New York Fashion Week | Designers serve up dark moodiness and optimistic colour

VPL Runway Show, Autumn/Winter 2009

NEW YORK, United States From the moment that I landed here in New York, the mood has been decidedly sombre. I bumped into a buyer from a major London fashion boutique at the baggage carousel at JFK who told me that “nobody is coming” to New York this time from the major UK fashion magazines. Budgets have been completely slashed.

A few hours later, the CEO of a up-and-coming US fashion business predicted that one third of the young designer businesses that have popped up in New York in recent years will go out of business, especially if they are financing themselves through bank loans, which are harder and harder to come by in this tight credit environment.

The next day, another CEO complained to me that boutiques like Georgina in Long Island are dropping like flies or trying to cancel orders at the last minute, unable to finance their operations (and pay their bills), creating daily headaches about how to respond. On top of all this, parties have been canceled, shows have been downscaled and goodie bags are few and far between.

Will the fashion industry ever be the same? Well, I think not. And neither, apparently, does Anna Wintour at least for the time being.

For a couple of years now, a shift has been going on in the way that consumers buy and this has now been dramatically accelerated by the economic crisis, which seems to get worse and worse by the day. Even Anna Wintour has spoken out today to the Wall Street Journal, saying “Right now, what’s going to work is something their customer doesn’t have in her closet and that has a real intrinsic sense of value…Because to be honest there’s been too much product, too much copy-catting, and, probably too much consumerism. I think a sense of clarity, a sense leveling off and a sense of reality is needed.”

This is something we have been saying on The Business of Fashion for over a year now. But that fact that Wintour is now joining the chorus of people commenting on the fact that looking “overly flashy, overly glitzy, too Dubai” is just not going to work anymore, says a lot for a woman whose job it’s been to attract advertisers to flog exactly these kinds of products.

So, how are the designers responding to all of this doom and gloom and changing consumer requirements? So far, it seems they are either going dark and moody with a preponderance of black (which never goes out of style) or injections of colour providing a bit of optimism to counter all of the off-runway chatter about the economic meltdown.

At Ohne Titel, Camilla Staerk and Alexander Wang, where Sarah Jessica Parker and Top Shop boss Phillip Green were spotted taking in Wang’s cool rock chick vibe which had buyers cooing, black looks dominated the runway.

At VPL, models traipsed out in layers of yellow and blue, past a provocative photo installation which seemed emblematic of the ‘fake’ beauty of the boomtimes, but the requisite black was also there, just in case. Colours were also prominent at today’s strong showing from Preen, where a series of textured black looks were followed by vibrant shades of yellow, and then, eye-catching cut out dresses in a kaleidoscope of colours.

More to come from New York as the week progresses. I’m expecting more black, more colour and more commentary from industry insiders grappling with the state of the fashion business today.