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Last September, the folks at Calvin Klein erected a museum-like building on the High Line to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary.
Attendees included Halle Berry, Naomi Watts and Claire Danes. People in the neighborhood noted they could actually smell the flowers from blocks away. The cost, the company admitted, was well over $5 million.
But this season, Calvin Klein isn’t even having a party to fete their fall collection. Neither is Marc Jacobs, whose semiannual Monday night postshow party is the hipster equivalent of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Zac Posen, who took over Balthazar in September, has also decided not to hold a dinner after his show.
None of this is exactly surprising, but it’s yet another sobering indication of how bleak things are these days in the fashion world.
In normal recessions, the upper end of the market typically does comparatively well. But as this economic downturn has deepened, with unemployment reaching 7.6 percent nationally without even including the people who have simply stopped looking for work, no one is safe, and fashion designers are clearly tightening their belts.
It’s Jacobs’ cancellation in particular that has people worried. Because — as always — what Marc says goes, so if he’s decreed restraint to be the new black, well then even companies with money must now sit on it. “Everyone follows him,” said Paul Sevigny, the current disc jockey of choice among people in the fashion world. “So when Marc pulls out, it’s really bad. Things are definitely going to be quieter this season.”
Moreover, with the Oscars now falling at the end of fashion week, designers will likely have fewer celebrities in the front row. And that means less publicity in the tabloids, and therefore fewer opportunities to get attention for the brands at a time when designers need it most.
“There are very few celebrities coming, and the few that are are exclusive to large brands who can pay,” said Scott Cooke, whose company Cooke & Co works on forging partnerships between celebrities and brands. “It’s particularly tough on young designers who are having trouble to begin with and could use the association with a celebrity.”
Cindi Berger, co-chief executive officer of Hollywood p.r. firm PMK/HBH, whose clients include Jennifer Aniston, Sharon Stone and Gwyneth Paltrow, put it similarly. Fashion week “is sandwiched between the Grammys and the Oscars, and the economic downturn has put everyone’s sensitive antennas up. People feel more aware of accepting money to go to a show or accepting airline tickets at a time when millions of people are losing their jobs. And it’s too bad because now is the time we do need to support designers, particularly up-and-coming designers.”
Roger Padilha, whose company Mao PR does media strategy and show production for just those sorts of designers, was trying to see the silver lining. “The upside is that the attention may move back to the clothes,” he said.
It’s a fair point to make, but consider the side effects. Hotels will likely see less business. Catering companies will employ fewer people. Florists like Belle Fleur — whose clients include Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, and Oscar de la Renta — are already saying business is down.
“We’re not doing arrangements for any of the actual fashion shows,” said Meredith Waga Perez, who runs the company with her mother, Marilyn. “In the past, we’ve done floral backdrops and large displays for the shows. We’re still getting work, but the events we have on the board are much more intimate. They’re at restaurants and people’s homes, not big venues.”
Welcome to the new fashion narrative, where “back to basics” and “intimate” are the current buzzwords being used by a reeling industry.
So what are the events that will still be happening?
For one, Giorgio Armani has a store opening on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, for which there will be a cocktail reception next Tuesday. And Diane von Furstenberg will host her regular postshow dinner at her company’s 14th Street headquarters on Sunday.
On the Left Coast, meanwhile, Dior Beauty is throwing a dinner at the Chateau Marmont, whose attendees are expected to include Sharon Stone (a paid spokeswoman), as well as starlets like Camilla Belle and Ginnifer Goodwin.
But again, expect all of it to be scaled back, which means drinks instead of dinner (à la Armani), 30 people instead of 500 (à la Dior) and, in the Big Apple, lots less star wattage than in previous seasons.
“There are still too many events for actors to attend and not enough real work” said one high-profile entertainment publicist, who asked that her name not be used because she “has too many friends in the fashion business” — and because people in Hollywood always prefer not to be on record. “There are less movies being green-lit because of the economy, it’s pilot season and NBC has knocked out all scripted shows in the ten o’ clock hour to make room for Leno. That means more people are out in L.A. auditioning and less people are getting hired. It’s just not a good time.”