from the `20s, especially after the Baz Luhrmann version of "The Great Gatsby" comes out at the end of next year.

And, as noted, peplums, that extra flounce that juts out from the hip, have already caught on at a more mass level. "Women won't shift just because the runways tell them to wear a peplum, but this is easy to do and understand. Women had been used wearing a tunic so it's not a huge stretch, and it's kind of the A-line shape that women have been wearing a long time."

What will take longer to sink in will be the micro-short suits and the experimental techno fabrics, including plastics and cellophane, she predicts. Those items require too much adjustment, she says. "I always tell clients, if a look requires a change of more than two things, it won't resonate immediately."

Moellering uses last spring's designer-retailer push for flared denim as a case study. "If you bought into flared denim, you had new pants, needed a new shoe and a new top to go with it. It has already taken a while for skinny jeans, the big shirt and tucking the jeans into the boots to look right to consumers -- and now you want them in a skinny top, loafer and a belt? It's too much for a woman's wardrobe, and it's not going to happen right away."

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