By  on April 1, 2010

CHICAGO — Akris designer Albert Kriemler said the recession forced the Swiss-based luxury brand to reexamine the way it does business, and compelled him to analyze how he approaches design.

“For sure, it has affected us deeply,” said Kriemler, who arrived here for the U.S. debut of his fall collection, which he showed last week at the Chicago Art Institute. “You really have to evolve. You have to be more competitive. Creativity is in high demand.”

The collection maintained Akris’ signature focus on luxe fabric and tailoring, but also made use of materials such as feathers or horsehair to decorate dresses, and featured a double-faced wool turtleneck dress accented with crystal beading.

Saying he felt an “enormous sensitivity to newness,” Kriemler rethought basics from the collection, noting he can no longer count on shoppers to buy staples.

“Not even a black suit sells in Chicago the way it should,” he said.

Kriemler presented options, including a three-piece suit with a vest-cum-bodysuit tucked into high-waisted flared trousers, some of which were tweed. “No one owns a tweed pair of pants,” he said.

The attention to newness appeared to resonate with the women who gathered for Kriemler’s personal appearance last Thursday at Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue. Many shoppers inquired about Akris’ leather jackets retailing for $4,000 to $4,500, along with Akris handbags, some of which are made with horsehair and start at $4,000.

Kriemler, who launched his first collection of handbags last year, conceded his timing was risky, given that 2009 was one of the company’s most difficult years. “I was hesitating for a long time,” said the designer, who was concerned about whether the market needed more luxury bags. But when there was an opportunity to develop accessories using horsehair, Akris jumped. “It’s different than anything out there,” Kriemler said.

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