Slimmer economy may step onto fashion runways

Raleigh News & ObserverSeptember 5, 2008 

A dress from designer BCBG Max Azria is modeled during Fashion Week in New York.

RICHARD DREW / AP

In seasons past, finding signs of the real world under the tents of New York Fashion Week was almost as impossible as getting into a Marc Jacobs runway show.

Snow? You'd never know it by the stacked heels in the front row. Election primaries? Hardly an "I voted" sticker to be seen, at least not on the couture.

In fact, only when the New York Giants played on Super Bowl Sunday, during the most recent Fashion Week in February, did things seem somewhat off.

But a bad economy? A weak dollar?

The typically impenetrable tents might actually feel the impact this season, which begins today when spring 2009 collections are presented at Bryant Park in New York.

"I think designers are becoming more savvy in how to evolve their look without having to go to an entirely new look all together," says Jayne Mountford, vice president of Trend Reporting for Stylesight, which forecasts trends.

Translation: Expect to see more hats, signature necklaces and other accessories on the runway that can change the look of an outfit, allowing shoppers to still invest in new fashion but not necessarily have to buy into a whole new look.

"You can't survive in this economy as a designer unless you know what's happening in the marketplace," Mountford says. "At a time when people are losing their homes, even a fashion designer has to be aware of the importance of giving people what they want and what they are willing to pay for."

The weak dollar is also expected to have an impact, at least in the front rows and the bleachers. And more international fashion media folks and buyers are expected in New York than in recent seasons.

In large part, that's due to the strength of the euro. But it's also a reflection of the growing respect and popularity of American designers such as Jacobs, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, Mountford says.

As far as the actual fashion, early reports indicate some designers have revived the bohemian look. Rebecca Taylor says her spring collection was inspired by flowers in her garden, ethnic prints and world travels, while Twinkle by Wenlan used "ultra-feminine details bring to light her bohemian artistry."

One sign that the fashion-hungry aren't slowing down: American Express says its skybox tickets for runway shows at Bryant Park, with packages starting at $150, sold out within a day.

As usual, there will be plenty to feast on visually, including a crop of newcomers to the Park. Among them: Michael Angel, an Australian designer known for his use of color; Andy & Debb, a Korean couple who design clothes as well as run boutiques in Korean department stores; and Thuy Diep, a Vietnamese-born designer known for her romantic, sophisticated styles.

Read Samantha Smith's fashion blog at blogs/newsobserver.com/fashion

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