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New Gigs, Style Icons Steer Second Half

A fresh breeze will be running through a slew of venerable fashion houses that have new talent at the helm.

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Like most of the apparel industry, the designer segment has its fair share of challenges in the second half of the year.

Disposable income isn’t exactly bulking up wallets. Gas prices are well over $4 a gallon and rising, and the weak dollar against foreign currencies is continuing to give retailers importing European labels, and designers manufacturing in Europe, a major headache.

In addition, another season of largely dark clothes isn’t expected to elicit much emotional response from shoppers, and the earlier-than-ever delivery cycle is unlikely to stimulate consumers who are increasingly trained to delay their purchases to early sales.

But not all is doom and gloom. A fresh breeze will also be running through a slew of venerable fashion houses that have new talent at the helm. The election year may have some shoppers filled with uncertainty, but others are hopeful that a new president — Republican or Democrat — will bring about positive change. And, of course, a new first lady is bound to carve out her own fashion and style niche.


COMEBACK KIDS

In the early Nineties, a new crop of young hopefuls took New York fashion by storm, creating buzz with their inventive collections, runway spectacles and media savvy.

Isaac Mizrahi, Victor Alfaro, Todd Oldham and Christian Francis Roth were thought of by many to be the next big things and destined to follow in the footsteps of Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein.

But buzz does not a business make, and the foursome couldn’t maintain their businesses. One by one, each was forced to close shop, with some of them taking behind-the-scenes jobs to make ends meet.

However, that was then. For fall, this generation is again stepping to the forefront.

Roth is launching the Francis by Christian Francis Roth collection, a top-level contemporary, entry-level designer line to be unveiled at a presentation during New York Fashion Week in September. Alfaro is starting the Victor by Victor Alfaro lifestyle brand exclusively at The Bon-Ton Stores in September. Oldham is the creative director of Old Navy and Mizrahi is creative director of the Liz Claiborne brand, with his first products expected to launch in the spring.

“The reason I took some years off is so that when I had the opportunity to return, I could be in a situation to be creatively successful, as well as profitable,” Roth told WWD.

Everybody loves a good comeback story, and many industry insiders aren’t surprised that these designers are staging their own revivals.

“The thing that makes them desirable now is that with the strong euro against the dollar, people are anticipating the fact that we could have a designer shortage if it becomes less profitable to import European labels,” said David Wolfe, creative director at The Doneger Group. “This may be the best opportunity for American designers since World War II to get a real foothold in the consumer mind-set.”

 


FRESH FACES

This coming collections season, Chloé and Gianfranco Ferré may be the labels to watch for their new creative directors — Hannah MacGibbon and 6267’s Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi, respectively.

At Chloé, MacGibbon’s mandate is to restore the brand’s momentum to the days when Phoebe Philo was designing the line. MacGibbon, who had worked under Philo for five years, replaced Paulo Melim Andersson at the helm in the spring and will present her first show during the Paris runway season in October. She already gave a teaser of things to come: her resort collection culled Seventies and Eighties elements such as guipure lace, linen and polkadots.

“It’s a fresh start,” MacGibbon told WWD.

Meanwhile, at Ferré, hopes are pegged on Aquilano and Rimondi. They were hired in February to replace Lars Nilsson, who left Ferré in February before he even completed his first collection for the venerable house, whose namesake designer died last year.

“We are happy to approach another entirely Italian brand, a historical label that is tremendously interesting for the international market,” Aquilano told WWD. “We can only learn from Ferré.”

 

 

FIRST STYLE

Give or take a couple of red Nancy Reagan moments, a first lady rarely has captured the fashion imagination quite like Jacqueline Kennedy did when John F. Kennedy became president in 1961.

In November, however, that could all change. Americans will have a new president for the first time in eight years and there will be a new first lady whose fashion choices are bound get the attention of the industry.

Cindy McCain gave away some signs of her fashion preferences when she made a pit stop at 550 Seventh Avenue last month. There, she visited the showroom of Oscar de la Renta, who has already been credited with refining the style of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.) and Laura Bush.

However, more industry types seem to be buzzing about Michelle Obama. She is younger — 44 to McCain’s 54 — and appears more fashion-conscious than the wives of most politicians. Obama is also likely to be more experimental with her fashion choices, a point she drove home last month when she paired a black Isabel Toledo ensemble with a striking Tom Binns necklace to wear to an event Calvin Klein, Anna Wintour, Shelby Bryan and André Leon Talley threw in her honor.

“She is so modern and very fashionable,” said Linda Fargo, Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, that night. “She has already been wearing the new sheath dress and is ahead of the curve.”

Wolfe at The Doneger Group said, “I think she has the potential to become the most influential first lady in fashion since Jackie Kennedy. She is a bit of a maverick, wearing a White House|Black Market dress for $148 and looking great in it. I think Cindy McCain will be elegant and gorgeous, but a very traditional first lady.”

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