The latest round of grim anthrax-related news has overshadowed the emergence yesterday of the fashion industry's response to America's post-Sept. 11 economic turbulence. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (familiar with it?) has launched a campaign to encourage American shoppers to get back in the game. Also, a special T-shirt has been unveiled; proceeds from sales of this shirt will go to New York's Twin Towers Fund. Joseph Abboud popped up on CNBC yesterday afternoon to talk about all this.
The subtext here is that—even with Rudolph Giuliani sternly telling us that "shopping is important—do it" —the luxury slump continues. The Times just yesterday reiterated that Prada pants and so forth just aren't selling like they used to. The problem, of course, is not that those who used to shop for such items routinely are all suddenly broke. The Times even found an expert on consumer psychology to tell us that while the well-off are still well-off and have money to spend, they apparently prefer to "live abstemiously" in some sort of effort at "solidarity" with those who have suffered, directly or indirectly, from this ongoing crisis.
So on the one hand, we have a combination of sheepishness and fear keeping our most able-walleted shoppers from doing their part, and on the other hand, we have politicians and fashionistas imploring them to get over it. What is to be done? The T-shirt and the marketing campaign are fine, I guess, but I'm more intrigued at the possibilities suggested by one "avid shopper" interviewed by ABC News, who wonders if there might not be a way to craft a promotion that would offer more direct benefits. "I would love to 'dress a fireman'—find a hero to take out on a shopping spree and pay for the clothes," this person offers. "It might be a nice way to honor them."
OK, let's go with that. Maybe it's the perfect way to snap the affluent out of this abstemious stupor: It's time, affluent Americans, for each of you to adopt a splurge proxy. Do all the ostentatious buying you can handle—just do it for someone else.
Still afraid to fly? Or nervous about being in a theme park? Send a laid-off airline worker on a trip to Disney World. (Or just send a Disney employee who's had his or her work hours reduced; everything helps.) Embarrassed about blowing $1,000 on a new jacket for yourself? Buy it for a Ground Zero cleanup worker or a rattled mail-handler. Not sure you want to visit New York City with the anthrax scare lingering? Treat an Afghan refugee.
The benefits are obvious. Money gets spent, troubled businesses get help, and no one feels guilty. Do your part, affluent America.