By  on January 24, 1994

There was a time when should Chanel decree beige spectator slings the consumer wouldn't be caught wobbling after a cab in anything but. The came the sixties, when the youth culture rose up and took hold of the reins of leadership; political, fashion and otherwise, and the fashion establishment lost its right of authorship. A brief respite came in the eighties when Status was king and designers ruled with an affluent hand. Today, designers are offering up a paralyzing array of fall signals, from historical pieces to fifties anklestraps. Clearly the landscape in which they are designing is unrecognizable from their predecessors', yet the question hovers quietly in the dusty corners of every ivory tower - will the tables ever turn again? Will fashion command the role of leader? FN asked a few designers and execs to muse on the possibilities.

ROBERT CLERGERIE, Robert Clergerie, New York: "The fashion is coming from the street with those heavy shoes, but it will change and I think it will change soon. The street fashions and the designers are coming together. The designer now lives in the street, not high in a castle or in a part of the world without meeting or seeing anybody. The good designer is the one who lives with the people and takes input from what he sees; what will be the next trend.

The role of the designer and (measure of) the talent of the design is to feel before others what the people will want. In this business, one thought we must never pronounce is 'never more.' It is like history; everything is coming back, but when it comes back it is never on the same path, because life must change. You never come back on the same road."

KENNETH COLE, Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., New York: "I think the consumer dictates fashion merchandising. That's the reality today. You hear about and create and fill certain merchandi-sing needs. Whoever does it best does the best business. As a practical matter it's still consumer-driven. We can't afford to experiment. It's impractical -- but we do as much as we can. It's unfortunate that we can't afford to gamble -- there's too much at stake. We try to have a balance of what's new."

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