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Retail analysts have warned that one of the lasting effects of 2008’s fiscal upheaval will simply be consumers’ memory of it.
This story first appeared in the January 6, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But designers and other industry executives have also taken last year’s lessons to heart, and plan to put them to good use in the year ahead. Whether out of necessity, a fighting spirit or an overcrowded marketplace, a few indicated they are inspired by the challenges this new year poses. Thakoon Panichgul simplified the task at hand with “Change is growth.”
“The thing that sticks out the most coming into 2009 is the need for change: change in politics, change resulting from sobriety of the economy, change in the way we think, the way we work, they way we view the world — a complete reevaluation. When you accept change, you can really learn and grow,” he said.
Doo-Ri Chung did some memorable traveling last year and “met some of the most eclectic and interesting people in Dubai, Seoul and Paris.”
“What inspired me was the depth of knowledge — whether it be politics, art, or current events — that each group possessed. What I have learned by all this is that you learn a lot just by listening. This is something I hope to carry into 2009,” she added.
Debi Greenberg, president of Louis Boston, painted a more sober picture. “What I learned last year was something that I already knew: There are too many luxury stores with too much merchandise and not enough customers. Unless the luxury market contracts, there will be no luxury market.”
Operating on the premise that luxury is defined by “something that is not accessible, or readily accessible, appreciated and enjoyed,” Greenberg said she will continue to refine her selection and seek out hard-to-find designer labels, which she declined to name for competitive purposes.
Robert Burke of consulting firm Robert Burke Associates said the importance of being diversified was what he and his team “walked away with from 2008.” To that end, he emphasized the need to operate with a variety of companies and price points internationally and domestically. Personally, his firm is targeting opportunities in South Korea, China and Brazil, and is recommending clients follow suit.
Skittish as many people are about their business prospects, there is a great deal of opportunity for those who are positioned to go after them. “There are going to be significant opportunities in 2009 due to the economic conditions, and some incredible values in acquiring and investing in companies,” said Burke.
He also expects the current business climate to sharpen the industry. “Everyone is going to end up being smarter about their businesses and will be looking at where they can trim away and to what extent.”
Brazilian designer Carlos Miele is banking on his native country to be a growth opportunity, and expects the American market to bounce back in 2010. “People are very stressed with the economy and the war. I think this is a good opportunity for America to reorganize. That’s going to help America grow again,” he said.
Provided Miele’s forecast holds up, he plans to introduce casual men’s wear to highlight the Brazilian lifestyle and launch a children’s collection next year.
Peter Arnold, president of Cynthia Rowley, said, “We learned in 2008 that now is not the time to hold back and wait for change. In 2009, we are looking for new territories to expand in, signing new licensing partners and continuing to open new retail stores in the U.S. and with global partners.”
He said the company’s new store in Charleston, S.C., is doing “extraordinarily well” and is “a good example of our continued strategic retail rollout.”
“We’re continuing to grow our licensing business to add core apparel categories as well as other global programs with endemic — and even non-endemic — partners,” Arnold said.
Nanette Lepore said she will make a point to see to it that everything she puts out in her line is “valid, desirable and of good value.” She has reduced the number of styles in her monthly shipments by 10 to 20 percent. Her runway collection has also been trimmed. Having shown up to 50 styles in the past, Lepore aims to have 27 looks on the catwalk for fall.
“I’m paying closer attention to everything I design. There became this need for more, more, more. That doesn’t matter anymore,” she said.
One thing that could make a difference is domestic production, which provides 80 percent of her offerings. “That is one of the reasons we are better off. We have better inventory control and great quality control because we have the ability to walk into our factories. That gives me an added advantage,” Lepore said.
Christian Knaust, president of Carmen Marc Valvo, said, “What we learned from the last year is to be flexible. There are no plans that you can set in stone. You have to be able to change as things change. You also need to plan for the worst case scenario even if that doesn’t happen. You need to always look ahead and think, ‘If this happens, what will I do? If that happens, what will be my next move?’”
Being able to reinvent your brand a bit without losing sight of its core is also important, he said. To that end, he and Valvo have “stepped on the gas” with licensing — something that they have pursued with caution for years. The designer’s first lingerie collection with Cosabella launched for resort, handbags will be rolled out with Essential Brands in March or April and a fragrance deal is on the cusp of being signed, Knaust said. In addition, Valvo will introduce his first home collection on QVC this spring.
There are also plans to expand the brand in Arab countries, Russia, Europe and Asia, Knaust said. Stateside, the company plans to skip the full-blown fashion show for 1,100, which it has done for years, in favor of a fashion presentation and cocktail party for a couple hundred people in a to-be-determined site.
Rebecca Taylor has improved its supply chain to reach the selling floor faster and provide a longer full-priced selling window, according to chief executive officer Beth Bugdaycay. The company has also improved its turnaround time for new developments, which allows for ample time to determine the best means of production “to achieve the highest quality result at the lowest cost,” she said.
“That gives our customer a better product at a lower price. To that end, our average wholesale price decreased by more than 5 percent for spring ’09,” Bugdaycay said.
Cinzia Rocca has seen consistent weekly sales, despite the ailing economy, “but the customer is spending wisely,” according to Denise Bongiorno, managing director. Well aware that many department store shoppers are buying items on sale, the company has had to consider this price-cautious consumer when approaching 2009. “So we reinvented luxury at an affordable price….Every piece has a purpose; every coat had a reason,” she said.
Dennis Basso, who will once again show in the tents in Bryant Park during New York Fashion Week, is approaching the year one day at a time. “What I have learned from last year is that every day is a gift and you can’t take anything for granted, whether it be business, health or anything else.”