By  on January 27, 2009

“Chin up” might seem like a fairly lame response to the deepening recession, but fashion insiders insist a little optimism is essential to offset the media’s round-the-clock coverage of the gloom-and-doom economy.

Perhaps building on the momentum of Barack Obama, whose presidency was sold on hope and the promise of change, fashion types are trying to execute their own administrative shake-ups. There is no denying the scale of this decidedly uphill battle. Deflation is a brewing threat, credit lines are being tightened, the 7.2 percent unemployment rate is the highest it’s been since 1993, energy prices are on the rise again, job security is as predictable as a lottery ticket – and that is just a sampling of the new realities with which consumers are grappling.

Sunless and severe as that might sound, a few intrepid designers and business owners are forging ahead with novel pitches and products. Their ideas range from the pragmatic, such as Freehands’ new iPhone-friendly gloves, to just plain fun. To fight the winter blues, the Mall of America is offering Minnesotans who spend $150 or more in its stores or restaurants two free passes to the mall’s indoor amusement park. The Irvine Co.’s Fashion Island in Newport Beach, Calif. has torn down a 30-year-old Macy’s store to make way for an 138,000-square-foot Nordstrom that will bow in spring 2010. Orlando Fashion Square, a 150-store shopping center, held a four-day inaugural sale that ended Jan. 19. Marketing director Dave Ackerman said, “It ties in with the optimism of the new administration coming in and hopefully a new day for the economy and the country.”

Many are taking stock of the lessons of recent months and even farther back. Emmanuelle Linard, a 20-year veteran with Li Edelkoort’s Trend Union forecasting service, said, “One thing we [have] learned is that while the world might not be any better, our perspective will have to shift from fear to joy. Trend Union believes in optimism as a necessary attitude for 2009,” she said.

After all, fashion has been through similar dark times. As Christian Dior’s president and chief executive officer Sidney Toledano recently noted, “Don’t forget that Mr. Dior and the New Look came after the war. It was an optimistic collection.”

There are those industry executives who contend a different viewpoint is what’s needed. Burt Tansky, chairman, president and ceo of Neiman Marcus Inc., voiced definite views about just how much misery loves company earlier this month at a forum hosted by Financo. Frustrated by the lack of spending by the rich, he lowered the boom on the media. “The media thrives on bad news. They started early in the year. It was negative and harmful,” he said, explaining that stories telling consumers where to get the best bargains didn’t help luxury spending.

And husbands aren’t helping the cause either. “Husbands used to say ‘Enough.’ Now they say, ‘Don’t even think about it.’” Tansky said.

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