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Fashion Crowd Buckles Down on Spending

Showgoers in Bryant Park, from the fashion set to heiress Nicky Hilton, discover frugality.

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In the face of the recession, comparative price shopping, updating tried-and-true pieces, banking paychecks, curbing spending and even making good use of every drop of home-brewed coffee are some of the stopgaps the fashion crowd is embracing.

This story first appeared in the February 24, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In fact, when asked about how their personal spending habits have been curbed or changed in recent months, showgoers in Bryant Park during New York Fashion Week were candid about what, for most, amounts to a newfound frugality. Even Nicky Hilton, whose shopping splurges are often pictured by the tabloids, said she is trying not to swipe her credit cards quite as much. Before Pamella Roland’s show last week, the heiress said, “I’m being smarter about my spending. I’m not going into stores and buying anything. I am buying more pieces instead of just a bunch of clothes.”

Nicole Miller has been shopping online more for herself and for friends at such sites as Zappos, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Yves Saint Laurent. But most of her online shopping is done at Dogfunk.com, K5boardshop.com and Blackholeboards.com for her son, Palmer.

The designer said a lot more people she knows are shopping online since it is such “a big time saver,” and they, like her, are always busy working. But she also wondered how the societal shift to nesting is affecting Web traffic. “Interestingly enough, our Internet business is up by 20 percent [compared with last year]. Every month it has grown pretty consistently,” she said. “Maybe people are staying home more and are feeling more insular so they are doing more Internet shopping.”

Retailers are keeping shoppers in the loop with e-mail blasts, but Miller’s company limits theirs. “We try to keep it to once or twice a week. Otherwise, for an individual company like mine, it can be kind of annoying,” she said.

Michelle Trachtenberg, who has a recurring role on “Gossip Girl,” said she loves mixing H&M and Target into her wardrobe. “I have always kept in mind that my fans are teenagers and they don’t have a lot of money to spend,” she said. “They like to get looks for less.”

Another Pamella Roland showgoer, Jessica Stroup of “90210,” said she has “always been a bit frugal.” Recently, she has been taking a closer look at what she already owns and is trying to update some of her older belongings. While she is not spending as much money shopping as she used to, Stroup is on the lookout for sales and has been gravitating toward more classic pieces.

Neither Trachtenberg nor Stroup are picking up red-carpet freebies from designers. Asked if they think celebrities should start buying their own clothes to help designers in these trying financial times, they said they don’t think there is anything wrong with borrowing dresses for the red carpet or other special events. By wearing designer clothes, celebrities help to get the general public excited about fashion or a particular designer, Trachtenberg said. “People are being engaged when they see things that people are lovely enough to let us wear. When we get photographed in them, that helps to create a buzz around a certain designer. It all goes hand in hand.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said, “I’m fairly fiscally responsible and always have been. I buy the things I need,” he said. “I don’t live a wildly extravagant life — not that I deny myself of anything.”

Before Friday’s Chado Ralph Rucci show, he said he hoped some of this season’s key trends, such as the bright new colors shown on the runways, would help to get shoppers spending again.

“I am still shopping, but am very much like the retail customer — it has to be superspecial and something that I don’t already have,” Downing said. “Innovation and newness is what wins out. This season we have seen a lot of new colors and new shapes, which is great.”

“Obsessed” with financial planner Suze Orman, Steven Kolb, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said he is trying to follow her advice of always having eight months of living expenses stowed away for a rainy day. Halfway to meeting that goal, he said he is “not really buying anything” these days. He has made a point of making coffee at home instead of buying a cup on the go. Better still, whatever coffee that is left over one day is used as iced coffee the following day.

Constance White, eBay’s style director, said she has been trying to explain to her husband what Wal-Mart is. She also finds herself doing more comparative price shopping and is more closely scrutinizing every buying decision she makes. Everything is up for discussion, including transportation, dining, vacations and home renovations. The latter have been intentionally slowed down due to the economic shift, and White’s family is also vacationing less.

“I’m also shopping for the best price a lot more and shopping around online,” she said. “I’m shopping on eBay more, but not just for fashion. At Christmas, I shopped for a Wii.”

When the price of oil was rising fast, she started driving her son’s car more often since it is more fuel efficient than her husband’s. “I started doing that when gas was $4 a gallon and it’s now a smart habit,” she said.

Before his friend Phillip Lim’s show got under way last week, Richard Chai said he is trying to find greater meaning in his life.

“I am trying to celebrate the things we take for granted. I have been spending more time with friends and family,” he said. “My work life can be quite hectic, so I try to keep my personal life pretty simple. I know this sounds sentimental, but I am doing more meaningful things.”

The current economic forecast has been a real wake-up call, Chai said. “There has been a big cloud hanging over New York City. Finally, I was like, ‘Enough already.’ It wasn’t so much I was depressed as it was the environment was depressed. You have to find things that make you happy. Do what makes you happy.”

 

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