NEW YORK — Just how bad will spring be for American designers?
With the economy cratering and consumer confidence sinking to new lows, it’s not surprising an uncertain mood, if not outright panic, has taken hold of many showrooms here. Vendors have reasons to be concerned — according to sources, retailers nationwide are cutting orders by at least 10 to 15 percent for spring, while the New York flagships are lowering their buys by 7 to 10 percent since they don’t anticipate they’ll take as hard a hit because of tourism. That’s amid an already disastrous fall selling season that is sure to put even bigger dents into open-to-buy budgets for fall 2009.
Neiman Marcus, for instance, said last month that it is keeping a tight rein on expenses, remaining highly liquid and is working hard to manage inventories.
“We’ve had a terrific run but now we are in our most difficult period since 9/11,” Burt Tansky, president and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus Inc. said at the time. “We are anticipating the months ahead will be difficult. Our customers are heavily invested in the financial markets….I am concerned that fiscal year ’09 will again test our downside skills.”
“We are being conservative,” he added of spring orders.
Tansky’s comments came after difficult selling seasons for designer ready-to-wear last spring and in fall 2007. Retailers already had complained about the lack of sales oomph on the floor. “We’ve approached buying for fall ’08 and spring ’09 conservatively,” Ron Frasch, Saks Fifth Avenue’s president and chief merchandising officer, said in August. “We have challenged the merchant organization to make the hard decisions, to exit or reduce distribution in brands that aren’t working.”
Retailers’ growing caution — and gloom — is being felt in fashion companies throughout Manhattan.
Paula Sutter, president at Diane von Furstenberg, said the company is planning conservatively for spring and encourages its retail partners to do the same.
“We have been partnering with our retailers to come up with what we think are right plans and the right assortments for this economic time,” Sutter said. “We have had numerous meetings. We have triple- and quadruple-checked assortments, and we are not pushing. We are being very cautious, as are they. We don’t want them to buy anything they don’t think they can sell.”
Sutter said that while the U.S. business is currently “difficult,” there is still much opportunity, and the company continues to enjoy “extremely strong” successes in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and in China. But even those fast-growing economies now face challenges: key Eastern European countries like Hungary, the Ukraine and Poland are feeling the financial squeeze; Dubai’s debt load is causing worries, and economic growth in China, while still robust, is slowing, causing the government to take action to maintain the momentum.
“There are certain pockets where we feel there is opportunity, and then there are other pockets where we are saying, ‘cut back,’” she said. “Maybe in a department store situation, let’s get out of some of the smaller, weaker doors until we can regain our footing. The strategy varies based on country to country.”
Among the steps brands are taking are expanding their businesses overseas, including emerging markets; exploring sourcing alternatives; making earlier deliveries; improving their Web sites; managing their inventory better; spending more time in the stores, and fortifying relationships with retailers.
“We are super-inventory lean,” Sutter said. “We are running a superclean business. We are cutting very conservatively. There is no chasing of business this year, it’s just cutting to order. Because we ship 12 months a year, there is always fresh merchandise on the floor.”
Alex Bolen, chief executive officer of Oscar de la Renta, said, “We hold the view very strongly that in times of crisis there is opportunity to be had. We continue to proceed, albeit cautiously, to hire great people and to scout great locations to put our stores in.”
What is changing is the speed with which stores agree to the company’s proposed order. “Typically, we propose to stores what we think their orders should be — not style by style but based on the level of sell-throughs. That starts the discussion and the discussion is continuing much longer this year. They are not taking our proposals as readily as they have in the past.”
Recently, the company has added “a bunch of doors in emerging markets” such as the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) surrounding Russia, Bolen said. Building international sales through its wholesale business will remain a priority. Bolen is also reviewing the company’s position in terms of fabrics and inventory to see how improvements can be made, and de la Renta continues to open more freestanding stores, most recently in Madrid and Athens.
In yet another fashion show shuffle, @elleryland is moving its show in sync with the Paris couture calendar — though the brand is still keeping one foot on the city’s ready-to-wear schedule. Their runway show in January will coincide with the launch of a new strategy: designing two main collections each year instead of four, which will then be released in four drops. “As we all know, the system needs to change. We need to show sooner to give time back to artisans and designers to do what they do best — create,” said founder Kym Ellery. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
@maxmara’s classic 101801 coat was the cornerstone of its pre-fall 2018 collection. The design team expanded the traditional double-breasted, kimono-sleeved style into a trapeze coat, lean belted styles and a peacoat and presented them in monochromatic looks – like the camel one pictured here. #wwdfashion #prefall18 (📷: George Chinsee)
The @cfda has shifted the dates of #NYFW, with Men’s showing on February 5 through February 7, and Women’s will directly follow, running from February 8 through 14. The preliminary schedule will be released on the CFDA’s web site in the next few days, but Mark Beckham, VP of marketing for the CFDA, revealed that @rafsimons will be back to close the men’s-specific part of the week with a show on February 7 #wwdfashion (📷: Kelly Taub)
@ferragamo is introducing a new space dedicated to the development of women’s and men’s leather good samples. The laboratory, which is created eco-friendly materials and designed to reduce the environmental impact of the manufacturing processes, will allow the company to expand its accessories offering through traditional artisanal approaches. #wwdfashion (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
How does a “regular, degular, schmegular” girl from the Bronx, N.Y., become a Grammy-nominated artist with a certified platinum record in less than a year? Call it the @iamcardib come up. The 25-year-old has become a musical sensation, and the fashion world is taking note. “If I could describe her style I would say drama. She’s really into the dramatics,” says Cardi B’s stylist @kollincarter. See how Carter styles her bold and out there looks with the link in bio. #wwdfashion
“There is no formula. There is no guideline. I can watch Ted Talks all day, but there is no one who can advise me on exactly what it is I should be doing,” said @ronniefieg, CEO of @kith, in an interview with WWD’s @ariahughes at the brand’s new SoHo office in Manhattan. Head to WWD.com to see how Fieg went from hanging out in shoe stockrooms at 13 to building his own business. #wwdfashion (📷: @weston.wells)
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion