NEW YORK — A year ago, the third day of the spring runway shows here was just getting under way in Bryant Park when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, just a few miles away.
This story first appeared in the September 11, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In the minutes leading up to their ultimate collapse, no one quite understood the complex and devastating impact that the terrorist attacks would have on the city’s collective psyche, its prospects, people and industries. The fashion business was hard hit, not only here, but also globally, marked by store closings, bankruptcies, layoffs and an end to what had only recently seemed like an insatiable appetite for luxury goods.
A year later, the repairs have only begun in a vastly altered retail landscape, where inventories are leaner everywhere and the pressure on vendors has only grown tougher. Some changes were inevitable, but others came unexpectedly. Some stores and designers have found that narrowing their merchandise offerings has resulted in healthier sales, particularly for full-priced merchandise, and American designers have become more important to U.S. retailers both for reasons of patriotism and convenience.
On the other hand, many people a year ago said they would work less, but the intense demands on their businesses have only resulted in more pressure. The design industry has also become more pragmatic, losing some of its creative spark, considering both the personal emotional toll and the larger picture of how customers have generally changed their shopping patterns. And any attempt at normalcy, even now, seems unlikely as terrorist threats remain a looming spector to Americans, who were again put on edge by new warnings on Tuesday from the Bush administration of a high risk of attacks.
Here’s a look at what some of the industry’s top designers, retailers and editors are thinking, one year later.
Calvin Klein: “I have always been a person who believes in looking forward and moving forward, but, you know, even a year later, it still feels the same. It feels raw.”
Donna Karan: “I don’t think fashion has changed, but people have. Maybe that’s the problem, that we as an industry are not addressing this. We have to look at things differently than we have in the past. If ever a time for a summit was needed, this is the time. It’s not about the press, the designers or the retailers; it’s not about the individual, but it is about the collective work. It’s not only fashion, it’s about a city and a world. I do feel extremely vulnerable, as everyone else does, but I’m not looking at this as ‘Donna Karan,’ the person. I see a much bigger picture.
“It’s not business as usual. It’s very different and it is this challenge that is probably what’s keeping me going. Weirdly enough, I feel more creative than I’ve ever felt, but also more challenged. I want to put a smile on people’s faces, to touch people. If that’s something I can do in my personal way, that’s important to me, but at the same time, I’m only reflecting the way everybody else feels.”
Ralph Lauren: “You can’t help but reflect, the world has changed in the past year. We’ve all been reflecting on how America is different, trying to understand what happened so that it doesn’t happen again — anywhere in the world. It’s one year later. We need to be thoughtful, and we need to be focused. How are we going to lead? How can we continue to go forward so that we can be at peace and live in a happy world?”
Polo Ralph Lauren’s American Heroes Fund has raised $4 million to benefit The Twin Towers Fund, The New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, The September 11th Fund and the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. In addition, Polo created American Heroes Fund Scholarships to provide educational assistance to children of those who died or were permanently disabled as a result of the attacks, which will run for 20 years to also help victims’ children born in the months following Sept. 11.
Giorgio Armani: “With coincidence placing me in New York on Sept. 11 last year, my enduring memory will be of the profound humanity and unbounded camaraderie that I witnessed among people who were brought together by intense adversity. The important values in life and the real qualities of the human spirit were crystallized for everyone in that moment. One year on, our immediate thoughts have to be with those who lost their lives so tragically and with their families and friends who are facing life today without their loved ones. In business, as in life, today one is more grounded, more pragmatic and more practical.”
Hal Kahn, chairman and chief executive officer, Macy’s East: “We are not as safe as we thought we were. It’s put a concern into all of us about how vulnerable we are and how precious life is. The loss of jobs, the lack of tourism and the challenge to the economy has affected our business. There’ are a lot of emotions and feelings that we’ll permanently feel. But even though business might be conducted in more serious surroundings, with a rebound in the economy, with more exciting products and a return to some sort of dress-up, I feel good about the future of retailing.”
Michael Kors: “I think New Yorkers and all Americans are amazingly resilient and have moved forward in their lives, but are more hypersensitive than before 9/11. Fashion has become something that must marry the pragmatic with the indulgent for it to work in today’s world.”
Oscar de la Renta: “I always believe out of every bad situation comes some good. As far as my business goes, I have not cut back at all. In fact, my business is the strongest it has ever been. But I have always had an admiration for anonymous heroes and this made us rethink who our heroes are in this city. In a way, it has made us all better people. Our spirit is stronger than ever, as a city and as individuals. We all have realized that we will never give up the freedom of this city and this country.”
Donatella Versace: “Sept. 11 has changed all of us. It’s so important that we not only look forward, but we use the events of this horrific tragedy as a way of making us reflect on our lives, refocusing and reevaluating our goals and our priorities. I have never allowed 9/11 to influence my ideas about design. These events make us stronger as a company and an industry. We were forced to rethink our strategies not only as a company, but as individuals. Personally, the events of Sept. 11 helped me reconnect with the people who mean the most to me in my life.”
Lars Nilsson, designer of Bill Blass: “I’m a much happier person today than I was six months ago. We were very touched by the whole situation, but as I see it today, I feel like I want to move forward. I want to do color, I want to design a new collection. It really feels positive and the September shows are going to show that.
“Our trunk show business has been very strong and the customer base has been very supportive. I can understand that for stores, since our product is very expensive, to have it on stock is a big risk for them, but in general, customers have been very supportive.”
Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair: “It goes on. It’s going to be with us and will be in fits and starts. It won’t ever leave anyone’s desk. On a personal basis, I’ve had staff meetings to talk about safety and comfort. We work in a tall building in Times Square. Americans like getting back to what they like to do. They search out for people doing things of substance.”
Carter was quoted (and criticized) last fall as saying September 11 signaled “the end of irony.” Carter said he meant it would signal the end of “smirky irony.” “Humor will always be with us. Americans are amazing at creating black humor during black periods. A lot of frivolous irony will go by the wayside. People do not feel embarrassed believing in something right now. Previously, everything was considered light. I have a notion that people are more brittle now for the world.”
Christophe Girard, director of strategy at LVMH Fashion Group and deputy mayor of Paris in charge of culture: “Since that day, my feelings about the meaning of life have deeply changed. My generation has not witnessed war and that morning, alone on Canal Street among hundreds of other people as lost as me, we believed for a while it was war, the third world war. A day later, I understood that our planet was in great danger, that poor people were getting poorer and more desperate, that our democracies were unable to share our luck and wealth. But I also clearly understood, what I always believed, that fanaticism is impossible to negotiate. Sept. 11 gave me faith and willingness to share my passions and my beliefs.”
Norman Pearlstine, editor in chief, Time Inc.: “From the time of first hearing a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, it’s impossible to live in New York and not have emotional, as well as journalistic, reactions. It’s been the story of my journalistic career. What’s on the cover of next week’s Time and do we have the IT backup system in place if the building goes down or New York goes down? I had to start thinking of a back-burner issue that suddenly takes on new meaning.
“It’s too soon to know the lasting differences in terms of the story and the country. I had frankly thought in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, we had come to distrust government. As a society, there had been an absence of heroes. If Sept. 11 did anything, it seems to me it brought an awful lot of focus back to issues of the role of government and the role of the military and questioned the core values in our society — law and order, freedom of speech.”
Wendy Chivian, president of Anne Klein: “People in New York acknowledge other peoples’ presence on the street now. Between the police, fire and rescue efforts, I think everyone has a different feeling about themselves, their neighbors and the world. People are paying more attention to the fact that they should live each day to the fullest.”
John Truex, a partner in Lambertson Truex: “You were caught up in such a fast track, you need to stop and appreciate things more. Because we are a smaller specialty design house, people come to our showroom and they have always felt at home here, so business has been done in a relaxed, creative way. [Sept.11] has emphasized that. People want to talk about the inspiration of colors, the feelings that went behind the collections.
“We moved into a new place and we realized how important our family, internally and externally, was to us. Business has been affected. Because of our small distribution, it has brought us closer together. We have made it our personal goal to get out there more often, visit stores and just be accessible to people. We wanted to touch base more often and hear more of people’s voices. Our philosophy has always been very personal and this has just accented it more.”
Christina Johnson, president and ceo, Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises: “9/11 and all of the tremendous emotional reaction associated with the terrible events of that day have certainly also had dramatic impact on running businesses. The unknown circumstances on the timing of recovery make decisions very difficult, particularly on investment capital, staffing and inventory. We made some very difficult decisions in these areas and very quickly because it’s tougher to understand economic conditions long term. But the result is that Saks is a more efficient, healthier business that can weather the downturn.
“Personally, since 9/11, everyday I am conscious of how fortunate and thankful I am to have my family and business associates and I think that certainly was a critical eye-opener for many of us. You can get caught up in the day-to-day mechanisms of running a big business and the tremendous amount of things that you must do and then you begin to realize very clearly what is important in our lives.”
Russell Simmons, founder, Phat Fashions and Def Jam Records: “I object to a lot of what has been going on since Sept. 11 and what the government is doing. While this tragedy has done some good, since I see a real unity among people and people working together, it has also made us more fearful and fear fuels hate. The war on terror is fueled by hate. Anti-Semitism has become more clear, privacy has been invaded and our civil rights as Americans have been invaded. We need to fight fear with a lack of fear.
Carolina Herrera: “It was a day of sadness and you’ll never forget it. Every time I think about it I get sad, but life goes on and you must go on living. It hasn’t affected my business, but when you see a tragedy, everything seems unimportant. You wonder what the point is of worrying about little things like the fabric didn’t show up on time or the dresses went to the wrong place. But I have to go on because I have a lot of people that depend on my business. I’m a very optimistic woman and I’m not going to change my way of life. I hope that everybody else is optimistic, to try to make things more agreeable.”
Diane Von Furstenberg: “Sept. 11 made everyone more vulnerable. It was a shock for everyone and made this country realize that it could be vulnerable inside. I think we have to try to use the good side of vulnerability as opposed to the fear and try to fight violence. As far as my business is concerned, the situation is difficult for everyone and a lot of people have lost jobs, but it hasn’t really changed my business.”
Yeohlee Teng: “My show was scheduled on Sept. 11 and I was in my showroom doing last-minute things when someone asked me if I had heard what happened. I said to myself, ‘this doesn’t sound good.’ So I walked over to the tents and I remember everybody’s faces I saw that day. I remember Fern Mallis when she told me all shows were canceled. On one hand, Sept. 11 changed things forever, but on the other, we have the same clients and we continue season after season to build our business. It’s our duty to carry on to the best of our ability.”
Tracy Reese: “On Sept. 11, my mom and grandmother were in town because my show was to be that afternoon. After it happened, I felt, in a way, like I was a bad hostess because look what was happening to my city. I am impressed with what has happened since then. Everyone has stepped up and in New York, a city that can be too tough and too harsh at times, has lightened up a lot. New York is about life and brotherhood and everyone is a little more human now.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner, Bob Ellis shoes, Jil Sander and Jeffrey designer boutiques in Atlanta, and Jeffrey New York: “We’ve made it through a terrible time and I’m still here. Business is good now, but I’m a careful buyer. I have 35 percent less inventory than last fall, but it’s selling well. There’s still so much uncertainty, with the Iraq situation and the stock market, that it weighs on everyone. But ready-to-wear is strong in both Atlanta and New York. Personally, I was in New York on Sept. 11, on 14th Street, and it affected me long term. I hate uncertainty and I don’t understand ignorance and hate. I try not to get too much into the future, but live day to day. I still travel and conduct business as usual, to try not to let them win.”
Peg Canter, vice president, general manager, AmericasMart Apparel, Atlanta: “I was in a small town in Kentucky, visiting my mother. I drove back to Atlanta the following Sunday and there was a gas shortage scare. It was all surreal, and took a while to realize it was real.
“With the Fashion Coterie scheduled the following week, and uncertainty over whether it would happen, manufacturers started calling immediately, asking us if we could ‘find room’ for them to show at our October show. People wanted a neighborhood gathering place, and were less inclined to go to big malls. In the markets following Sept. 11, we were concerned about the mood. But we found a renewed feeling of family among industry people and people drew closer to each other.”
Richard Leeds, ceo, Richard Leeds International: “I didn’t think people had wanted to come to work that day. But employees told us not to close the company because they wanted to be together, to share the grief and be grateful for what they have collectively. After all, they were all here watching the horror on the TV screens a year ago.”
Bud Konheim, ceo, Nicole Miller: “Very shortly after 9/11, after we got over all the confusion, I felt there was a certain appropriate period of mourning. But business is business, and I feel we have now been sidetracked and confused by an extended period of mourning that is bordering on wallowing. There is no positive gain anymore to continuing this mourning period. The country is less attentive to fashion and things that people used to pay attention to, and it doesn’t look like we’re getting through it. Rather, we’re getting deeper into it.”
Emanuel Ungaro: “Sept. 11 revealed a savage cruelty without precedent. The danger is always there and now, nothing and no one in the world is shielded from this murderous craziness. In a very intimate way, I am more vigilant and more alert. At times like these, trivial and gratuitous gestures become suspect.”
Richard Tyler: “We just totally stopped everything. We had CNN on for months. It’s only recently that we turned it off. I didn’t fly back to New York until June. I just couldn’t. But we all need to get back to life. We took the flag down in the window of our store. But we still have flags on our cars. We became even more protective of [our son] Edward, who’s nine. We were supposed to go to London for Christmas and we canceled that trip. We were taking my sister-in-law and three of the kids, and we just felt uneasy about it.
“We began asking whether this business is trivial. I felt like people’s priorities had shifted. That’s why we went ahead with the second line, Tyler. We wanted to give them great quality at a good price. That it’s doing quite well is great.”
Ingrid Sischy, editor in chief, Interview: “We navigate the way through the world through our work. Movies and music help people navigate their way through tragedy. That’s what magazines are for. In our September issue, we had the largest fall issue the magazine has ever had. There were 66 pages in that [downtown shopping section]. Everybody said, ‘I want in.’”
Caroline Miller, editor in chief, New York: “I think the year has been stunning because of the series of tiny incremental changes. The culture and the mood of the city changed a lot in the beginning. It was astonishing how in the first few weeks, things that seemed tasteful, one day, were frivolous the next. It was as if you hit the reset button.
“The big story over the year has been how New Yorkers have gradually come to terms with integrating this unthinkable loss and this understanding of terrorism. One of the interesting and weird moments came this summer when we did the ‘Survival Guide to Living with Terrorism.’ The whole issue of terrorism had its stages. You went through ‘Did your doctor get you Cipro?’ to ‘Are you wearing a gas mask?’ to ‘Do you go through Grand Central Terminal?’ ‘Are you flying yet?’ ‘Should I have duct tape?’ ‘Do you have a flashlight that doesn’t take a battery?’ A hand-cranked flashlight suddenly looks interesting, and a battery-operated radio and an inflatable boat look interesting.”
Carolee Friedlander, president and ceo, Carolee Designs: “People are more receptive to one another in a way they perhaps weren’t before. The anniversary makes us reflect on the fragility of life, the fact that we are not invincible, that there is evil in the world and bad things can happen in this country. There is still a feeling of discomfort. When you hear about the amount of damage and the economy in New York City, it is very daunting, and it will take a lot of effort to rebuild.”
Michael Gould, chairman and ceo, Bloomingdale’s: “We’ve learned that something so horrific can happen here, not just many thousands of miles away. It makes you think about what happened in Oklahoma City, too. It has changed the value people put on things, the value on home, the value on family. Maybe it means less travel. Now, we really evaluate what you do with your time and money.
“You get involved in nonprofit organizations. It’s changed the way people think and live, even the way people shop and look at life. Sure, it’s changed my life and how I think. Has it changed how I work? No. I haven’t worked less hard, but no one has. But I do think much more about fragility of life, family and friends, and that’s no different than most people in the country.”
Janet Goldman, ceo of Fragments showroom in SoHo: “I miss and appreciate the tourists more than ever. My empathy towards others extends to the far reaches of the world. Our business is about gifts and giving and beauty. Every time a purchase is made we know it is making someone happy. It’s not solving world problems, but it makes us feel better.”Hal Upbin, president, chairman and ceo, Kellwood Co.: “On the business side, we were affected along with other retailers and wholesalers. The business at retail was a disaster and headed that way, and the 11th just aggravated that incredibly. It was the coup de gras of a smoldering retail and apparel environment. We dealt with it by higher markdowns and attempts at cancellations.“As far as business going forward, we looked at our business model in terms of overheads and we did consolidate some divisions and cut some divisional overhead. It was probably a 20 percent [reduction in staff] over time. We’re working much closer to delivery. The collections have been pruned, it’s tighter, and Sept. 11 certainly accelerated that.“It’s still a very tough environment and that promotes the fact that people have to try very hard. As Americans and New Yorkers, we’re hurt, and there’s a healing there perhaps. That feeling of being part of New York and being a New Yorker is there, and it’s more pronounced as we come up on the anniversary, but there’s some trepidation as well.” Sarah Easley, co-owner, Kirna Zabête: “When we were buying last September and October, it was a bit of a hardship because we were nervous to travel and we were trying to buy a spring collection not knowing what the mood or the economy would be. So we were a bit conservative and found ourselves reordering rather frantically later on, because the taste level and needs of our customer hadn’t changed at all — not in price point and not in style.”Tracy Geller, director of sales and marketing, Lynn Ritchie: “Sept. 11 changed everything. It changed the way I looked at the world and the way I looked at a city where I grew up. I can remember going and having dinner at Windows On The World and it being a major event. I wasn’t working at the time, so I did a huge amount of volunteer work with the whole recovery process, and the Salvation Army. It was important for me to come to a company where it’s not just about the bottom line. We’re all allowed to do what we love here and that makes us profitable. We come in and we do our jobs and we love to do it and for that, we’re all grateful for that.“It made me more American. I’ve lived in New York my whole life and now I want to spend my money here and reinvest in real estate and I don’t want to take it out of the city. I hope that people have changed and have learned what’s really important from home to work to family. There’s a big part of me that is happy to see the 11th and that we’ve made it through this year.”