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GOP Marches on Fashion

With the Republican National Convention starting Monday in New York, designers are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

Designers worry that this could be the scene if the Republican convention slows down fabric deliveries for their fashion shows.

Designers worry that this could be the scene if the Republican convention slows down fabric deliveries for their fashion shows.

WWD Staff

NEW YORK — With the Republican National Convention starting Monday on Seventh Avenue, designers are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best as they rush to put the finishing touches on their spring collections, as well as make contingency plans, should disruptions bring commerce to a standstill.

Nicole Miller is ready to sleep in her office. Kay Unger is going to walk to work and Yeohlee will opt to travel via bicycle. Carmen Marc Valvo will have deliveries sent to his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and Anna Sui’s employees will carry letters of employment to avoid security hassles. Patricia Underwood will simply close for the week.

The four-day convention at Madison Square Garden to nominate President George Bush for reelection has created anxiety among some fashion industry executives and retailers who fear thousands of protesters, delegates and media, along with closed streets and security restrictions, will create business chaos days before fashion week and during back-to-school sales. The administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to lure the convention to generate revenue and focus the international spotlight on the city.

“I don’t know what to expect,’’ said Marc Jacobs. “I’m so stressed about it.”

Skipping town is not a viable option because the 7th on Sixth shows get under way at Bryant Park on Sept. 8, so designers know they don’t have much time.

“We’ve got a lot of fabrics coming in from Europe that first week of September,” Jacobs said. “We’re always very late, and this is one big thing to make us very, very late.”

Even Lela Rose, one of the First Daughters’ favorite designers and friend, is unhappy.

“I’m annoyed we’re having it,’’ she said. “New York is too crowded of a place to handle this influx of people, especially in this neighborhood, which is already overcrowded. What were we thinking?”

To try to avoid the crowds, Rose’s staff will start work at 2 p.m. on Monday and at 7 a.m. for the rest of the week. Car services are being reserved for sewers who live out of town, key deliveries should arrive this week and Rose is ready to have stranded employees sleep in her apartment.

Patricia Underwood in May decided to close during convention week. In preparation for six runway shows, employees have been working six days a week to make up for the lost time. Among other things, the company was not eager to arrange for deliveries to be received after midnight — something that has been advised for Garment District tenants, said Judy Hummel, the firm’s comptroller. “We felt there might be too many disruptions in our area to be able to ship and receive goods,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen when the president is in town. We decided we might as well be in control.”

At Nicole Miller, the 12-person design department, including Miller herself, is prepared to hole up in the company’s offices at 525 Seventh Avenue. The company already has stocked up on canned tuna, microwavable popcorn and bath towels for the office’s showers.

“If the electricity doesn’t go down, we’ll be OK,’’ said Bud Konheim, the company’s chief executive officer.

This is crunch time for Miller’s show, which will be Sept. 9. The designer will unveil Nicole Miller Signature, a high-end collection that is a marked step up from her existing line. Each sample requires three or four days of work, Konheim said. “How do we get 42 pieces of high-level, handmade stuff made? We may be able to get stuff by messenger, but it won’t be fast.”

Ralph Lauren is concerned about gridlock. With five offices in the city and one in Lyndhurst, N.J., the company has the flexibility to offer its hundreds of New York employees alternate spaces to use if needed, a spokeswoman said. The company also is considering booking hotel rooms for employees who live outside the city.

To prepare the September collection, the company has “advanced as many things as possible,” the spokeswoman said. Staffers also are gearing up for the opening of a flagship in Milan next month.

Michael Pellegrino, president and ceo of Anna Sui, has prepared packages of information for workers to help them negotiate the streets during the convention. They have been advised to carry letters of employment, identification tags and as little baggage as possible.

“We want to make sure they have no problem coming to work,” he said.

Oscar de la Renta is not going to any great measures, aside from making ID tags for employees and awaiting some hand-delivered embroidery pieces.

“We have great faith in the city of New York and our mayor,” a company spokeswoman said. “We have no panic measures. The city is supposed to be fully operational, and we are working under that assumption.”

Unlike most designers, Oscar de la Renta operates as a full atelier, save for its embroidery, she said.

The staff at Bill Blass has been working to get as much done as possible before the convention and expects to be in good shape. “We’re in a position where we have everything under control,’’ a spokeswoman said. “We won’t be making samples until 10 or 12 at night. We planned ahead so we’re at the tail end.”

Kay Unger said she and her staff have been working overtime for three weeks to offset any convention-related delays. On average, employees have bumped up their work weeks by 20 percent, Unger said.

Starting the work day at 7 a.m. — something the company has always practiced — should be a plus next week, especially for out-of-city commuters, she said. Unger and staffers, who live in the city, plan to walk to work.

After last summer’s blackout and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the staff has set up a buddy system to ensure out-of-town employees have a place to spend the night in the city in the event of an emergency.

While Yeohlee will bike to work, she is not overly concerned about disruptions. “New Yorkers are a cool bunch and will take things in stride,’’ she said. “I am concerned that there may be a misrepresentation of that.”

The company plans to complete its August deliveries by the end of this week. In addition, most of the samples cut for the spring show are in. “We can do without the ones that are late,” Yeohlee said.

— With contributions from Katherine Bowers, Boston