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Feb 26, 2009

Amid slumping sales, fashion designers are looking for ways to keep you looking good (and spending) in tough times.

By Tara Kyle

Oleg Cassini, designer of Jacqueline Kennedy’s state wardrobe, once commented that “elegance is a state of mind, a mirror of the time in which we live, a translation of the future.”
So what happens when what is reflected in that mirror isn’t so attractive?
That’s the challenge confronting the designers whose lines fill the typically lavish racks at national stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York.
“People aren’t really shopping, and people aren’t really buying anything, so you have to be very sort of aware of that,” says designer Sue Stemp.
Part of the answer to the question of how to entice people to spend their hard-earned dollars is to focus in on classic looks.
“I’m think we’re going to all kind of go back to our roots, because certain things are looking really unnecessary and really extraneous right now to me, that kind of more theatrical dressing,” says menswear designer Michael Bastian. “I think everyone’s going to pull back a little and buy what they love, buy what looks good on them.”
Menswear designers like Bastian are in an especially tricky spot because, he says, “men tend to stop shopping before women tend to stop shopping.”
“I think outerwear is something that always sells, because there’s just such a lack of great outerwear in the market,” says Sam Shipley of Shipley & Halmos, which offers designs for both men and women. “And I think that, you know, women need dresses, so that will always sell, too. Dresses and blouses.”
Women may also be looking for clothes that in some way distract them from their hardships. Abigail Lorick says her fall Lorick line was “inspired by the recession” and that she hopes to “pull a little light from all of this that’s happening right now.”
The economy may also have an effect on beauty trends that goes beyond the maxim that when the economy is shaky, women buy more lipstick than expensive outfits.
“On the runway so far, we’ve seen a lot of really strong bold, almost gothic looks. We all know it’s a hard time—the economy’s a little bit rough—and maybe people are either becoming a little more bold and more kind of vigorous, or kind of dark and gloomy,” says Ava Scanlan, director of publicity and West Coast operations for Temptu, which managed cosmetics for the Lorick, Devi Kroell and Catherine Holstein shows. “I’m also noticing that there’s a lot of matte powdery instead of slick and shiny, which might have something to do with it being more about reality.”
For now, designers are trying to face that changing reality with optimism. FLYP talked to the men and women behind four up-and-coming lines as they showcase their collections in a new fiscal environment.

Additional reporting by Alin Barquet.

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