The Economy & Fashion. Is Fashion In Trouble?

March 24, 2008 • Fashion


Louis Vuitton Fall ’08 RTW

Phew, I thought maybe I was alone. As the fall ’08 fashion shows have finally concluded, I was left thinking, how can I possibly narrow the top 50 trends let alone the top 10? I was also left wondering, with the economy in the toilet, who is really going to shell out $75,000 for a feather coat?

Today’s WWD had an in-depth and excellent expose on how designers are totally losing touch with what women really want. It claims many
fashion executives are becoming increasingly frustrated as evidenced by sales this past fall. Designers failed to live up to their
expectations as consumers shunned the latest trends. Even though many continue to offer
breathtaking collections they often aren’t in sync with the needs of the
modern woman’s wardrobe.

Is something wrong with fashion? The
jury is still out on whether fall sales dipped due to unforeseen
circumstances, or were a sign of larger industry problems. But as
stores now fill their floors with spring collections, there is a
growing nervousness among retailers about the outlook for business
given the current tough climate. The challenges include:

– The downturn in the economy.

– The
unrealistic price tags at the designer level, which have been magnified
Stateside as a result of the slumping dollar against the euro (which is
now worth over $1.60) — even for American designers who source their
fabrics in Europe.

– The lack of color permeating the fall
shows, offering no reason for consumers to make an emotional connection
with the clothes, unless they’re fashion insiders in major capitals.

– The
fashion show hype machine in overdrive, resulting in immediate consumer
media coverage that blurs seasons in the consumer’s mind.

– The lack of one "must-have" item to generate excitement and drive customers to stores.

– An
out-of-whack delivery cycle that means fall clothes reach stores by
July, and spring clothes by January, working against the buy-now,
wear-now attitude of shoppers today, and resulting in markdowns by the
time they really want to wear the clothes.

– The competition
from lesser-priced contemporary departments and retailers such as J.
Crew and Anthropologie, which bring in well-priced designs on a
constant basis.

– More exciting innovations in electronics, which continues to draw consumer spending instead of fashion.

– Designers’ growing emphasis on other categories such as accessories,
including jewelry and watches, which often draw consumer spending away
from apparel.

Monique Lhuillier Fall ’08 RTW

are things that could be tuned up," said Michael Fink, vice president
and women’s fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. "The retail price of
European merchandise continues to skyrocket, and makes a consumer
question everything about why she is buying something and how it fits
into her total lifestyle."

Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus’ senior
vice president and fashion director, said that with high price tags,
the item has to be extra-special, as consumers look for a price-value
relationship. He noted that, last fall, trends such as the polished
spirit of refined clothing, the return of the jacket and the
continuation of the dress were strong — but the designer color palette
wasn’t ideal.

Judging from the fashions that came down the runways for fall in recent
weeks, it may take a little longer for the customer to roar back. Many
designers once again snubbed seasonless or transitional fabrics, and
often chose winter materials from furs to heavy tweeds and cashmeres —
in black and charcoal. And with the continued weakness of the dollar,
the plethora of embroidery, embellishments and handcrafted details are
bound to hike prices to new heights.

The lack of one specific trend to whet consumer appetites and drive them to stores hasn’t helped in recent months. Maybe now the industry will turn to fixing some of the
issues that have been hampering the designer business — from early
markdowns to too much sameness across stores.

The consumer has been programmed to wait for sales," said Allan Ellinger, senior
managing director of Marketing Management Group. "Why buy in December,
when in January you can buy things at 50% off?"

Barbara Atkin,
fashion director at Holt Renfrew, said the luxury world has become
"very bland." "It’s very homogenized across the world today," Atkin
said. "There seems to be no differentiation between countries, between
stores. When’s there’s too much out there, you lose the desire."

Stacy Pecor, owner of
the four Olive & Bette’s boutiques in New York, took the issue on
from the contemporary category’s standpoint.

"I think designers
have lost touch with what the customer wants," said Stacy Pecor, owner of
Olive & Bette’s boutiques in New York. "Many
customers don’t want that big overflowing baby-doll look and yet we
continue to have it. It’s the same with color. If European designers
for spring show salmon, yellow and ecru, have they thought about
whether they look good on most consumers, and if it is what she wants?"

Read "As Designer Sales Lag, Retailers Fret Fashion In Need of Some Fixing"


See the Top Ten Summer 2016 Trends for Women Over 40

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