CFDA's Forum Debates the Fashion System

Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan and Anna Wintour weigh in at CFDA's town hall meeting.

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Donna Karan

Photo By Doug Goodman

NEW YORK — The fashion industry had a group therapy session Tuesday morning, thanks to the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

At a town hall meeting convened by the CFDA, designers, retailers and fashion journalists initially were meant to discuss the relevance of fashion shows and whether they should be targeted at consumers or the industry. But that topic rapidly got subsumed by a litany of complaints over the entire hyperactive fashion system.

Recession fallout; discount-driven shoppers; the disconnect between runway looks and in-store merchandise; ridiculously early deliveries; oversupplied stores; markdown madness; fashion shows’ potentially breakneck costs; the worldwide reach of runway coverage, and the seemingly endless number of seasons were among the thornier subjects discussed at the private gathering at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Despite those storm clouds overhead, CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg repeatedly emphasized the upside and offered ways to solidify a sunnier future for designers, retailers and the media.

“There is no way when you are in the middle of a tsunami that you can change absolutely everything,” von Furstenberg, all too familiar with how the economic crisis has taken its toll on the industry, told the crowd. “But one thing that we can do and that I would like to do is make New York Fashion Week the most dynamic fashion week in the world.”

Scores of CFDA members, including Donna Karan, Francisco Costa, Lazaro Hernandez and Betsey Johnson, as well as representatives from IMG Fashion, which produces Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, listened attentively, but then piped up to air their concerns, as well as their hopes of building a stronger future for the industry once the economy rebounds from the global recession.

“I always like to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, and see how we can grow from there,” said von Furstenberg.

After brainstorming with retailers, designers and editors, she had come to the conclusion it was time to address the issues directly in an open forum. “Everyone had been too greedy, and everyone thought the party was forever,” von Furstenberg said. “We wanted more merchandise, and more of this and more of that, and expect 20 percent increases every month, and at some point it just became too much of everything. I realized that what we all have to do is reduce the offerings and create the demand.”

Upbeat as some attendees were, several aired concerns about the relevance of the shows, retailers’ rampant discounting, the need for full-priced sell-throughs and the timing of deliveries.

“We are in a crisis,” Karan said flat out. “There’s no question about it.”

Having been a proponent of selling and even showing clothes in season for the past 10 years, she lived up to her reputation of challenging the fashion cycle and the timeliness of the shows.

“We design for the consumer, and right now, I believe the consumer is completely confused,” Karan said, adding shoppers don’t know whether they were looking at a pre-season, a fall season, or another delivery. “We should truly focus on the problem and the solution. The consumer has been trained to buy on sale. The clothes in stores are not in season, so she is confused. Why should she go out and spend money early in the season, when in fact come September and October, when the season actually changes, the next season is there and it’s called resort? We are putting all the energy into something that the consumer isn’t really getting, because by then it’s on sale.”


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