As New York Fashion Week kicks into high gear, everyone from the designers in their ateliers to the retail executives in the front row and perhaps even the models on the runways has one word on their minds beginning with the letter "r" — and it isn't the color red. It's recession.
Suddenly consumers, that engine of the American economy, think it's unfashionable to spend money. The credit markets are tight; the stock market is dyspeptic; major U.S. financial institutions are having to turn to China and the Middle East for
financial lifelines; oil prices continue to flirt with $100 a barrel, and the once-mighty dollar now looks like a 99-pound weakling against the euro and the pound.
No wonder retailers and industry executives are nervous. And since a presidential election is in nine months, many are questioning whether America is headed back to the boom times of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan or the "malaise" of Jimmy Carter.
And since the last major recession was 20 years ago — when Erin Fetherston and Rodarte's Laura Mulleavy were age seven, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough were each eight, and Rachel Roy was 13 — WWD decided to do an informal survey of leading (and older) American industry executives who have weathered prior downturns for their tips on how to get through the tough times ahead.
Here are some of their strategies and suggestions:
Leonard Lauder, chairman of the Estée Lauder Cos.
"This is the fourth recession I've been through — and each previous recession was unique in its own way. I think this is as much as recession of economics as it is a recession of confidence. The root cause is that most people saw their nest eggs — the value of their homes — decrease and in many cases evaporate. They still have money, but they don't have the house money to fall back on and give them confidence in the future. The only advice I can give is be confident, and follow Mrs. Estée Lauder's advice, which she gave at the end of the Great Depression: 'There is no such thing as bad business. Business is there if you go after it.'"
Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer, Bloomingdale's
"Bloomingdale's will continue to take prudent risks, continue to explore new merchandise, new resources, and continue to ratchet up our desire to have new receipts on a regular basis. What this climate says to us is that there is a ton of business to be done. If you look at our conversion rates, we have such enormous opportunities. We have many new programs rolling out this spring — new loyalty programs, intensified clienteling. In this climate, you can not win by playing a defensive game. We have pushed our business more upscale and will continue to do that. The climate says you may not treat all your children [businesses] equally, but treat them all fairly. There are a number of businesses we will continue to intensify. We had a terrific '07. We will stay the course with our brand strategy — to be more upscale, less promotional, and provide a better in-store experience and more Bloomingdale's DNA for excitement."
Elie Tahari, chairman and ceo of Elie Tahari Ltd.
"I've been in this industry for over 30 years and I've seen the market fluctuate many times. In a challenging business environment, it's not enough for the customer to simply just 'want' something — she needs to get more out of her clothing in order to truly justify the spending. She also needs to feel emotionally compelled to buy a certain piece — to feel the overwhelming desire that she has to have it.
"For the Elie Tahari brand, we've always designed special pieces that are also versatile and timeless. This has helped us sustain our customer through economic downturns as she knows that what she is getting will last, but also that it will make her look and feel her best. Survival is about staying true to your customer and your brand even in the face of financial uncertainty. Cultivating brand loyalty from the beginning is the key to maintaining a thriving business in any market situation."
Andrew Rosen, ceo, Theory Ltd.
"The retail business will continue to grow in 2008, but less so then what we have seen in previous years. We can still expect for the consumer to buy clothing; however, their purchases will be focused on products that are worth spending or even splurging for.
“I think what’s so interesting about the #MeToo movement and this whole new wave of feminism in general, is that women are finally seeing, ’Oh I can start my own company, oh I can lear to code, oh I can leave my nine-to-five job and do the thing I want to do,” said @brooklyndecker ahead of her @sxsw talk for @createcultivate. The former model took the stage to share wisdom about networking and female-driven entrepreneurship. #wwdeye #sxsw (📷: @jgreenery)
“I was making the guacamole when my scout saw me,” says model @stuckinteenage on being discovered just six months ago while working at @chipotlemexicangrill. Since then Williams has signed with @dnamodels, walked in her first show at @calvinklein and landed on the cover of @vogueitalia – a high point of any model’s career. To read @lisajlockwood’s full interview with the model on her experiences thus far, head to WWD.com – link in bio. (📷: George Chinsee)
“I love the idea of dialogue, period. It’s where I’ve always gotten my inspiration from: hearing other women speak, their journeys and their paths,” said @hereisgina, who delivered the keynote speech at the @sxsw conference for @createcultivate, the online platform and conference series for women. For her two panels, Rodriguez chose female empowering, female-led and female entrepreneurs to focus on. Head to WWD.com to read more about her thoughts on Time’s Up, growing up in a family of women and why we “need a girls’ club.” #wwdeye #sxsw (📷: @jgreenery)
Leading luxury brand are shaking things up to keep up with streetwear. Case in point: the arrival of @mrkimjones as artistic director of @diorhomme. Jones, who succeeds @Kris_Van_Assche, is seen as one of the handful of designers who can actually straddle the luxury and streetwear worlds — which could lead to even more changes at established brands. What could this mean for the rest of the menswear landscape? Head to WWD.com to find out what experts predict #wwdfashion (📷: @franckmura)
“It’s like buying groceries. You’re going to buy the best mango, the best mozzarella, the best things. You have to, or others are going to take it all,” said @gabrielahearst on why she uses only the finest fabrics. Last week, Hearst received her first @cfda nomination for Womenswear Designer of the Year, and earlier this month she opened a permanent showroom in Paris. To read @jessiredale’s interview with the designer and find out why this is shaping up to be a big year for her, head to WWD.com. #wwdfashion (📷: @francoisgoize)
“It’s an interesting thing, playing a younger version of your mother. It’s an interesting concept. I adore my mom and love her in every capacity, but it was just something that had never crossed my mind,” says @anniemstarke on playing a young Joan Castleman in “The Wife.” The same role will be played by her mother Glenn Close. Read more about her growing up in the film industry as the daughter of producer John H. Starke and Close and what she has planned for the future #wwdeye (📷: @nataliamantini)
@asics is launching a new streetwear sneaker inspired by its latest ambassador, @steveaoki. The Hyper-Kenzen x Aoki, which will launch at @footlocker stores exclusively tomorrow, is a slip-on style that incorporates the brand’s proprietary Gel technology through beads integrated into the midsole for comfort and endurance. Read the full story on WWD.com.