As N.Y. Fashion Week Nears, Designer Anxiety Rises

For many American designers, the collections they will present at New York Fashion Week will determine whether they will be around for fall.

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Designers said early reports of fall selling at retail show activity, which gives them an inkling of optimism that was unthinkable just a few weeks ago. In addition, resort bookings were generally higher than expected.

“Over the last couple of months, we have become more optimistic,” said Jack McCollough, who designs the Proenza Schouler label with Lazaro Hernandez. “We were preparing for the worst, but things are picking up for us. Pre-fall is in the stores right now, and it’s had some of the best sell-throughs we have actually ever had. Also, the stock market has been up, and that is always a good precursor of what the economy is going to do. That has given us a big amount of encouragement leading up to spring sales.”

Hernandez added, “I feel the economy has bottomed out in a way. The freak-out has happened, and while things are not back to what they used to be, perhaps they were inflated in a way. Perhaps this is a correction of sorts.”

Indeed, it may not be the free spending, pre-recession customer, but the prospect of a new season is lifting spirits in showrooms across the city.

“Last fall, people still didn’t know where things were going, and after the shows, everything collapsed,” Derek Lam said. “I am optimistic because there is such a feeling of change in the air, from the new administration and the progress that has been happening, and the feeling that we are slowly coming out of the recession — one that could have been worse.”

Chris Benz concurred. “I think it is better now than six months ago. People were really startled for a while and with the change in season, and the holidays coming up, people will hopefully feel like getting out and seeing new things.”

Designers are coping with the economic realities in different ways. Some have said they are designing each piece as if it would stand on its own. Others are tightly editing their collections or broadening their price points.

Zac Posen, known for his large scale, celebrity-filled runway shows, decided to present his clothes in a smaller setting this season with just 400 invited guests. He said his aim is to focus on the clothes.

“We were in such a large brand building model, doing these large show with very little means and budgets, and creating that dream,” Posen said. “Now it’s really about focusing back to the craft and form and function.”

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