Fashion In the Current Economy

Opulent Optimism
The crowd and press shuffles to their seats. The chandeliers lower and the deep vibrations of the soundtrack pulsates through the venue as bright lights above the runway illuminate the first look. The prestigious front row at Lanvin watches with baited breath as Look 01 struts past, accompanied by thunderous applause. It is the most impeccable chignon, revealing a fresh face, strong brow, cat-like eyes and nude lips. Jewels twinkle and glisten, the goddess silhouette that looks to be thrown on the body of the fifteen-year-old giraffe strikes a pose for the press at the end of the runway all while teetering on 10-inch stilettos at this Parisian fashion show.
Today fashion in relation to the economy seems to be in a state of flux almost as much as the hemlines from show to show and city to city. The economy has been in this state for almost a year now but it is just being realized during the end of the summer in early September into mid-October. During this time of year, the designers show their Spring/Summer collections, First in New York, then London, followed by Milan and finally Paris. Ah Paris, for most of the fashion world what happens here is the definitive answer on fashion. Although in New York at Michael Kors (known for catering to the jet-set crowd) weeks before the Paris shows, optimism strutted down the runway in the form of sunflower yellow dresses with white polka dots. Perhaps election season had much to do with his color pallet of red white and blue or maybe it was the frock made with what looked to be picnic tablecloths that evoked warmhearted feelings of Fourth of July picnics. “ The message from Paris is really a consolidation of everything we’ve seen everywhere else, optimism, which means color and, I think a sense that fashion is there to offer a little bit of escapism.” Says Tim Blanks of Style.com. For me this optimism is most visible at shows like Alexander McQueen (In Paris) with his couture sensibilities paradoxically paired with an environmentalist theme that reared up in his collection as well as the set. This sort of consciousness about the world offers a new idea of what could be all while providing a vision to the real problems that plague us daily.

“They’ll Take Manhattan in Cash,” wrote Negin Farsad candidly referring to the European tourist who took the city by storm this past summer. “Back home they’re just run-of-the-mill cubicle people,” Ms. Farsad added, “but here, they’re like three parts Kimora Simmons and two parts Oasis, circa 1995.” During the summer the dollar was at its lowest value in decades. Meanwhile, the euro reached record highs against the dollar all summer; it was up 22 percent in the last two years, and since 2001, it continues to double against the dollar. This affected native New Yorkers who shop often in stores like Saks, Barneys and, Bergdorf. Polly Blitzen, a former magazine beauty editor spoke on how it’s like a turf war between the European tourist and locals over the chicest bistros, spas and other socialite hot spots. Her point was driven home on a trip to ultra high-end department store Bergdorf Goodman while accompanying her fiancĂ© to select a pair of shoes to go with his tuxedo for their wedding:

“Wearing the sort of outfit that usually acts as a siren for department store salespeop — a Tory Burch shift dress and Jimmy Choo slingback heels — she instead found herself waiting behind a European couple in sneakers and bike shorts who “had made such massive purchases that we couldn’t get anyone to give us the time of day for our size eleven and a half Ferragamo party slippers,” recalled Ms. Blitzer.

In an ironic twist of fate, locals find themselves working double time in the literal and figurative sense, trying to keep up with the Joneses from across the pond. A friend of mine, Imani Whyte, complained in between hearty forkfuls of take-out Mexican and a pile of sketches during a marathon work session that, because of the down turn of the economy, “it is hard to find internships, most places are not hiring people.” She went on to say, “ Even if I could manage the get a job, they would certainly not pay well.” When asked about how the looming recession affects her senior collection, she said, “Well, Fabric is always way expensive but I think that’s just because I go to SCAD and I’m broke. As a lover of everything fashion, its not surprising to see how hard it is to break into the fashion industry, but it’s crazy to see that it’s because these companies who in essence make magic happen on the runways every season cannot afford to hire interns. Recession is a period of economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP or Gross Domestic product in two successive quarters.

Recession to the fashion crowd just means they have to shop smarter. Fashion editor Cathy Horyn at the New York Times wrote in her article “Balenciaga Exit# 2”:
“Exit #2 from the fall runway collection, a dress that also received tons of editorial attention. With sleeves reduced to seductive armbands, a deep slit up the left leg, and planes of stiff black fabric intersecting across the front, the dress has a very modern look. I was curious to see and touch it. Owning the dress wasn’t necessarily the objective.”
This is an interesting statement Horyn is making ,simply experiencing a garment vs actually buying. This sort of objective shopping is what the world has come to. Days of slinking into Barneys and purchasing the 9500-dollar party dresses without even thinking twice have long sense gone.

Fashion has to bring a dream. Fashion has to dazzle us. Fashion has to make you happy. Fashion has to keep us distracted. “You feel if you wear these clothes you become so beautiful so charming so glamorous,” says Franca Sozzani of Vogue Italia. There is no color for depression on the runway. You are just left with this feeling of rational optimism.
Back at Lanvin, Look 45 exits. Look 46 sprightly struts into the hearts and minds of the mélange of celebs, stylist, and editors who clap, cheer, and all out exclaim at the sight of this one shouldered, blue leopard dress. Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz closes the season on a celebratory high. A counterintuitive moment, maybe, but it reflects something most fashion designers understand as well as they do the principles of rational dressing: Even when times are dark, there's still room for clothes to make women keel over with desire.

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