Designers Staying Flexible in Austere Times

Given the global financial crisis and consumer anxiety, ready-to-wear designers obviously are proceeding with caution into the new year.

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Given the global financial crisis and consumer anxiety, ready-to-wear designers obviously are proceeding with caution into the new year.

Some, like Vera Wang, Carmen Marc Valvo and Reem Acra, have decided to forgo Bryant Park runway shows in favor of more intimate, off-site affairs, while others are trimming expenses and planning for tough times in different ways. Flexibility is central to their strategies.

Yeohlee Teng said designers are having to switch their mind-sets so that they create clothes that are a necessity rather than a luxury.

“That is a pretty interesting design problem to solve,” she said. “You have to give real value to what you do. You have to be able to satisfy style and fashion, and be multifunctional.”

Regardless of these rocky times, “people still need clothes, especially a good coat if you are going out on interviews. That is how you make a first impression on somebody,” Teng said.

The designer said she is planning to have an off-site show in February, which she has done in the past, but has yet to commit to a location.

“We will adapt to whatever mood people are in,” Teng said. “We will have a clearer idea [of the specifics] once we regroup in January.”

While some have speculated there will be a renewed sense of nationalism as Americans try to shore up support for domestic businesses, Teng said she would be content just to see the local garment industry get a boost.

“The fact that we still make things in the U.S. is a very important point,” she added. “But if it just ends up being ‘Made in New York’ that gets a boost, I’ll be quite happy.”

Chado Ralph Rucci is still having a runway show in the tents on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m., but “not in the classic sense,” said designer Ralph Rucci, who is toying with the idea of adding an element of multidimensional theater. That is needed in these trying financial times to rally shoppers who need to feel stimulated by the level of design, he said.

Having reduced his staff to 61 from 68 this summer, Rucci said he and his employees will tackle business on a day-to-day basis, trying to be flexible in the changing marketplace.

“The idea of designing luxury merchandise just for the U.S. is finished,” he said.

With that in mind, the Chado Ralph Rucci collection is being taken to London, Paris and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to be shown to stores.

“This is a very depressing period,” he said. “The holidays diffuse some of that. There is a tidal wave that is going to happen in January and February. There will be a change that will spare none of us.”

But Rucci thinks there will be an upside to the realignment of the American economy in that executives across all industries will become more interested in compassion and less snobbish.
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