By  on September 13, 2005

NEW YORK — Many retailers, designers and other fashion insiders differ about how Hurricane Katrina will affect the desire of Americans to shop, as well as the disaster's overall economic impact.

Comparisons are difficult because the scope of death, destruction and human tragedy across the Gulf states from this single event is without precedent in U.S. history, as estimated damages reach $125 billion and counting and the Congressional Budget Office reported the loss of about 400,000 jobs.

And, unlike the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, after which Americans were encouraged to spend money to bolster the economy, the hurricane has renewed, for many, questions about materialism.

Still, the business of business continues, particularly during fashion week here.

Before his wife Diane von Furstenberg's show Sunday, Barry Diller, chief executive officer of IAC/Interactive Corp., said Katrina "has to have a big effect on the economy, on retail, on everything. I don't think this is like 9/11, when there was an angry reaction for life. This one hasn't made anyone feel good."

Donald Trump, commenting after Oscar de la Renta's show Monday, said, "The economy will take a hit and it's going to be substantial. Fuel is going to kill the economy. Unless we tell oil-producing states what life is all about, the economy will take a significant fall."

Former Bloomingdale's chairman Marvin Traub, who now heads Marvin Traub Associates, was more optimistic. "I don't think it will be severe. Clearly, there will be some impact. Three economies in three states have been devastated. That will affect retail, fuel prices, real estate. The side impact of rising fuel prices doesn't help."

Before Carolina Herrera's show Monday, Burt Tansky, president and ceo of the Neiman Marcus Group, said, "My reaction to this terrible tragedy is that the destruction is just unbelievable, but it has also allowed Americans to show their humanity and softer side by rushing out to help people. As the weeks go on, normalcy will return to New Orleans and throughout the country. I don't anticipate any change at retail in our business."

Another retailer, former Saks ceo Phil Miller, said before Kenneth Cole's fashion show Friday that he expects any cautious spending to center on the Gulf region. "I don't anticipate that it will have a large national effect, as far as shopping goes," Miller said. "What happens in the long run with taxes and all the deficits may be a more difficult question."

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