New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is far too savvy to pinpoint estimated retail sales for Fashion’s Night Out, but on Wednesday he readily offered an impromptu address on the state of the industry and its future.
After officially launching Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week with Diane von Furstenberg and IMG’s Ted Forstmann and inspecting the new Lincoln Center tents, the mayor talked with WWD about how New York City’s overall environment affects shoppers, Seventh Avenue manufacturing and how Friday’s festivities could rev up shoppers’ interest.
“It’s fair to say most people don’t buy couture and most people don’t come to fashion shows,” Bloomberg said, though they very well may shop at Target, Costco or wherever they like to find their favorite clothes. While national retailers have struggled with the ongoing economic malaise, several stores have singled out their Manhattan locations as strong points, Bloomberg said. Much of that can be linked to record-breaking tourism figures — one of several statistics the mayor shared earlier during a press conference.
Despite being in a worldwide and national recession, New York City is on track to meet Bloomberg’s goal of bolstering tourism to 50 million visitors in 2012. For 2010, the final tally should be about 45.5 million, a slight gain compared with 2009, Bloomberg said. Emphasizing how shoppers’ spending is intrinsically tied to the overall environment, Bloomberg noted that real estate, stores and restaurants are showing signs of improvement. In addition, the city’s unemployment rate for July was down for the seventh consecutive month and (at 9.4 percent) is lower (by a hairline) than the national average (of 9.5 percent,) he said.
“New York City [manufacturing] is never going to compete on the basis of price,” since there are legions of suppliers all around the globe that specialize in low-priced production, Bloomberg said. An indication of just how competitive the underselling has become can be seen in China, where many companies have migrated from factories in the east to west in order to chisel down wages and production costs even lower, he noted. And as worker strife has become more of a recurring issue, some manufacturers have decamped for Bangladesh and other locales to keep driving prices down.
As the city’s second-largest industry and one that supports 175,000 jobs and $10 billion in wages, New York fashion has twice as many companies than any other city in the world. “You may think some other city is the fashion capital of the world. That’s not true,” Bloomberg said.
Immigration reform was another subject he hammered home during the press conference, noting the fashion industry would suffer “if we don’t fix the system that keeps immigrants out of the country. The biggest impediment for fashion is how it is very difficult for people from around the world to come here to create clothes,” Bloomberg said.
“New York City’s value property is its intellectual capital, whether that be a great designer or being a great seamstress. That is what we’re about,” Bloomberg said. “If you need to grow corn or have a steel mill, New York City is not the place for you.”
While Manhattan is not the go-to place to make a half-million blank white T-shirts, the city’s manufacturing future lies in the proximity to the user and quality, he said. Recalling how he once asked Oscar de la Renta about using a Bronx factory, Bloomberg said the designer said, “They may be more expensive but they’re better and they’re close. I can look them in the eye and say move this bow here….”
Bloomberg’s girlfriend, Diana Taylor, might wear an Oscar de la Renta dress from time to time but one of his advance people, like scores of other residents, prefers stylishness at a price. He recently was floored to find out the staffer’s dress cost $25 at Forever 21. “But it was very fashionable,” he said.
The mayor also proved that he is not above scoring a bargain. Asked by one reporter about his attire for the day, he rattled off an Hermès tie, Paul Stuart shirt, Martin Greenfield suit, Bloomingdale’s underwear and Filene’s Basement socks.
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