By  on April 22, 2009

NEW YORK — What’s next for fashion, and how should the industry tackle the future?

At an uncertain time such as this, the question dominates much of the talk on Seventh Avenue these days, and it was also one of the key themes at Fashion Group Foundation’s fall-winter 2009 trend overview and panel discussion on Friday at the Time & Life building here.

With a financial crisis that is expected to result in significant paradigm shifts in the industry and the mind-set of the consumer, the panel, moderated by Norma Kamali and featuring Barneys New York’s Julie Gilhart, Ann Watson of Henri Bendel, Time Style & Design’s Kate Betts and Vogue’s Sarah Brown addressed the notion.

After a video of fall runway looks compiled and narrated by Fashion Group International creative director Marylou Luther, the abundance of trends perhaps crystallized how there’s no longer one big trend to drive sales. Trends range from Eighties shoulders to little black or draped dresses, peplum or motorcycle jackets, the colors purple and red, pumps and ladylike and gentlemanly looks.

Kamali, wearing a chic trenchcoat from her collection for Wal-Mart, said that to ignore the changes the industry and world are going through at the session would be “a disservice” to it. She said that the future health of the industry will be about more than just a style of a garment. It will be in the way “we sell clothes, the way we show clothes” and how designers choose to manufacture their collections.

Others on the panel echoed the sentiments. “The most important thing is how to maintain your integrity,” Gilhart said. “One of the most important words is ‘transparency.’ We are telling our customers, ‘When you are buying this, we think about who is behind this, how it is being made.’”

“The word ‘sustainability’ pops up a lot, too,” she added.

Watson noted that it will be more important than ever to offer shoppers a tightly edited assortment. “We really try to entertain and tell the story of a designer to create that intimacy between the consumer and the product,” she said.

The panel agreed that social network sites like Facebook, or Twitter, the newest Internet fad, will play a key role in the way fashion houses and retailers can market their goods.

Kamali, meanwhile, voiced her personal concerns for new designers, and how they will get the support they need in this tough climate to build businesses. She is thinking of creating a space for new designers in her West 56th Street boutique.

Both Watson and Gilhart stressed their ongoing commitment to bringing new designers to their stores. Gilhart explained that with so many seasons and deliveries, it may be time to revisit the abundance of merchandise that is flooding the market and tying up much of the open-to-buy.

When an audience member asked why so many stores overlook sizes 14 and up and customers over 60, Gilhart said that at Barneys many of the designers don’t offer such larger sizes, and when they do, they often end up on the markdown racks first, because the customer is so specific. Kamali concurred, noting that in her own store, a size 10 or 12 garment doesn’t typically sell as well. However, for her collection for Wal-Mart, she designs clothes with sizes up to XXL.

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