How fashion and luxury firms will ride out a recession.

Commentary about business and finance.
May 14 2008 2:50 PM

High Styles for Low Times

How fashion and luxury firms will ride out a recession.

(Continued from Page 1)

"I skipped the last buying trip to Paris altogether," says Erin Crandall, head buyer of designer collections for online retail site ShopBop.com. "The cost of the trip would have outweighed the money we'd have made on the lines."

Which means that enterprising American designers can step up to bat and vie for real estate once occupied by their French and Italian counterparts. Crandall points to wunderkind Alexander Wang and wrap-dress queen Diane von Furstenberg as "recession-proof" designers with perceived long-term value.

Advertisement

Other big American sellers for ShopBop: relative newcomers Derek Lam, Chris Benz, Rachel Roy, and Tory Burch. Expect to see more of them elsewhere.

3. Earlier, increasingly aggressive sales.
You came, you saw, you desired: a gorgeous but hideously expensive Armani dress. You made a deal with yourself: If it goes on sale, I'll buy it.

This might be your lucky season: Designer goods are going on sale earlier than ever. Markdown schedules are moving up and becoming more competitive. For example, Saks Fifth Avenue recently announced 40 percent-off markdowns, which included some of its couture merchandise; the spring sale came a week earlier than last year's. Other retailers will feel obliged to follow suit, since failure to mark down as quickly could hinder sales. In order to keep margins from sinking too low, retailers will likely use techniques like mandating a minimum purchase amount, then giving big discounts on more.

4. Chic downgrade options.
Retailers and editors will provide a variety of lower price options for women looking to spend less but maintain a particular luxury aesthetic.

"Let's say that we have a woman who didn't get her raise or bonus," says Crandall. "She might turn to Theory instead of Chloe, so I'm stocking up on that. I just added Free People, too, to make sure that I had the under-$100 price point covered, too."

Barneys New York—usually home to some of fashion's most elite fare—surprised many in the industry by showcasing the soon-to-be-launched Rogan for Target Collection in its New York and Beverly Hills locations. Lower-end retailers, such as H&M and Kmart, have made enormous successes of their designer capsule collections, such as Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, Stella McCartney for Puma, Issac Mizrahi for Target, and so on. Elite stores appear to be sanctioning and capitalizing on this trend. Magazine editorials will follow suit in showcasing a high-low mix.

"We'll show big labels with H&M tees," says Elle's fashion news director, Anne Slowey. "Ten years ago, fashion was about luxury conglomerations. Now it's democratic."

5. Spare, spare, everywhere.
Fashion oracles declared the trend of the garish "it bag" dead last year, but other gestures toward flashiness are apparently teetering on the edge of the same grave. In the fall collections, showcased in New York earlier this spring, editors and buyers sensed a move toward minimalism and even austerity.