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Exit Poll

After the excitement of an historic election subsides, what will a President Barack Obama mean for the men's apparel business?

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Terry Pillow, CEO, Tommy Bahama: “No matter which candidate you supported, you had to feel good about the upbeat feeling that followed the election. There was a lot of energy and I hope that energy continues and positively affects the economy. Of course, the economic situation is very complicated, and I don’t think one thing is going to sort it out. We are taking a wait-and-see approach. We are making prudent decisions as we go into next year.”

John Bartlett: “Waking up on Wednesday, I already felt that the world was a different place. Obama’s win has confirmed my belief that America—and the world—is ready to shed its old way of viewing itself. Creatively and economically I am feeling incredibly optimistic. I believe that diversity will shine on the fall runways and that the white-only approach to high-end fashion will be replaced with a much-needed multicultural peacock.”

Marty Staff, CEO, JA Apparel: “The election win is like being in a bad car crash and getting a kiss. There’s going to be no short-term fix. But I think the world is so excited by Obama that this is going to open new doors for American products. ... [But] the day of $6,000 dresses and $800 shirts is over. What used to be a badge of success is now viewed as obscene.”

Claudio Del Vecchio, CEO, Brooks Brothers: “Obama is a good salesperson, and in this environment that’s just what the country needs. He will ask us to make sacrifices because we need some, and that’s when you need a good salesperson. ... But realistically, what can he do? It will take a very long time to get back to what we were used to—if we ever do get back. The abuses of the past 25 years have to be cured, with all the consequences that brings, and I’m not sure the election will change that.”

Tommy Hilfiger: “We do need change and I think Obama is motivated to make these changes. We have to repair the damage that was done to relationships overseas. I really believe we should not be in Iraq. We’re spending a lot of money there and the Iraqis have money. That was a mistake from the beginning. I think he will help quell any racial divide in this country, or at least move us in the right direction. ... It will take a while to get the economy back on track. But I’m confident he’ll set up a great team. It proves this country is the land of opportunity. If America is healthy, it does resonate throughout the rest of the world. As an American brand, I think we’ll get more respect overseas.”

Tom Kalenderian, GMM of men’s, Barneys New York: “Having the election behind us is a positive thing. Now we can get back to business and focus on the day-to-day operations and other strategic issues.”

Ari Hoffman, CEO, Gant USA: “The most important thing he can do is create consumer confidence and stability in the marketplace. For Americans, it’s about feeling good inside, and also about how the world views us. I am in Germany now and it seems we have gained an overwhelming amount of respect from Europe seemingly overnight since we elected Obama. Our credibility was instantly reestablished. However, we will be facing an extremely challenging economic environment in 2009 and Obama will need to work all sides—the left, right and middle—to overcome this huge hurdle that faces our country, and in turn the rest of the world. Once we overcome our collective economic challenges, we will be able to then think about fashion again.”

Andrew Buckler, founder and designer, Buckler: “There has been this massive injection of cash to the biggest banks, but it’s the smaller banks that most small business owners like me rely on. I’d like Obama to focus on getting credit moving downward to smaller banks and small business. Right now, there is no credit available. Zero. We are running our business on cash flow, and that’s forced us to run it sharp as a knife. There’s not an inch of wiggle room. We are reviewing all our costs and not overbuying anything if there’s any question about it. We have to be very careful and conservative in our expenditures, and if you multiply that by millions of businesses, that is going to have a big impact on the economy.”

Jeffrey Tweedy, vice-president of brand development and licensing, Sean John: “Barack reached that young person who’s on the computer all day—his entire mobilization was done online and through communication technology. That’s the way we need to reach our consumers. ... We’ve just had eight years of uncertainty. With Barack, there’s some comfort level. And with comfort comes proper spending.”

Kenneth Cole: “This is an extraordinary time in American history, with an abundance of hope for what we can do and who we can be. I also believe there is an unprecedented appetite for change and for reinvention, which translates into opportunity for those who ‘a-dress’ such matters.”

Paul Rosengard, group president of premium brands, Perry Ellis International: “Whatever policies he enacts will likely take much longer than one year to be felt. If Obama injects another stimulus package, and the credit market eases up, this could help. All three of his rumored Treasury Secretary appointments appear to support another stimulus package. Next year is shaping up to be tough irrespective of who is president. And no matter which direction our economy moves, our president gets a disproportionate share of the credit or blame. ... I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal. My hope is that the Republican platform will shift in this direction.”

Jacky Clyman, executive vice-president, Cockpit USA: “Unfortunately, I don’t think any president will really be able to impact the economic situation [right away], but Obama may give segments of the economy hope that things will get better and possibly improve the retail climate. It’s more about whether the media will continue its negativity or not. Psychologically, the media can make or break the holiday season. And I certainly don’t think Obama should increase taxes on small businesses, as that will totally squelch growth and possibly increase closings. Instead, have him eliminate tax postponements for businesses that keep their earnings overseas, thus encouraging businesses to reinvest in the U.S. and not abroad.”

Scott Morrison, founder and designer, Earnest Sewn: “I think the wheels have been long set in motion for 2009 and, regardless of the election outcome, we had a pretty clear idea that it was going to be a long, tough road ahead. But I do think and hope that some real change will be seen by the fall ’09 season. I’m interested in seeing Obama’s economic strategy, how he handles taxation, and whether he’s going to give any benefits to those of us making product in the U.S.A. I’m hoping he can ease mortgage concerns and free up credit as it’s affecting everyone up and down the chain.”

Richard Cohen, CEO, Robert Talbott: “Tuesday night was historic—it was Kennedy-esque and very emotional. The question is whether that emotion and hope can carry through to get people to start spending money again, and the reality is, I don’t think so. It was a moment in time. I think people remain cautious and I expect things to still be tough for six to nine months. But we definitely have a young, stylish-looking President-elect.”