Pinching Pennies: Designer Runways Take Budget Route

It’s chic to be fashionably frugal. While fashion spectacles still can run over $500,000, the days of extravagant spending are more or less on the wane.

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Over the top at DSquared...

Photo By WWD Staff

...slimmer at Gucci...

Photo By WWD Staff

PARIS — If you end up sitting on a raw wooden bench during the European shows, it could be an artistic statement by the designer -- or more likely it’s a sign of the times. It’s chic to be fashionably frugal these days.

As the international fashion pack winds down their stay in the gray of Milan and continues the Continental fashion season in Paris, stories abound about cutting back on fashion spectacles that can easily run up to $500,000 or more. Sure, there are still designers like John Galliano at Dior, whose extravanganzas reputedly cost millions to mount, and Dolce & Gabbana or D-Squared, who have tried to revive the era of the supermodel by casting Naomi, Linda and Eva this season. But the days of models not getting out of bed for less than $10,000 appear long gone -- at least for the younger pack.

"Everyone’s cutting — or at least being budget-conscious," said one major fashion show producer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It’s for all houses, big and small, and it hits very deep. We’re feeling the pressure. We’re being asked to find ways to save money across the board."

With economic troubles compounding and political uncertainty mounting, no one can afford to spend flagrantly. Examples of cutbacks abound: Versace had thousands of roses strewn on its couture runway in 2001; last season it showed 10 dresses in its store. During the men’s shows in Paris in January, Yves Saint Laurent also went for a small showroom affair, rather than rolling out its big tents. And while Gucci covered its runway in white rose petals on Sunday, even its ceo Domenico De Sole admits cost-cutting is his modus operandi these days.

"I’m very guarded right now with budgets," he told WWD just a few days ago. "I’m being very conservative and seeing what happens with the war."

And it’s not only the designers scaling back. Retailers are keeping a tight rein on their travel budgets as well by downsizing their teams, shortening their stay in Europe or switching to less-expensive hotels.

"We actually are already quite frugal," said Anne Stordahl, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Neiman Marcus. "We always work with tight budgets."
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