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“You people only write the bad news.”

“You think? Well then tell us some good news.”

This story first appeared in the May 4, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

So went the challenge, and you responded — with crisp perspectives and admirable candor. There is no question the industry has been devastated by the economic unraveling of the last year. Too often it has seemed the only news out there is of layoffs, closings, disastrous numbers and on and on through a litany that only two years ago would have seemed impossible. The reality is undeniable, but even in the midst of woe — perhaps especially in its midst — everyone yearns for the positive. Just look at what a few weeks ago emerged overnight as the hottest thing on YouTube: not a tawdry, pseudo-celebrity sex tape or a clip of a politician sounding foolish, but a video of an amply chinned, cat-loving spinster with the voice of an angel. She made the world feel good.

The good news revealed here is as diverse as the companies and people surveyed. Some identified modest gains — reorders, healthy sell-throughs, traffic increases at retail — which once might have been taken for granted. Others spoke on a more universal scale, about shifts in consumer psychology. Though points were often highly brand- or retailer-specific, much of the information fell into categories, a veritable fashion “Jeopardy!” of thoughts positive enough to please a latter-day Dr. Peale. Many noted that while the fourth quarter of ’08 was unquestionably horrific, sales picked up, albeit modestly, in the first quarter of ’09. Numerous executives spoke of continuing to open around the world, as Dries Van Noten put it, by choice and not because the decision “was made before the crisis started.”

Perhaps the most significant information gleaned from these interviews is that the industry is holding up a great big mirror to itself. Time and time again, in describing the runaway prosperity of the past decade, people used scatological terminology like aberration, gluttony and laxative, the latter noting the process of major cleansing as necessary and inevitable as it was unexpected. Some said success had bred sloth among the established, who came to think that if hyped enough, anything would sell, and arrogance among the aspiring, who wanted success on their terms, on a platter, right now. (“They made [Michelangelo] copy paintings for six years,” offered Bud Konheim.) 

As for the consumer? She had become a witlessly overlabeled glutton, busting out the plastic at the drop of a shoe, careless of sticker or price-value relationship. But no more. People “are getting a more discerning eye,” noted Michael Kors. And both retailers and fashion houses professed new devotion to her worship and to the product that best serves her. To that end, there were numerous shout-outs to the price-value relationship, regardless of price. “Hermès is doing very well,” said Diane von Furstenberg. “Why? I can still use my mother’s bags.”

But the biggest news: Dialogue, sprung from the realization that we’re all in this together. For example, both Sidney Toledano on the fashion-house side and Ron Frasch on the retail side noted the importance of catering to regional markets, knowing full well the compromises involved. Said Frasch, whose insightful comments will run Tuesday, “All the political barriers have fallen away, and all the defensiveness has gone away, because we all know that we’ve got to do something different and better. What could be more exciting than that?”

Karl Lagerfeld: “Chanel did even better this year than last year in the same time. That’s the miracle of Chanel. Is it the collection? I don’t know. Is it because people want things safe? I have no idea. It’s a miracle.

“There are less people — they have machines where they count how many people cross the door — but now the people come because they are ready to spend. With a crisis, all inborn stinginess is now a legal excuse. Before when people didn’t spend they were considered stingy. Now they say, ‘We are careful.’ That is a very dangerous thing, because money should circulate, and the best way to get out of the crisis is to have the money circulating as much as possible. That makes jobs. That makes everything. So the ones who come are ready to shop.

“I did the Chanel campaign in Vermont. To go there, we had a private airbus. For the moment, private jets are less expensive than ever because the businessmen are not allowed to fly because it’s bad for the image of the company. So the private jet owners who rent their jets, they have to have somebody, because jets cannot stay on the ground all the time. In Venice [for the upcoming cruise show], we will take over the Hotel Excelsior. At the end of the month, we go to Moscow to repeat the show we did in Paris. Russia insisted and, for the moment, business is good in Moscow. I talk about Chanel. I don’t know the other ones.

“You have to have something very quality and fashion at the same time, and the names are the guarantee of all that. That’s why big names are important. That’s why it might be more difficult for smaller companies. Also, Chanel is beautifully run as a company. There are no debts. There’s no healthier business than Chanel. I can tell you Alain Wertheimer — he knows what he is doing. He’s no fool.”

Sidney Toledano, president and chief executive officer, Dior: “I was in the States recently, in Florida and New York, and I had the feeling the mood has changed. I don’t know if it was spring, the nice weather in New York, but my feeling was customers were going back to stores. We have been doing very well with the ready-to-wear the last two weeks with the summer collection and the new bag we have, Le Trente. It’s a new logo, a lot of lambskin, python, very colorful colors. Also, we had some fine jewelry doing well.

“In February, I felt the U.S. was really depressed. [Now] I have the feeling Americans are somehow saying, ‘OK, we have a crisis. We’re not going to spend our life talking about crisis.’ I felt more positive. I know the problems are still there, but people are going back [to the stores]. On Saturday three weeks ago, Fifth Avenue was crowded and you could see people lining up in front of some stores and activity in the stores.

“London is unbelievable because of the pound; double-digit growth. It benefits a lot of tourists. The numbers in our own stores, and in Harrods, Selfridges — amazing. And China is growing, very strong, double digits. Korea is picking up as a local market. Japanese travelers are going to Korea because of the strength of the yen versus local currency.

“The sky is not blue everywhere, but you have a lot showing here and there. People are working hard again; designers are motivated. John [Galliano] has been doing resort, and he comes with a lot of new ideas. People are more about understanding local market needs. You need light, colorful garments for Florida when it’s already hot in April. You don’t go with the same collection in most of America. Obviously, you have to protect your design, your image, the global approach on the design and keep the integrity of the brand. But people are [also] talking a lot to the stores, to retailers, understanding the need, optimizing. The crisis has brought everybody back to retailing, merchandising and servicing — how to service better and talk to the customer.”

Marc Jacobs:
“The weather is beautiful. I’m in love. I’m engaged to be married. I’m working on building a new home, and working in the studio with Steven Meisel and Madonna on the next [Louis Vuitton] campaign. Then, I have two days of shooting with Juergen [Teller]. The Met is [tonight], which I’m excited about. I’m receiving a FiFi Award. Then, we receive the International CFDA award for Louis Vuitton. So, I kind of have really great stuff on a daily basis. I can’t find anything to be unhappy about at the moment.

“True, everything is budget, budget, budget and trying to be frugal, but we’re not going to cut back the quality. We’re still doing what we love and the way we love it. All those things are very real, but it’s not stopping us from being creative and being excited and being happy about what we do.”

Carolina Herrera: “The good news is everybody’s coming back to their senses, and everybody’s trying to make collections that sell to a normal woman. It’s more realistic; it’s not only for editorial. Everybody has to be more creative in a more realistic way, and make clothes that make women look beautiful. That’s the good news.” 

Roger Farah, president and chief operating officer, Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.: “Everybody is so quick to talk about everything that’s bad. What’s my good news? Parts of the world that are performing and where we continue to see very strong selling. We opened a store in Dubai a couple of weeks ago, and that has been very strong and exceeded our expectations. We’re about to open one in Seoul, Korea, in a couple weeks that we’re also very excited about. So we continue to invest in the expansion of our brand, and where we’ve done that right, the customer has responded.”

Stefano Gabbana: “First of all, we feel hypercreative, reactive, excited and stimulated. Strangely enough, given the times, we feel good and feel the urge to experiment. I think this crisis has bought back many core values, and fashion has achieved a more human and traditional aspect, which we appreciate. Many superfluous elements have been wiped away and it’s OK if people buy less because they have too much of everything. It’s useless to have too much of everything. It’s like sitting down to a five-course meal when a plate of pasta will do just fine. This reevaluation to me is good news.”

Robert Polet, president and ceo, Gucci Group: “The very good news of these past days is the fact that our main brand, Gucci, proved resilient in difficult times. In a market that is declining, Gucci increased its turnover in the first quarter by 1 percent in constant currency and by a whopping 10.6 percent in current [currency].”

Tom Murry, president and ceo, Calvin Klein Inc.: “In difficult economic environments there tends to be flight to safe havens or quality, so the fact that Calvin Klein is such a strong brand globally [means] we are picking up market share. Everywhere I look in the U.S. in the department store sector, we’re growing market share in our white label business.

“Freestanding stores — they’re great branding platforms. We will add approximately 100 freestanding stores outside the U.S. this year. That doesn’t include concessions. Joe Gromek [president and ceo of Warnaco Group Inc.] has publicly stated that they will add over 100,000 square feet of retail space in 2009. Our collection business, which we brought back in house in early part of last year, is beginning to get traction. We’re beginning to get back into stores like Saks, where we’re performing well both in men’s and women’s. The quality is great. The deliveries are on time. And, of course, the design by Francisco [Costa] and Italo [Zucchelli] continues to be very good. Business is not easy. But the strength of our brand and the execution of our in-house businesses, as well as our license businesses, have given us the opportunity to grow market share.”

Stefano Sassi, ceo, Valentino Fashion Group: “We’re in a situation in which 90 percent is bad, and 10 percent is good. There are a few signals in stores where some customers are reacting with a positive approach. March was the worst month retailwise. But April, especially in the second half, we are seeing some increase and recovery. This goes together with the financial markets getting a little better. Worldwide, customers in Japan, Europe and some of the eastern countries are coming back. The United States market is doing well, so that’s something positive.

“In the European newspapers, the bad news is more balanced with editorials [suggesting] the worst has passed. I’m convinced there are still a lot of rich people. There are two components in this luxury crisis. One is related to the real economy and to the unemployment rate, but there’s always a psychological factor. People feel [guilty] if they buy a bag or something new. As soon as we have more signals, even editorials in the newspaper, [that say] the worst [is over], I’m pretty sure this situation will recover. But it’s a bit too early to say that we’re facing a turnaround.”

Tommy Hilfiger: “The first good news is our company is positioned well. We have had the same positioning for 25 years, and it’s always been about being accessible and affordable, and providing the customer with quality and fashion at the same time. The second piece of good news is our international businesses have been very strong. In the U.S., we revamped our distribution strategy and not only have our own stores, but we did the exclusive with Macy’s, which has been a godsend. We deal with one retailer and they have embraced us in a very strong, positive way. We are the number-one performer in men’s and women’s, and we continue to outperform the competition.

“From a retail perspective, we have just opened our Miami store on Collins Avenue, and we’re beating our numbers. It has a surf shop in the back. It’s indigenous to the area. It has the runway collection. It has swimwear. It has everything. We just opened in the Hamptons, [where] we’ve already started to do summer business. We think that Fifth Avenue is going to be a big success. That is going to be our global flagship.”

Dries Van Noten: “We just won the Fashion Institute of Technology’s 2009 Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion. I’m very proud of that. We opened the store in Tokyo at the end of March. It was a decision that was made at the end of October, so it’s not something most people think, ‘Oh, it was made before the crisis started.’ It’s still totally the right moment to do something like that, because it’s unexpected. Why not at this moment? It’s difficult maybe for a lot of people, but still, life continues. Shopping and buying fashion and fashion itself, are just parts of life.

“For me, [this time] is very stimulating because you have to question yourself the whole time, and it’s quite healthy. You really have to think [about] what fashion is going to be in the future, new ways of seeing fashion. Also, try to see for yourself, and for fashion in general, what went wrong. I don’t think it’s only the financial problem, why people stopped shopping. I think it’s also that there was kind of indigestion. Fashion became just too much. To slow down and to rethink is maybe not such a bad thing. Why not to calm down a little bit? I think it was too much, the last years.”

Frédéric De Narp, president and ceo, Cartier North America: “My good news is at this defining moment in history, Cartier is having a special moment — 100 years of Cartier North America. We are blessed to have achieved [this]. It’s also a defining moment for the history and the economy. For us, it’s a defining moment, because we are capitalizing on the past to project the brand towards a new century. You present the legends of yesterday and the legends of today. You present the true craftsmanship, the brand. You present the authenticity of the brand, and how Cartier’s been a brand of no compromise in craftsmanship, in design, in quality and representing this heritage.”

Robert Duffy, president, Marc Jacobs: “I’ve been out of the country for two months, so I didn’t have to listen to any of the negative stuff. I was on a grand tour of opening stores all over the world, and there would be a celebration and a party and a lot of people coming into the stores. All I’ve seen for the last two months was good news, nice things. We have a new store in London. We opened a store in São Paulo. I went to Amsterdam to secure a new location for a store. I went to Copenhagen to secure the location of a second store. I went to Lisbon to secure a location. All of that is very, very positive. In the middle of that, I helped Marc with the Louis Vuitton fashion show, which was also very positive. So I’m just around a lot of positive stuff. In Provincetown, we’ve just finished expanding the store. It’s like a reopening. We’re opening a new children’s store in Paris next to our Marc by Marc store. We’re opening a Marc by Marc store in Milan. We’re opening another store on Bleecker Street.

“Our Marc by Marc business is very, very strong. That’s why years ago I wanted to open a secondary line — not that I was this wizard who [knew] there was going to be this major economic downturn — but I lived through a couple of these ups and downs in the economy. The hardest part has always been to maintain an image of a designer line, yet offer various price points and continue to hold onto that designer customer. I think we’ve been successful at it. I know we have.

“2008 was our most profitable year. Now, we’ve only had a few profitable ones in 25 years, so the bar’s not that high, but I foresee that 2009 is going to be as profitable. I’m happy.”


Adrian Joffe, ceo, Comme des Garçons International: “The best news we have is that sales in Europe are holding their own, with our Paris store trading at 100 percent of last year, and with Dover Street Market trading at a magnificent 129 percent of last year, for the season to date, January to April. We do have other good news. Comme des Garçons felt it was necessary to do something in response to the general negativity engendered by the recession and to counter the feeling of things being blocked or stopped because of the crisis. We have, therefore, designed a positive strategy: the launch of BLACK Comme des Garçons: an emergency, guerrillalike, temporary brand. [We will] open 10 new points of sale, six in Japan and one each in Hong Kong, Paris, New York and London. All spaces, shops and the collection itself will be designed by Rei Kawakubo. The merchandising will concentrate on perennially popular Comme des Garçons styles, in black only (and) new items every two or three months.”

Patrizio di Marco, president and ceo, Gucci: “I would say that it’s pretty positive for us, very satisfactory that we managed to close the quarter as we did. We are up in terms of leather goods by 4 percent. With the launch of the new Jackie bag, we have new customers coming to the store. This is important to us because now we are a big company and very versatile, [with] a variety of customers in different segments.

“We are progressing in markets sometimes defined as emerging, like China — which to me is not at all emerging. It’s a very important market. Although Gucci started a bit later than other players, you can count now 25 stores, and in June, Frida [Giannini] and I will be there to open a very important flagship store in Shanghai.

“In difficult times, you have to look at the positive side, and the positive side is that you have to be more focused than ever on what you do, which is to serve your customers. You have to serve your customers in your store, you have to serve first and foremost your customers with the right product. Bad times are ideal to make your talent, your brain, your capabilities work at their best.

“We have to clearly have in mind first and foremost what the consumer may want. And consider also that the changes that have occurred are very likely structural changes. I believe the cautious approach of customers everywhere towards spending — and towards spending on luxury goods — is something that will stay. But it’s also a fact that when you are a major company like Gucci, you still have tremendous traffic into your stores, and so it’s important to give our consumers enough reasons to buy.  It comes first of all with the product and then with the service. This is pretty much basics, but the other good thing about bad times is you drop the unnecessary things and think of the basics. When we talk about customer experience and so forth, it all comes down to the fact that you are romancing your consumer.”

Michael Burke, ceo, Fendi: “There are a few bright spots, actually better than bright. All of the exotics, the alligator, the pythons, the unique pieces are really selling. Remember the rose theme from spring? It’s selling across the board, on accessories and ready-to-wear. We’re sold out of the Peek-a-Boo [bag]. Bergdorf Goodman is into the third reorder for spring.  The higher end, the most expensive pieces, are selling. It’s the piece that’s nice to have that doesn’t cut it any more. ‘Nice to have’ has vanished. But for compelling pieces, there’s no price resistance.

“It’s about not trading down. What happened in the fall when the wholesale accounts panicked, we went in and took product out of the stores [rather than allow markdowns]. That created, with consumers and sales associates, the feeling that if the distribution is exclusive and not available, we don’t have to get into this madness. You have to bite the bullet.

“Our Craft Punk [event] was packed everyday. We had between 1,500 to 2,500 people a day coming to see the artisans making the art.  These products, they actually sold. It was supposed to be a totally noncommercial endeavor, and every single artist ended up selling everything they made. They were like, ‘What do we do?” [I said,] ‘Just tell them yes, it’s for sale.’”

Anna Sui: “The most exciting thing that happened [last] week is we got three reorders from Nordstrom. We sell to their Web site, too, and I think they’ve already sold through, even before some of those [reorders] have been shipped. At my own store, we have spring dresses that are doing really, really well, and [the store] is actually taking up any extra stock that we have here in the office because the dresses are going so quickly. Part of the thought process behind my spring collection was to make happy clothes and I think people are responding to that. We have a new fragrance that’s doing really well. It’s called Live Your Dream. We’re on our second reorder at my store.

“The other really good news is that we spoke to someone from the city on Thursday, April 23, about Save the Garment Center. They’re offering a building as a manufacturing base. It’s something everyone wants, everyone needs and we’re going forward with it….We’re hoping that this is just the beginning of city support.”

Diane von Furstenberg: “November was really hard, [but] since January business has really picked up, it’s good across the world. I assume that it’s not because of the economy; I think it’s about the product. The reason my spring line is better is because the line before that wasn’t so good, you know? If you make something that’s really nice and it’s at the right price and people react to it, they buy it. At the end of last year, we just felt like we had lost our cool, so we all went to work. We put a lot of effort in design and it’s paying off.

“I think there was too much of everything, and I feel like the whole industry had to take a laxative. We just had too much s–t, and therefore there’s a cleansing thing that happens. All of a sudden it’s not so much about marketing as it is about product. We kept on saying, ‘Oh, it will sell, you know, it doesn’t matter,’ and now we’re not like that anymore. Now we’re just being much more careful.

“In our industry, you have to have a reason to be. Some prices are just too expensive for what you are getting. Hermès is doing very well. Why? I can still use my mother’s handbags.”

Donna Karan: “The good news is everyone’s heart is opening. People really do care. Is philanthropy down? Every night there are three or four events with people coming together to help others. It’s all about opening hearts and people really getting together. [You feel] that change is about to happen. Among very creative people, there’s more of a sense of community. Instead of ‘I,’ it’s the ‘we’ — how can we do this? Seeing Liza Minnelli and Elton John [at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation Gala] — everybody appears to be more there for one another.”

Beth Bugdaycay, ceo, Rebecca Taylor: “We had double-digit sell-throughs consistently, every single week for spring. For the first two weeks [of summer deliveries], we have some pieces that are literally at 70 percent sell-through, and we’re shipping to a lot of stores, so that’s a lot of units. Our number-one wholesale piece is now the number-one retail piece.…We did an event at our store to debut summer. It ended up being the biggest day in our entire history, and we’ve had that store for five years. It just shows that if things are fun and noteworthy, the attendance is there, and that creativity yields results. I mean we were just thrilled. It was the best day in our store by about $10,000.”

Bud Konheim, ceo Nicole Miller: “The good news is that the dress business, our business, has not changed in 54 years since I’ve been in it. We have hot dresses. We have good sellers. We have dogs. It has never been any different, in good times and bad times. The only difference is that we went through a period where we didn’t have to work. There was so much money around that everything was selling and everybody was a genius and everybody was a great salesman and everybody was a great designer and all the celebrities are designing, everybody is putting stuff out there, [and] that has come to an end. [Now] there’s not that much money around, and so we are all fighting for a pie, which is still pretty big. We are talking about a country that is 300 million people and 92 percent employed, not too bad. Not too shabby. 

“Now everybody is rewarding clothing that looks good on them. We have some hot stuff, and it’s selling like crazy. It’s not at the level that it was in 2007, but then nothing is. We’re at the level of about 2005, 2006 and, by the way, 2005, 2006 were not bad years for us. They were pretty good. Not as good as 2007 and 2008, but very good. All we have to do is stop crying that it’s not like 2007 and 2008, which were aberrations.

“Nobody complained when the aberration was over-the-top and everybody is making money and everybody is rolling around in a Bentley to go to Dunkin’ Donuts. The selectivity and discretion and what makes our business good or bad was put on the sideline. Everybody was buying everything. All of these kids wanting their own collections immediately — what the hell happened to apprenticeship? What the hell happened to Michelangelo? They made him copy paintings for six years until he developed his hand! It wasn’t, ‘Hey Mike, you want to paint the Sistine Chapel? Here’s [the backing], go to the Pope and tell him you want to get up on a ladder and paint the thing right out of design school!’ That’s the culture we’re in. The business is actually back to normal as we know it, from Day One, when it was supercompetitive. So stop moaning we don’t have it over-the-top like we did in 2007 and 2008. Otherwise it’s great.”

Doo-Ri Chung: “We didn’t plan on the economy, but we went ahead with the launch of Under.Ligne. Not only did we meet our expectations, but the reaction just really surprised us. For the first season, we opened close to 80 doors. Fifty percent of it is in the Americas and the rest, international. We exceeded our projection by 30 percent.

The dresses will all retail for about $200 to nothing more than $300. Our intention was not to compete with the [designer] collection. Under.Ligne is really about functionality. It’s about something you wear to work. People work. You can’t just be dolled up everyday. You can’t not pay attention to what’s going on in the economy. We were realistic, but we were still aggressive. So there’s good news.”

Alex Bolen, ceo, Oscar de la Renta: “We have an interesting window into what’s going on out there through our trunk shows. Our trunk shows at Saks and Bergdorf’s in New York, and at both Saks and Neiman Marcus in Los Angeles, have had great results. We’ve exceeded our plan in each of those cases. Our bridal business continues to be surprisingly strong, growing at better than 30 percent. I don’t know if one can read anything into more people deciding to get married, but I think it’s enough of an increase that I’m wondering if there’s not some sort of trend happening.

“The fashion jewelry business was something that wasn’t particularly well-thought out by us, but has turned into a business. We have sold the stuff great guns. There are lots of little things that we are very optimistic about. And the minute somebody decides to smile, things are going to get a lot better.”

Edgar Huber, president, Juicy Couture: “Our Fifth Avenue store is doing better than ever, with conversion rates over 30 percent, which is a great sign. International business is growing very steadily. We are up in the double digits in Asia. We are launching Bird, a new range within the Juicy Couture label. Many high-end retailers are interested, and some have committed to it. So, that’s good news.

“I attribute [such news] to three factors. First, we are a happy brand; the Fifth Avenue store is a happy place to shop. Secondly, we have a great value-price relationship. A beautiful, big, leather handbag is less than $400 at Juicy and over $1,000 everywhere else. The third reason is our wide range. You go from tracksuits to hair accessories to high-end coats, from shoes to sunglasses. People always find something.”

Elie Tahari: “So far in our own stores, business has been a lot better than we expected. We’re exceeding our plan, and there are some bright spots in the categories. In shoes, we have the high-heel Cleopatra shoe — it sold out in gold and silver, and we’ve gotten a lot of reorders. And there’s a lot of interest in the Janine driver; it’s been getting reorders, too. This means people want to be relaxed and comfortable, but they’re also going out and having a good time. There’s a boyfriend blazer that’s been selling very well. And we’ve been doing well with the harem pants. The one-shoulder blouses and dresses have been doing very, very well, too. Color and print have been the important driving factors, in my opinion, in the spring selling season. That means people are happy and, as the weather is changing, they’re looking to dress festive, so that’s good. Since the weather’s changed, we feel there is a spirit in the market and with our customers; they want to turn a new leaf and are looking for bright and happy days.”

Francisco Costa, Calvin Klein Collection: “There’s a saying in Portuguese, to ‘swing your hips.’ That means you adapt to the situation. Fortunately, I think we’re in much better shape here at Calvin because the name is so unbelievably beyond incredible — it’s amazingly important what Calvin created — and because we are a very substantial company. Phillips-Van Heusen was an amazing addition to this company. What they have done was just very smart, was very savvy. They established all the [other] businesses first, like the ck, the white label. The [designer] collection came later into the picture. Now we’re establishing our business back again. The fact it came later was good for me, because I went through the process of maturing, of growing within the company.”

Laura Mulleavy, Rodarte: “I think it’s really important to love what you do because when things are more difficult, you have to still be able to do something, to be inspired within what you’re doing.

“We recently went to the Fangoria horror-film convention and we got to meet Herschell Gordon Lewis, who was the first person to invent gore films. We listened to this amazing talk with Clive Barker. It was an incredible moment, because I have never heard someone speak so eloquently and have such an interesting story leading up to why they created what they created. That was, for me, the most exciting thing to have happened in the last few weeks.”

Fabrizio Malverdi, ceo, Givenchy: “I’m just back from the Middle East. I went to Kuwait, Bahrain and Dubai, and it’s good to see that the atmosphere is not as depressing as in other countries. The energy is really positive. For Givenchy, we are opening new stores with the new concept we introduced a year ago [in Paris on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré]. The reaction to this new concept is really good, and we have an existing partner that wants to open stores based on it. Europe and Russia are suffering a lot, but in general, Givenchy’s women’s prêt-à-porter is going well. The sell-throughs are good. And if the customer has fun buying it, that’s the real success. We have to inject a bit of life, a bit of fun and a bit of coolness in the market. That’s the reason why people are still buying.”

Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman, The Weinstein Company: “Good news is how well our Broadway theater side is doing. [On Tuesday] we got 44 Drama Desk nominations [for various shows]. For ‘God of Carnage’ to be doing $800,000 a week is astounding in this economic time. And then ‘Hair.’ The fact that we’re seeing young people and adults seeing plays is astonishing because these seats are not cheap. That’s good news. People are coming to the theater. People are going to the movie theaters. That trend will be good for retail eventually, too. There’s consumerism going on. People are not just locking the doors and renting a DVD, or hiding in the house and watching television. It’s an indicator.

“Can I brag on my wife for a second? Marchesa’s business, eveningwear of all things, is lighting up Neiman Marcus and all the other stores around the world. They’re actually up this year. Personally, that’s great news because hopefully she can support me in the style I’m accustomed to.”

Jack McCollough, Proenza Schouler: “We’re the next guest curators for A Magazine, which is based out of Belgium, which is fantastic. We’re the first Americans to curate the magazine, so we’ve been superbusy with that.

“Some other good news is we’re doing Pitti in Florence. We’re the guest women’s designers in June. Instead of a typical runway show, we’re getting three artists to collaborate with us and incorporate our collection into their work.

“We’re really ecstatic about the PS1 bag that launched last spring. Sales are going through the roof. We’ve really made a big push to get our accessories out there and do them on a larger scale. And on top of that, we’re fully integrated into the Valentino production facilities. Through the Valentino factories, we’ve been able to raise our margins up to 20 points. We’ve been working hard on getting our margins up.”

James Mischka: “As soon as the Dow broke 8,000, we started selling couture amazingly well again. We also took back our Platinum license, and we’re working on making it look more like Badgley Mischka. We’ve had an overwhelmingly great response to it. It’s opened a lot of new doors, and it’s been great….Our store in Los Angeles is up 5 percent over last year. We kept hearing that stores in Los Angeles were doing poorly, so we’re happy.”

Mark Mendelson, president and ceo of Fashionology Group: “The [Ellen Tracy] line is completely mine, and my creative director’s starting with fall. But we tried to figure out what to do for spring to get people talking about Ellen Tracy in a positive way. We came up with this Parsons idea — having kids design shirts for us [in conjunction] with Bloomingdale’s. We invited the junior class to a

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on Ellen Tracy, challenged them to design the iconic white shirt for us, and we would pick five winners who would receive scholarship money toward their senior projects….We shipped the shirts two weeks ago, 100 to 300 of each look at $198 to $258 suggested retail, and they’re flying out. They’re in branches all over, and they’re flying out.”

Michael Kors: “The good news is in this crazy, terrible economy, I think people’s taste is getting better. They have to think about what they buy and they’re getting a more discerning eye because of it. There are no more shoes you can’t walk in, bags you can’t carry, dresses you can’t sit in. All of that’s finished. It’s like the beginning of ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ‘This is about a time long, long ago.’ The handbag that’s so heavy I can’t lift it, the shoe I can’t get out of a car in, the dress I have to lean in — those are memories from a time that’s gone with the wind.

“I equate [the current climate] to late-Seventies New York. I was young, excited and I had no idea that I was moving to New York just as the city was on the verge of bankruptcy. Crime was at its worst. The world was ending. But it was actually a very creative moment for New York. Creative people — whether it’s fashion, film, music, art — are going to have to try a little harder. We’re going to see this strange combination of creativity and pragmatism. That’s good news.

“You know what else is good news? We’re selling things. The good news is if you do work harder, and you’re smarter, and you really think about what you’re doing, people still want beautiful things.”

Josie Natori: “The best news is I’m going to be a grandmother!

“In the business, there’s been some good selling at full price this spring — the novelty prints and even these Grecian gowns, so that’s been a relief. We’ve actually reordered some items. We just launched in the underwear department — I hate the word panty — at Nordstrom. They are $18, an amazing price point. They sold 16 percent in the first three days. In home, the high-end sheets are selling really well in both Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. We have bed ensembles anywhere from $950 to $2,500, but the ones that have been selling have been around $1,500. We are inching up there, and the stores have been very happy with the performance. So those have been the bright spots.” 

Alexander Wang: “Knock on wood, but I feel very privileged to say that we’re growing. We’re hiring people and we’re taking over another floor in our building and are expanding our collection in all areas, with men’s and accessories, as well as launching the e-commerce site. I feel like there’s a little bit of an opportunity for us to — how shall I say this? — shine in a way. People are looking for things that are more specific and special, that aren’t everywhere, but still have a strong identity and aren’t too inaccessible. I think we’re at that perfect level. We’ve been around for a couple years where people know our name, but then it’s not like we have a huge overhead where we’re worrying about how to stay afloat in this kind of situation.”

Phillip Lim: “Good news — my plants in my garden are happy and about to bloom. My dog Oliver has recently learned to lay down — on command. I am more inspired, and my focus is clearer then ever! Life is good, as it’s really the simple things that I have come back to. It’s been a reawakening.

“We decided a year ago, let’s regroup and let’s strengthen the company. It was the perfect timing to [focus on growth] and launch swim [for summer], and shoes and underpinnings [for fall] and prepare for this new uncharted climate.”

Isabelle Guichot, president and ceo, Balenciaga: “The very good news is so far Balenciaga has been extremely resilient to the crisis and the growth path that we’ve been on for a few years now is not affected. We’re still rolling out our retail development in Japan and the U.S. We strongly believe that during this time of crisis, it’s a way of proving [to] our partners — for instance, the U.S. department stores, the Japanese department stores, the retail landlords — that the brand is legitimate and this crisis is a period in which we can gain market share and prove we’re amongst the players of tomorrow.”

L’Wren Scott: “I’ve had very good news from stores wanting to increase their fall orders and asking to reorder spring-summer. I can’t ever do too much. My clients order, I order my fabrics very close to what I need and then I always make a little bit of extra stock just in case. I’m in 20 stores, but because Barneys [New York] has more than one door, I would say 25 doors. That’s global. Slowly, I’ve put it in one store, in one country, or just testing out various markets; I’ve opened in Spain now. So it’s good, it’s all positive.”

Mario Grauso, president, Puig Fashion Group: “The best news is that I’ve never had a design team or staff more motivated to think about the consumer. [At Carolina Herrera], design is talking about, ‘What would the retail store want?’ I was in a fabric meeting the other day and one of the design kids said, ‘Would Mrs. So-and-So wear that?’ The other day they said they were concerned about what was in the windows of the Madison Avenue store. Were they salable windows? Design teams normally just watch the runway in the windows. If that’s the positive in a bad situation, I’m happy.

“Business isn’t great, but focusing on the customer, it’s going to make my life easier. My staff is working harder than they have ever worked. The goodwill is amazing.

“But it’s also our very dedicated and true customer. People aren’t shopping as much, so if they’re thinking about us because we’ve been there for them for years, then I feel really good about that.”

Nanette Lepore: “When my latest spring delivery hit the floor, we started turning it at 8 to 15 percent at Saks, Neiman’s, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf’s, which means we’re back to where we were during good times. It’s short, flirty, and sort of happy and springy. Now that the weather’s turned, it’s a wear-now thing. We’re having reorders on some quick-turning pieces. And because we manufacture in New York City, I’m able to get things back into stores at a quick turn. It’s creating a great rapport between myself and my stores and building a better partnership.

“In a sense, what happened [in the economy] was kind of a good thing [for the industry]. I’m tired of it now and I want it to go away, but we all needed a little wake up call. Things were getting a little formulaic. You weren’t paying as close attention as you had to because everything was selling. When you get a little worried, you start paying closer attention.”

Paul Blum, ceo, David Yurman: “The good news right now is our bridal business is very strong. We’re selling a lot of engagement rings and wedding bands. We opened our Hong Kong flagship airport store about a month ago and it’s been doing really well, ahead of our plan. And across our whole distribution, April has been a stronger month than I’ve seen as a trend in quite some time. I think the consumer is starting to feel a little bit more confident.”

Yeohlee Teng: “First, I have to say we’re very lucky to have a president who not only can write, but can speak, so I think our overall quality of life has improved tremendously.

“Along with designers such as Anna Sui and Nanette Lepore, I’ve been working on this Made in NYC campaign. The good news is it’s gained traction. There’s a real appreciation for authenticity and for all things local. It started with the food movement with Alice Waters and locally grown food, but made-in-New-York fashion also has gained traction. Case in point: I recently had Made in NYC clothes in windows at Lord & Taylor. The customers really responded and we got reorders.

“The Garment District is the only area in Manhattan that has light manufacturing. All other manufacturing has disappeared from our landscape. There’s a commitment from designers, consumers and public advocates to increase the quality of life, to maintain job diversity. That involvement and passion is another positive thing.”

Rachel Roy: “The good news is having the opportunity to create the secondary line [Rachel Rachel Roy] for this younger customer. It gets my mind off of designer woes and all the hardships of getting your designer clothes into specialty stores and department stores right now. It’s a fun project — it’s younger, it’s fun, it’s a bit edgy, and certain things could be a bit naughty that I can’t do in designer.

“And the fact that I’m so heavily supported by Jones [Apparel Group Inc.] to do it, it’s not something I’m used to. I am getting used to having all the bills paid on time. It’s lovely and wonderful to be that supported; it’s fantastic. I have nothing to complain about at all. I’m just so thankful, and it makes me work that much harder on the Rachel Rachel Roy line as well, because I want to keep it.”

Vera Wang: “Pockets of good news, and I mean pockets. We opened [the Mercer Street store] in December in probably the worst economy, in rain and cold, when everything else was on sale, so we were happy if we did anything at all in a day. There was a little sign of happiness about a month ago when we did $20,000 on a Saturday. We also had a Saturday that we haven’t had in a while — we did $100,000 selling bridal uptown. The most expensive part of our bridal business, luxe, from $8,500 to $18,000 with the bulk at $10,000 to $12,000, is a modest business but growing, now maybe a $6 million business wholesale. It’s about $12 million to $13 million at retail. That’s fabulous, as it means that a client, at least in the context of a wedding, is willing to pay for something that’s handmade and beautifully crafted. I thought for sure that’d be the first to go, and it’s been the one that’s holding up the rest of the bridal business.

“The other thing is we’ve had a bit of good news with our Princess fragrance. Rock Princess is our second fragrance. It’s initially doing well. I don’t know what Coty’s numbers are, but I know they’re very pleased about it.”


Continue to Part Two of the story >>