By  on February 11, 2009

New York Fashion Week is hitting the reset button to cope with economic reality.

The most important designer marketing event in the U.S. will feature pared down presentations, fewer parties and a lower key celebrity focus to match a national mood in which ostentatious consumerism is translating into a flawed business strategy.

Among others, Vera Wang, Carmen Marc Valvo, Reem Acra, Betsey Johnson and even Marc Jacobs, whose elaborate runway shows at the 69th Regiment Armory in recent years set the standard for lavishness, are toning down.

With costs of the most expensive runway events estimated to be as high as $500,000, the luxury sector weakening and inventories being cut to the bone, the 200 or so labels showing during the week have had to weigh questions of costs, efficiency and tone during a damaging recession against the payoff of international publicity to sell their brands.

Beyond the flashbulbs, the air kisses and all the other attendant hoopla, return on investment has never been more important.

“I think the industry is getting back to being what it used to be all about — which was selling clothes,” said Steven Kolb, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Change is the order of the day.

“We’re in a transitional stage now,” Kolb said. “With the [economic] collapse in September after our last New York Fashion Week, any designer in the industry would be remiss not to approach things differently.”

From Beyoncé Knowles at Oscar de la Renta to Renée Zellwegger at Carolina Herrera, celebrities have been as much a part of fashion week in New York as the tumult and limos. But they are not immune from outside forces.

Major buyers will now get as much attention, Kolb said, adding that as business gets tougher, parties have been scaled back and designers will focus on smaller gatherings with retailers, their staffs and friends.

Marc Jacobs, the hottest fashion week ticket in town, is downsizing to 700 guests from 2,000 and will forgo a post-show party.

“This isn’t the time to spend money to entertain the entire world,” Robert Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs International, told WWD this month.

At Calvin Klein Inc., celebrities who support the house add glamour and excitement, “as long as they make sense for the designer and don’t detract from the clothes themselves,” said Malcolm Carfrae, executive vice president, global communications.

In general, designers need to be creative in ensuring events are appropriate to their needs during the financial crisis, said Fern Mallis, senior vice president, IMG Fashion, which produces Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Bryant Park. IMG will move to larger space — 87,000 square feet compared with the current 70,000 square feet — in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park in September 2010.

“Maybe they can just use less costly paper for invitations, or e-mail instead of mailing them, but it’s time for them to reinvent, change and refocus,” she said.

Companies can reduce expenditures for shows by trimming the number of lines they display and eliminating excess, she said. “If instead of 50 looks they can do 30, and that saves on fabric, accessories, zippers, models, labor — everything.

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