Hot Pants, Marchesa Hit Stressed Consumers at N.Y. Fashion Week

Spring 2011
A sketch from the Spring 2011 collection by designer Rebecca Minkoff. Minkoff is one of 14 designers participating in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week for the first time. Source: Rebeccaa Minkoff via Bloomberg

Because the late Algerian-born designer Yves Saint Laurent had deep ties to sunny Marrakech, the fashion director of Neiman Marcus, Ken Downing, can say things like:

“The entire orange family feels good to my eyes. We are going to be seeing a lot of deep pink, saffron, tangerine, apricot and coral.”

Downing’s colorful remarks, referring to the likely palette of spring couture collections and Saint Laurent’s influence thereon, came shortly before tomorrow’s opening of New York Fashion Week.

The numbers for this, the biggest Fashion Week ever: More than 325 designers will hawk their wares. Those under the umbrella of the main event, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, will number 97, up from 75 last year. The cast ranges from stalwarts such as Diane von Furstenberg and Ralph Lauren to pincushion newbies like Rebecca Minkoff and Bibhu Mohapatra.

“We have more shows on the schedule than we’ve ever had,” said Peter Levy, senior vice president and managing director of the show’s producer, IMG Fashion Worldwide. “We’ve got more space and new technological infrastructure.”

After 17 years at Bryant Park, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week will roll uptown to Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The move accommodated the expo’s traditional main tent and allowed for events at other Lincoln Center venues.

Fashion Night Out

About 230 fashion presentations are taking place at showrooms and art galleries around Manhattan, making it the biggest Fashion Week, according to Fashion Calendar, a weekly Internet newsletter that tracks fashion events around the world.

On Sept. 10 more than 1,000 stores will remain open until 11 p.m. as part of the second annual Fashion Night Out. They’ll be serving cocktails and offering discounts and DJs -- and praying for sales. Bergdorf Goodman will host a dog-fashion show. Online retailer ASOS and Teen Vogue magazine will throw a block party in the West Village.

The fashion blitz comes at a time when shoppers expect discounts and retailers are stuck with too much inventory, said Brian Sozzi, an analyst for Wall Street Strategies Inc. in New York. U.S. apparel sales fell 1.7 percent for the year ended in June 2010 from the prior period, according to the latest data compiled by NPD Group Inc., a market researcher based in Port Washington, New York. In August, U.S. consumer confidence inched up to 53.5 from a five-month low of 51 in July. Analysts said consumers are looking for items that do more than one thing.

“People already have basics in their closet,” said Sozzi. “If they spend, they want it to be an investment piece” like a pricey handbag that would last for 10 years.

Bang for Buck

“Consumers are looking for diversified product which will give them more bang for their buck,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD. “They say, ‘I need it, I want it. I’ve got to think twice before I buy it.’”

Other consumers, with deeper purses, will heed the admonition of Bob Dylan: “Don’t think twice, it’s all right.” Marchesa, a luxury brand that makes red-carpet dresses for celebrities like Sandra Bullock and Sarah Jessica Parker, will show its new collection at the Chelsea Art Museum.

Spring 2011 trends will include everything -- even the kitchen apron: maxi skirts, Saint Laurent-inspired pant suits and shorts of all lengths and styles, according to Downing of Neiman Marcus.

“We’ll see everything from hot pants to tailored shorts cut to the knee to full-cut shorts that look like a skirt,” he said. Designer Nanette Lepore said she has brought “bold prints and courageous colors” to the humble apron.

‘Bohemian Vagabond’

First-timer Minkoff will air a “bohemian vagabond” theme in her spring collection, with multipurpose styles that can go “from day to night and from work to weekend,” she said. Many get the same mileage from a tracksuit.

“Even when things are tough, there is still a desire to buy fashion that’s on trend,” said Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of Tobe, the fashion-research division of New York retail consultant Doneger Group. “You want to be clearer about buying the right item because you are not buying as much.”

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