NEW YORK — In a tight economy, America’s great statesmen are leading by example with a new way to promote spending: Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Franklin have volunteered for a fashion makeover.

This story first appeared in the June 25, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

They’re not looking to take drastic measures, but rather to add a subtle hint of color to the $20, $50 and $100 bills that bear their respective images, according to a plan announced last week by the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board for late 2003.

Every seven to 10 years, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing slightly changes the look of the bills to deter counterfeiting and also to help consumers differentiate between the denominations.

Since it’s the first time since 1862 that a color other than institutional green will be introduced into the U.S. currency, WWD picked the brains of several fashion designers for a little early wardrobe consultation. But it turns out there’s two burgeoning political camps on the subject: those who prefer to stay the green course and those who favor a new rainbow coalition.

“Maybe keep it green, but just change the tone,” suggested Carmen Marc Valvo. “I think they should choose a more specific color, like apple green. But the one thing that always bothered me about U.S. currency is that all of the buildings depicted on the back were based in Washington, D.C. The Statue of Liberty could be a very nice image, or even the Grand Canyon could be nice. I’m so used to the presidents, but if they are going to change it, perhaps a woman of significant importance. How about Betsy Ross?”

Diane Von Furstenberg is also loyal to the green party and was frankly offended by the suggestion of changing the bills’ tone.

“That would be like changing the color of the flag,” she said. “But if they do want to make it different, they should reverse it: What is white becomes green, and what is green becomes white, like a negative. It would be different, but it also would still work with the other bills.”

But there is an increasing sentiment that the greens have been in office for too long. “I think they should make silver Lurex money,” said David Meister. “People take money too seriously. It needs to be a little more glamorous.”

Peter Som, too, nominated much shorter term limits for colors, going so far as to propose seasonal changes, such as “burgundy and chocolate brown for fall and light, citrusy colors for spring.” While they’re at it, he said, let’s overthrow the existing cover models for someone more contemporary, like Martha Stewart, who could be printed in “sagey, mossy green with an ivory trim. And she could use it to post bail.” Betsey Johnson prefers a new look as well, naturally honoring the queen of materialism: “Pink bills with Madonna,” she said.

If anything, designing the new bill sounds like an extreme case for E!’s “Fashion Emergency.”

“Right now, money stinks,” sniffed the show’s co-host, Emme. “It doesn’t smell very good. People have a lot of angst with money, so what could make them smell better and make them relax while they have their money? A vanilla scented $20, the relaxing lavender $50, and for the wake-me-up would be rosemary for $100.” She also suggested money in the shape of body types, holograms of national monuments and, lastly, designer-branded money.

“Let’s say you would have all these designers put themselves in a lottery, to be picked every five or 10 years,” she said. “That would make money more interesting to handle on a day to day basis and could bring up the collectible value of money as well.”

Of course, politics being what they are, there are others who expressed utter frustration at the current monetary system, raising more questions about the electoral process than did Katherine Harris. “Isn’t there a more modern way to spend money?” challenged Cynthia Rowley. “I’d like to redesign the credit card.”

Well, it isn’t easy being green. But since the whole thing is geared toward deterring counterfeit operations, the last word in the debate will go to Allen B. Schwartz, the copycat king of Seventh Avenue, who has a patriotic solution:

“Why not red, white and blue?””

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