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Given the global financial crisis and consumer anxiety, ready-to-wear designers obviously are proceeding with caution into the new year.

Some, like Vera Wang, Carmen Marc Valvo and Reem Acra, have decided to forgo Bryant Park runway shows in favor of more intimate, off-site affairs, while others are trimming expenses and planning for tough times in different ways. Flexibility is central to their strategies.

This story first appeared in the December 30, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Yeohlee Teng said designers are having to switch their mind-sets so that they create clothes that are a necessity rather than a luxury.

“That is a pretty interesting design problem to solve,” she said. “You have to give real value to what you do. You have to be able to satisfy style and fashion, and be multifunctional.”

Regardless of these rocky times, “people still need clothes, especially a good coat if you are going out on interviews. That is how you make a first impression on somebody,” Teng said.

The designer said she is planning to have an off-site show in February, which she has done in the past, but has yet to commit to a location.

“We will adapt to whatever mood people are in,” Teng said. “We will have a clearer idea [of the specifics] once we regroup in January.”

While some have speculated there will be a renewed sense of nationalism as Americans try to shore up support for domestic businesses, Teng said she would be content just to see the local garment industry get a boost.

“The fact that we still make things in the U.S. is a very important point,” she added. “But if it just ends up being ‘Made in New York’ that gets a boost, I’ll be quite happy.”

Chado Ralph Rucci is still having a runway show in the tents on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m., but “not in the classic sense,” said designer Ralph Rucci, who is toying with the idea of adding an element of multidimensional theater. That is needed in these trying financial times to rally shoppers who need to feel stimulated by the level of design, he said.

Having reduced his staff to 61 from 68 this summer, Rucci said he and his employees will tackle business on a day-to-day basis, trying to be flexible in the changing marketplace.

“The idea of designing luxury merchandise just for the U.S. is finished,” he said.

With that in mind, the Chado Ralph Rucci collection is being taken to London, Paris and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to be shown to stores.

“This is a very depressing period,” he said. “The holidays diffuse some of that. There is a tidal wave that is going to happen in January and February. There will be a change that will spare none of us.”

But Rucci thinks there will be an upside to the realignment of the American economy in that executives across all industries will become more interested in compassion and less snobbish.

Going into the new year, Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, said retailers and manufacturers need to forget the beat-last-year mentality.

“We’ve adjusted our overhead, our inventories, our sales expenses and so many other things that we don’t want to look at the past to adjust the future,” Konheim said. “Basically, our entire plan is what we see going forward.”

The company is doing away with such “fluff” as making up a few signature gowns for stylists to show to their red-carpet clients for big award shows. Adhering to the adage that “80 percent of the business is done from 20 percent of the line,” there will be a greater emphasis on editing the collection and resisting the temptation to develop items solely for potential editorial coverage, Konheim said.

Designer Nicole Miller will be making more in-store appearances, which generate about $45,000 in wholesale volume each appearance “even in the worst of times,” he said. Those trips will be financed with more dollars that had been earmarked for advertising, Konheim said. In addition, the company has hired merchandising specialists who will visit stores to straighten up stock and color coordinate collections.

“One of the shortcomings of stores cutting back on staff is the sales floors are liable to look messy,” Konheim said.

Once Zero + Maria Cornejo opens a new store and atelier on Bleecker Street in Manhattan, the company plans to explore other retail opportunities, according to Marysia Woroniecka, Cornejo’s business partner.

“We are going to focus even more on our strengths,” Woroniecka said. “We offer a very distinct perspective on what a contemporary, creative, professional woman looks like. We are a designer collection at a lower price point than most and we are finding that, with both our wholesale and retail clients, this is a distinct advantage.”

The label’s wholesale business increased about 40 percent and its retail volume climbed 10 percent compared with the previous year, Woroniecka said. By keeping production predominantly in New York, the company can maintain tight quality control.

“Without seeming overconfident, we honestly feel that we are uniquely well positioned to thrive in this economic environment,” she said. “We plan to stick to our guns and just do better than what we always do.”

While the plan is, for the most part, to focus on existing categories, Zero + Maria Cornejo added a pre-fall collection for the first time this year. A small swimwear group is in the works for spring 2010.

Lela Rose also plans to offer retailers sharp prices for her signature collection, “merchandise with a lot of value for the money and a very well-edited collection to help with buyers’ conservative budgets,” she said. “We are offering more styles at the opening price point to the designer market, so that the overall collection averages out about 10 percent less than 2008.”

Rose said she already has taken preemptive steps in anticipation of a decrease in orders next year. The company is being selective with advertising and has brought shipping back in-house for certain sized orders. While she is still going forward with a February runway show in Bryant Park, Rose will scale back a bit on the number of models to try to reduce expenses. There also will be a push to broaden international distribution.

“We see international sales as a tremendous opportunity for the brand,” Rose said. “To offset what we anticipate to be a tough year domestically, we are looking into additional sales trips to Europe, as well as bringing on an international consultant for foreign markets.”

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