Is Fashion Week An Economic Indicator?
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
During economic downturns, conventional wisdom has it that hemlines drop and colors darken. In New York, fashion editors, store buyers, and fashionistas have been finding out what the spring fashions will bring. Among those who've been in the thick of Fashion Week is Simon Doonan. He's the creative director of Barney's New York.
Mr. SIMON DOONAN (Barney's New York): Good morning. How are you?
MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you. So you've just been living, I think, at Fashion Week all this week. Break it to us - are hemlines up or down?
Mr. DOONAN: Well, I'm always very amused by that idea that fashion might have these overarching messages, because fashion is sort of this very incoherent place. I mean, I could give you examples. Like in the '60s, short skirts were seen as a sign of a new era of optimism and economic stability. But they were closely followed by very long skirts. So fashion is sort of wonderfully nonsensical and has its own evolution.
MONTAGNE: Do you think that fashion does respond to the economy, says something about the economy?
Mr. DOONAN: I think the buyers respond to the economy. So, for example, I've heard groups of buyers this week saying they're playing it safe. They're going to buy, you know, basics. They're going to buy things that women really need. They're not going to necessarily go for the spangled unitard. They're probably going to invest in items which are less challenging to the consumer and therefore more likely to sell.
MONTAGNE: What do you mean when you say buyers are buying basics?
Mr. DOONAN: Well, you're not actually going to see basics at fashion week. Basics are something that the buyer confronts when they go to the showroom. I was at Michael Kors. There was a beautiful jacket that had a big hand-painted stripe all the way around it. And you know when you go to the showroom you can buy that jacket without the big hand-painted stripe on it, and you're probably going to sell more of the one without the stripe.
MONTAGNE: What does influence what we end up wearing?
Mr. DOONAN: I think there are trends and what drives them and what drives what people wear is more about change. For example, last spring the big story from all the runways was color. Color and print, color and print. And then this fall it's been all about black.
And people have said, oh, is this because of the economy and is this a new restraint, and blah, blah, blah. But in my opinion it's more about just a pendulum kind of action between thick and thin, high and low, which is driven by the design process rather than by designers having any sense of the zeitgeist. Because I think designers also look to distinguish themselves from one another. They don't have, like, a big kind of Dr. Strangelove conclave where they all get together and say, hey, let's do more modest hems because the economy's in the toilet or whatever. They're making their own little zeitgeists in their own little cocoon.
MONTAGNE: Simon Doonan, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.
Mr. DOONAN: My pleasure. Have me back soon.
MONTAGNE: Simon Doonan writes the Style column in the New York Observer, and he's author of the new book Eccentric Glamour.
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