Mall Developers Face Uphill Battle

Now that General Growth Properties Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the question is whether more recession-hit developers might follow. Mall vacancy rates rose to 9.5 percent in the first quarter from the 8.9 percent registered for all of 2008, marking the largest single-quarter jump since 1999, according to Reis Inc., a real estate information company. That’s creating immense financial pressure on real estate investment trusts as centers lose tenants while those retailers remaining aggressively push for rent reductions.

Wal-Mart’s Duke Talks About Economic Challenges

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. president and chief executive officer Mike Duke shared insights gleaned from the spending habits of the company’s enormous customer base. With 140 million visitors each week, Wal-Mart is something of an economic indicator. “We’re all looking for a better day when we start to come out of this. In talking to our customers all across the country, I think there’s still a lot of stress, with the job security challenges and unemployment where it is,” he said. Meanwhile, across the globe, apparel executives who gathered at the Prime Source Forum in Hong Kong assessed the impact of the recession worldwide on every aspect of the supply chain, from manufacturing to retailing. (WWD recently asked experts when the recovery would begin and what would precipitate it.)

Fashion’s Shifting Paradigm

Fashion companies were quick enough to cut expenditures, pare store openings and lean on suppliers to survive the first year of the recession and the start of the credit crisis. But shifting consumer values and brutal economic realities are forcing both the weak and strong to reconsider their reason for being and how they do business. Meanwhile, the less-than-rosy times aren’t stopping a few fashion brands — Belstaff, Façonnable and Trussardi among them — from devising expansion projects that range from designing a new Audi to opening stores. Bridal designers, meanwhile, have jumped into the new season with ingenuity and, in some cases, razored prices. (See some top bridal looks.)

Going Steady: Rachel Roy Designs Line for Macy’s

Macy’s has snagged itself another exclusive, this time one of New York fashion’s most high-profile young designers — Rachel Roy. With help from Jones Apparel Group Inc., Roy, who is best known for her namesake designer label, will launch a contemporary lifestyle brand called Rachel Rachel Roy to be sold exclusively at Macy’s. The collection will run the gamut from apparel and footwear to accessories and will launch in 85 Macy’s doors beginning in August. (See more from the Rachel Roy collection.)

European Retailers Join in Markdown Mania

Stores in countries such as France and the U.K. are adopting the aggressive price-cutting tactics of their U.S. counterparts in the hope of stimulating stingy consumers. Meanwhile, Muji is scaling back its international expansion plans in Europe and the U.S., South Korean retailers are bracing for a downturn and Japanese retailer Uniqlo launched an online store for China in partnership with Mainland Internet giant Taobao.com. In New York, designers are setting up shop in the Lower East Side due to relatively low rents and an influx of style-conscious residents.

Istithmar Backs Barneys With Additional Funding

The parent of Barneys New York decided to pump more than $25 million into the luxury chain to ensure fall deliveries and to ease liquidity concerns among vendors and factors, according to sources close to the business. David Jackson, chief executive officer of Istithmar World Capital, the Dubai-based parent of Barneys, would not confirm the $25 million report, but characterized the level of support as “significant.” The news came a day after Standard & Poor’s slapped Barneys with a debt downgrade, noting the luxe retailer has a deteriorating liquidity position but no financial covenants that cause near-term concern.

The Top Ten Collections: Fall 2009

Go basic? Not a chance. Despite recession rumbles, designers of the best collections served up fabulous fashion inspired by country gals, power babes and les Parisiennes. See WWD’s Top 10 collections.

A Dog Day for Obama

Wearing a suit to walk the dog? Even if you’re President of the United States, the style is somewhat jarring. On Tuesday, when the First Family unveiled their Portuguese water dog, Bo, to the world, the President made good on his promise to bring a canine into the White House — and perhaps displayed why suits shouldn’t be worn for exercise. Michelle Obama, on the other hand, drew praise from European designers still giddy from having their clothing picked for her wardrobe for her trip to the Continent. (See more First Lady looks here.) Even Oscar de la Renta made nice, going on “The View” to clarify his earlier criticism of the First Lady, saying, “She’s entitled to wear anything she wants to. I may have chosen my words badly, and I regret it.”

Albert Maysles on Grey Gardens

In a career that’s spanned nearly five decades, Albert Maysles (and his brother David, who died in 1987) has taken on everyone from Bible salesmen to The Beatles to Christo and Jean-Claude. But it’s the Maysles’ documentary “Grey Gardens” that’s endured above all else. It’s been the basis of a Broadway musical and inspired as many fashion designers as Halston and Schiaparelli combined. On Sunday, a bio-film on Jackie Onassis’ quirky cousins (and the infamous documentary they appeared in) comes to HBO. WWD spoke to the 82-year-old Maysles. (Also, see WWD’s Grey Gardens-inspired photo shoot and a celebration of sartorial eccentricities around Manhattan.)

WWD Back in Time: Julia Child Feeds WWD

When WWD sat down with Julia Child in 1972, the Cambridge, Mass.-based chef took the opportunity to spread the gospel of cheap eating, which bears repeating in this age of thin wallets and recession specials. “Prices are too high only if you don’t know how to cook,” said Child, who also prepared a meal for WWD’s lucky reporter. “Then all you can make is steak. But haute cuisine can be very inexpensive — low-cost cuts of meat simmered in wine and herbs for a long, long time. Don’t complain about high prices. For God’s sake, learn to cook and stop squawking!” See outtakes from WWD’s lunch with Child and a 1970 shoot on the set of “The French Chef.”

Click to read last week’s WWD Week in Review (4/10/09).

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