The hemlines were mostly short; the headlines, uniformly grim. As the fashion world breezed from show to show, the tumbling global economy sent winds of unease and whispers of budget cuts through the industry. During Milan, there were still signs of fashion’s confident global march, with Bloomingdale’s confirming its expansion into the Middle East and the Dubai International Financial Center taking a majority stake in Kuwaiti retailer Villa Moda. But by the time Paris rolled around, the dark clouds had truly settled in. “The economy is going to affect everyone,” groused Carine Roitfeld, editor in chief of French Vogue.

While Yohji Yamamoto paraded simple, funeral-like black designs with an occasional glimmer of white thrown in, the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its single biggest point decline on record. The next day, Comme des Garçons unveiled a collection titled Tomorrow’s Black, featuring dresses resembling deflated footballs under towering Marie Antoinette wigs. Jeremy Scott took the Antoinette metaphor further, twisting the French queen’s infamous quote into “Let Them Eat Gas.” “At the time of the French revolution, it was le pain (bread) that the people wanted, now it is le pétrole,” said the designer, who hammered his message home with a smattering of gas pump prints.

By midweek, as France’s intellectual daily, Le Monde, proposed “Crisis: What Europe Can Do,” the fashion industry sent out strong shoulders and overt sexuality. “It’s a sense of feeling empowered and in control at a time when the world economy is in such turmoil,” explained Lane Crawford’s fashion director, Sarah Rutson.

When the International Herald Tribune asked “Who do you trust now?,” Chanel answered by delivering a collection inspired by postrecession romanticism with a giant backdrop of the Rue Cambon facade, perhaps to reassure the industry that Chanel’s house, for one, is in order. And, in a not-so-subtle signal to keep spending, models swung 31 Rue Cambon–emblazoned leather shopping bags down the runway.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s sparkling, sequined Visa Card dress presciently marked “Société Nationale” was ironically the best-selling piece from his collection. “Maybe because, in a time of crisis, people want to be close to their credit card,” the designer mused.

Next: The Wobblies

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