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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. and British department store buyers are looking for fall and winter trends at New York Fashion Week that will not only lure shoppers back, but excite them enough to pay full price amid a struggling economy.
After an abysmal year of retail sales as the United States and Britain suffered their worst recessions in decades, fashion directors at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harrods and Liberty told Reuters they felt a growing sense of optimism.
When New York Fashion Week starts on Thursday to showcase fall and winter collections for 2010, buyers are planning to be more selective and buy fewer clothes as they push shoppers to pay full price instead of waiting for discount sales.
"We have all become much more edited and selective in the way that we buy," said Colleen Sherin, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. "It is making the consumer realize 'I probably cannot wait three months to get this on sale, I need to buy it now and I want to buy it now.'"
But while shoppers remain cautious about spending, they are not playing it safe when it comes to fashion choices.
"If she already owns it she's not interested in buying it again ... She is purchasing things to add to her wardrobe to update it with the current message of the season," said Ken Downing, fashion director at Neiman Marcus.
"Everyone is aware of the economic situation and there's a need to really speak to the customer in a voice that is going to get her excited and ignited when the season rolls round to come into the stores and shop," he said. "We want clothes that are so enticing that she wants them at regular price and not waiting for them to be marked down."
More than 60 designers will show at the Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, while countless more will parade collections elsewhere in the city. The New York shows are followed by London, Milan and Paris.
But while shoppers are looking to spend their money on so-called "wow" pieces, Marigay McKee, fashion and beauty director at Harrods, said they were not interested in trends that would only last a season.
"If it really is a throw away purchase they're not as likely to buy into a momentous trend," she said, adding that this was reflected in what department stores were buying.
"Certainly buying teams have been a lot more cautious and probably they would be looking at a little bit less frivolity than in previous seasons and probably looking at more staple pieces, must-have garments, must-have trends," she said.
The buyers predicted that there would be color on the New York runways, ranging from teal and olive to purple, ruby and yellow, and that some designs could have a military influence.
"The economy's not great and it's still in the bounce-back stage and you have to give (consumers) a reason to shop," said Ed Burstell, buying director for Liberty of London.
"I do think a reason to shop means something that they're not going to find everywhere else. It has to have fairly tight distribution or perhaps exclusive distribution," he said.
Aside from the fashion, the industry is also raising money for the earthquake victims in Haiti with a special fashion show on Friday and doing its bit for the environment by this year becoming a carbon neutral event.
"The industry is feeling optimistic. People feel like they are past the worst of it," said Fern Mallis, senior vice president of IMG Fashion, which runs New York Fashion Week. "It's been a very healthy restructuring of our industry."
Additional reporting by Basmah Fahim in London, editing by Vicki Allen