The Return of the Dry-Clean-Only Wardrobe
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The Return of the Dry-Clean-Only Wardrobe

Organza blouses, cashmere overcoats and tailored skirt suits: Fashion’s Paris forecast signalled an end to washable WFH-wear

Tue, Mar 7, 2023 8:55amGrey Clock 4 min

PARIS—With the frisson of a downturn in the air, designers at fashion week here better known for drama battened down the hatches, sending out streams of polished, functional blouses, jackets, skirts, pants and pumps.

Above all, however, they sent coats. Some highlights: strictly cut propositions at Givenchy and Alexander McQueen, luxe puffers at Schiaparelli, and today’s belted, no-tricks camel-coloured overcoats at Louis Vuitton. Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear at British retailer MatchesFashion, praised Paris Fashion Week’s notably beautiful coats in an interview and rated them the “number-one investment” for customers who, in a change from their usual habits, might be choosing between luxuries this year.

And those buying habits are indeed changing. At a dinner for his independent Vienna-based brand, Petar Petrov told me that his clients are no longer searching for the comfort-forward attire of post pandemic life. Instead, women are again craving silk dresses and blouses, things to be worn to appear soignée at work, dinner, on dates (and then dry-cleaned… unthinkable in 2020).

Button-up blouses, a neutral palette, androgynous coats—if it sounds familiar, that may be because Lydia Tár pretty much foretold the fall collections. Although Cate Blanchett’s problematic composer in the Oscar-nominated movie “Tár” was not exactly an aspirational figure, her impeccably tailored wardrobe resonated well beyond the film.

Ms. Wiggins said this season was all about “more tailoring, cleaner looks and what I always call ‘real clothing’—but with added value and details that mean you will have it in your wardrobe forever, and it won’t feel too trend-heavy.”

Here, five brands that made persuasive cases for “real clothing”:

Loewe: Where ‘innovation’ is not just a buzzword

Jonathan Anderson, the designer behind Spanish LVMH brand Loewe, is one of the rare designers who uses innovative techniques and materials to make clothing that is supremely wearable. Without last season’s dependence on surreal elements such as exaggerated anthurium-flower tops, the fall collection focuses on more realistic pieces, like long leather coats and proper trousers.

That realism was imbued with tireless experimentation—the kind that people who love clothing will want to pay for. The seemingly simple silk printed dresses were printed with faded images of dresses from decades past, giving the contemporary pieces a sense of history. Shearling coats were moulded into hourglass shapes. Cropped leather jackets and skirts were vacuum-stiffened into firmness.

Mr. Anderson also excels when he considers and updates familiar and functional pieces—like last season’s Barbour jackets, or this season’s work boot. The Loewe representative who took me around the showroom said that the house’s employees—both men and women—were all excited to wear fall’s comfortable work boot, with its large toe box and nubbly texture.

Balmain: An approachable elegance

In recent seasons, the Balmain show has been an over-the-top spectacle bringing together thousands in stadium-style shows, often with live music. Last season, a raised runway showcased nearly 100 looks, Cher sang and there was a hamburger stand. The styles—as befits a brand beloved by Beyoncé and the Kardashian sisters—prioritised drama, including wide hats and sculpted pieces in unorthodox fabrics like banana leaf. But the show was late and chaotic, and attendants complained (a Vogue reviewer bemoaned his soggy bottom).

So this season the brand swung back to basics, or as close to basics as Balmain gets. In an interview, creative director Olivier Rousteing stressed the importance of looking to the house’s founder Pierre Balmain’s “legacy, and the power of the distinctive tailoring, structure and spirit behind his ‘New French’ style.” The term “New French” was coined by Gertrude Stein’s partner Alice B. Toklas after seeing the brand’s first collection in 1945. It’s a moment—as crystallised by a famous Horst photograph of Stein with her poodle Basket and a Balmain model—that Mr. Rousteing referenced with this collection.

That resulted in a collection full of elegance, like jackets with nipped waists, capes, full skirts and reworked tuxedos. Many looks were worn with simple black velvet cropped pants, the kind of piece that could augment any wardrobe. One guest—74-year-old model Maye Musk (Elon’s mom)—nodded her head in approval.

The Row: Creature comforts, from cashmere to chocolate

The Row, the American design house founded by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, has found a spiritual home in Paris, where it has an office. Like the Japanese brands Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, both of which show their collections in the French capital, the Row’s pure and formally inventive clothing makes sense when seen against the backdrop of Haussmannian moldings and herringbone floors.

This collection did not stray from the brand’s specialties: Lydia Tár-like suits, shirting and Serious Coats, spare evening wear, elbow-length gloves, flat boots perfect for city walking. But it felt particularly right in the context of a season of realistic, investment-grade fashion—as if the world synced up to the Row than vice versa.

At the show’s conclusion, young men proffered green juice, green tea, perfectly ripe pears and hunks of dark chocolate. Along with great knitwear and flat shoes, these are the keys to many women’s affection.

Balenciaga: A postscandal return to ‘the art of making clothes’

The most hotly anticipated show this season was Balenciaga’s, but not for the usual reasons. With a hint of schadenfreude, editors gossiped about how creative director Demna would react (or not) to the uproar around the brand’s recent campaigns that some interpreted as endorsing child pornography. Demna has apologised for featuring children in the campaign, and Balenciaga’s owner François Pinault last month said “we’re allowed to make mistakes in a group like Kering.”

In his show notes, Demna declared a return to the purity of design: “Fashion to me can no longer be about entertainment, but rather as the art of making clothes.” That manifested as elemental forms and silhouettes, starting with sweeping black lace dresses punctuated by crested shoulders. Blazers, denim jackets, overcoats and trenches were all oversize, dwarfing their wearers. Demna applied his contemporary touch to ladylike Balenciaga signatures like bows and florals.

But under the designer, Balenciaga has always been about far more than clothes. Stunt shows commenting on current events, a Simpsons collaboration and Kim Kardashian mummified in danger tape made it a part of the zeitgeist. Are clothes alone—even ones as thoughtful as this—enough?

Saint Laurent: A powerful vision of business-not-very-casual

When was the last time you saw someone wearing a proper skirt suit—outside of a retro movie or TV show? Chances are, you’re scratching your head, but if Anthony Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent show has anything to do with it, the skirt suit will be on the ascendant come fall.

The show’s vision of a powerful businesswoman—albeit one who still values comfort and sex appeal—began Paris Fashion Week with a slap of chicness. Some fashion obsessives on Twitter used the occasion to compare Mr. Vaccarello’s early work—characterised by micro party dresses and lots of leather—to his sophisticated forays of recent years. The brand has grown up with him.

Although the extreme shoulder of the blazers and the deep décolleté of the camisoles will not be for everyone, the pinstriped wool suit separates and blanket coats are future classics. And Ms. Wiggins of MatchesFashion pointed to the show’s organza blouses, with their dramatic streaming neck ties, as the perfect tops for a dinner date.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Car Dealers on Why Some Customers Hesitate With EVs

Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch

Mon, Dec 11, 2023 4 min

Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.

When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.

“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.

With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.

Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lotsdealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.

“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”

Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.

Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.

“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.

A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.

A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”

At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.

Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.

“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.

While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.

The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.

“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.

There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.

Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.

Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.

Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”

Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”

Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.

“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.

Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.

Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.

While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.

“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.

It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.

“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.


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Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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