As Days Grow Longer, So Do Hems

So it was with longer hemlines. You scarcely saw them coming, then all at once they were descending on spring runways, breezing into cool boutiques and alighting on Manhattan streets well in advance of the season. First embraced a couple of years ago by fashion’s early adoptersyoung urbanites who flaunted maxidresses and flip-flops as an airy alternative to leggings and jeans — long skirts are now gaining traction as the most plainly discernible trend of spring.

A year ago, a movement toward sweeping skirts was in its “incubation phase,” said Holli Rogers, the buying director of Net-a-Porter, the online fashion retailer. “But by the time we were planning what to carry for spring, long was definitely a full-on trend.” And one the retailer was quick to exploit, its Web site displaying willowy skirts and dresses by the likes of Etro, M Missoni and T by Alexander Wang.

Stephanie Solomon, the fashion director of Bloomingdale’s, chimed in: “Below the knee, midcalf, anywhere hovering around the ankles — all of these lengths are trending at the moment. Only now have they started to register with consumers in a big way.”

Such fluid looks seem to have trickled upward from vintage shops and downtown streets. Over several seasons, the hems mutated from slinky calf-length and ankle-length tanks and tubular skirts to voluminous, unabashedly romantic pavement sweepers, looks that Nevena Borissova, a partner in Curve, a vanguard boutique in SoHo, describes as “floaty, let’s-go-get-high-at-Coachella stuff.”

Those early styles soon spawned successors that conjure Cathy on the moors and a slew of Willa Cather frontier heroines. There are Saint Laurent-inspired rich gypsy and peasant shapes, interpreted for spring by Mr. Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi and Ferragamo, to name but a few. And there are dance-inflected looks, some that were lent impetus by the flurry of calf-length ballerina skirts on the spring runways.

Today the merchants who banked on these styles are feeling pretty foxy.

“In terms of skirts, longer looks are all that’s selling,” said Ms. Borissova, whose shop has outposts in Los Angeles and Miami. Even the “Big Love” looks that were shunned a year ago have made strides, she said. “People are growing into them because the silhouette is more flow-y, the fabrics — organza and chiffon — lighter.”

Yet their surge in popularity took some retailers by surprise. “It’s not a sexy look, for sure,” said Beth Buccini, a partner in the SoHo boutique Kirna Zabête. “But I have to say, it’s kind of growing on me.” The store now carries slender floor-length dresses by Thakoon and billowing frocks by Verlaine.

Even once-skittish department stores seem determined to, well, go with the flow. “Last year on the streets we saw a lot more longer skirts than we offered in our store,” Ms. Solomon, of Bloomingdale’s, said. “We felt we might have missed an opportunity.” This year the store is upbeat enough to have paraded midcalf and ankle-length skirts in a fashion show in SoHo last month.

Just over a week ago, Saks Fifth Avenue filled its 49th Street windows with labels including Gryphon, Milly and Diane Von Furstenberg, showing skirts that dipped below the knees and others that pooled at the ankles, with suggestions for how to accessorize the looks.

Tumbling hemlines have helped drive sales of dresses and skirts, which in 2010 were ahead of the 2009 pace by 12 and 15 percent respectively, and they promise to do well throughout the spring, according to NPD Group, which tracks consumer spending. “Sales have really taken off,” said Marshal Cohen, the chief retail analyst, “and length has a lot to do with it.”

“It comes down to dramatic change, which we haven’t seen in a while,” Mr. Cohen said — a change that signals to the consumer that her wardrobe could use a radical update. He went on to predict, “We are seeing the beginning of what could be a three- or even four-year trend.”

Falling hems are giving a boost to companion looks, as well. “Silhouette changes require so many adjustments,” Ms. Solomon said. “When your hemline drops, you suddenly realize your coat is too short, so you need a new coat; your heels are too high, so you look for a flat or a wedge.” Longer hemlines,” she added emphatically, “give fashion over all a push.”

Apr 6th, 2011 | Posted in Fashion
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