Fashion Starts Over

There was no front row at Anna Sui’s showing of her spring 2002 collection last Wednesday afternoon; just some 40 fashion editors and store buyers, gathered in the designer’s tiny showroom. Sui had been scheduled to hold a big runway show a week earlier. Instead, she, along with the rest of New York’s fashion establishment, had to grapple notonly with the big questions brought on by the World Trade Center tragedy (does fashion even matter?) but with how – and if – she should present her work. Shown to a soundtrack that included a punk version of “Spirit in the Sky,” Sui’s clothes had a mod-meets-Victorian feel to them. Watching it, one was reminded that the first time this look was in vogue was in another era when war hung heavily in the air.

This scene was repeated in bare-bones showrooms throughout last week. “It was important to do something,”says Oscar de la Renta. “Hillary Clinton came to see me and told me she felt it was important to follow Mayor Giuliani’s advice, to signal that New York is open for business.”

“I’ve had to think about myself and my team and what this will mean to us,” says Narciso Rodriguez. His decision was, in part, financial; Rodriguez has people who rely on him for their livelihoods. Established designers are weighed down with the costs of canceled shows and a possible downturn in demand for high-end clothes. Young designers have it even harder, bearing the financial brunt of not showing and possibly not selling their collections at all.

The reverberations are already being felt. In a letter to its designers, dated September 18, Bergdorf Goodman executives said that the store would be “canceling the remaining portion of all fall orders with the exception of special orders and … scaling back resort and spring.” At Barneys, executive vice-president Judy Collinson says, “We’re not doing a blanket cancellation, but we’re doing it where we feel we’ll be most affected.”

In fashion, everyone lives six months into the future, and designers are already thinking about the shows scheduled for February. “All of this has made me think it might be time to change next season,” says Oscar de la Renta. “Doing a show costs so much money.” Whatever the future holds, Narciso Rodriguez believes that at least one thing is guaranteed. “I think we’re all going to look back at this time and be proud that we did something with dignity.”

Fashion Starts Over