There was a time when should Chanel decree beige spectator slings the consumer wouldn’t be caught wobbling after a cab in anything but. The came the sixties, when the youth culture rose up and took hold of the reins of leadership; political, fashion and otherwise, and the fashion establishment lost its right of authorship. A brief respite came in the eighties when Status was king and designers ruled with an affluent hand. Today, designers are offering up a paralyzing array of fall signals, from historical pieces to fifties anklestraps. Clearly the landscape in which they are designing is unrecognizable from their predecessors’, yet the question hovers quietly in the dusty corners of every ivory tower – will the tables ever turn again? Will fashion command the role of leader? FN asked a few designers and execs to muse on the possibilities.

ROBERT CLERGERIE, Robert Clergerie, New York: “The fashion is coming from the street with those heavy shoes, but it will change and I think it will change soon. The street fashions and the designers are coming together. The designer now lives in the street, not high in a castle or in a part of the world without meeting or seeing anybody. The good designer is the one who lives with the people and takes input from what he sees; what will be the next trend.

The role of the designer and (measure of) the talent of the design is to feel before others what the people will want. In this business, one thought we must never pronounce is ‘never more.’ It is like history; everything is coming back, but when it comes back it is never on the same path, because life must change. You never come back on the same road.”

KENNETH COLE, Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., New York: “I think the consumer dictates fashion merchandising. That’s the reality today. You hear about and create and fill certain merchandi-sing needs. Whoever does it best does the best business. As a practical matter it’s still consumer-driven. We can’t afford to experiment. It’s impractical — but we do as much as we can. It’s unfortunate that we can’t afford to gamble — there’s too much at stake. We try to have a balance of what’s new.”

STUART WEITZMAN, Stuart Weitzman, New York: “Designers started nearly all trends 30 years ago. Then the consumer became savvy, independent and liberated from fashion shackles, and began to contribute, and even create. Tomorrow’s fashion industries will feel this trend continuing. It is now a joint venture between street fashion and designer fashion. Certain categories will feel the dominance of one more than the other. But, in general, I believe that the consumer’s demand to be heard will never again allow designers to sit alone in the throne of fashion. Nor will they abdicate.”

JOAN HELPERN, Joan & David, New York: “I have always believed consumers’ fashion is here to stay. Let’s just hope the consumer — as opposed to the designer — knows what she’s doing. We have great faith in the consumer’s ability to separate the wheat from the chaff — it’s the only thing that has kept us alive and flourishing.”

RAY RUDANSKY, Buckray, Inc., New York: “I don’t think (the trend will ever reverse). Mass communication did as much for this trend as anything. It used to take months for fashion messages to reach the hinterlands, it was a real trickle-down (dynamic). That’s really what’s changing. People now see how others dress immediately. We’re also much more egalitarian now. We won’t see the court of St. James again. They were looks really, (the courts and royals) set the whole look. Fashion will be about how people feel.”

CHARNA GARBER, D’Ross-ana, New York: “Yes, I hope so! I think it will only happen when ready-to-wear designers get back in touch and design for women again. This Grunge, baggy clothing (trend) has all been so young — and the clothes are still expensive. This isn’t designing for the right customer. I don’t think the illness at retail is all economy. Fashion is way out of wack. I look to Lacroix, Montana, Chanel for ideas to design my lines. There hasn’t really been anything there.”