Grim economy casts pall on Fashion Week

NEW YORK, Sept 5, 2008 (AFP) -A bleak US economy has cast a pall over Fashion Week, with even the most dedicated fashionistas distracted by bread-and-butter concerns like paying the mortgage and filling the gas tank.

More than 80 designers will take part in the semi-annual celebration of designer confection at this week's show of Spring-Summer 2009 Fashions, from edgy Betsey Johnson to classy Carolina Herrera.

But the fashion world is not expecting heavy sales orders from the designer extravaganza, which starts on Friday.

"Most Americans are too busy choosing between food and fuel to worry about foulards versus fan pleats," wrote one commentator in the New York alternative daily, The Village Voice.

More than 80 designers were to take part in the week-long event, including some favorite standbys like Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta.

With the US economy in the doldrums, design houses know that consumers are far less likely to part with their money, and when they do, they will be inclined to opt for safe classic styles which provide a better value for their dollar.safe.

"This is the most difficult Fashion week in a long, long time" said John Mincarelli, Professor of fashion marketing and management at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, a training ground for young up-and-comers in the industry.

Fashionistas were to head to a variety of sites, including an expansive tent building in the midtown Bryant Park where much of the action is centered.

Other shows will be held at catwalks and exhibition halls scattered around New York City, and are expected to offer some of the best celebrity watching of the season -- even if the attendees are more in the mood for looking than spending.

During last spring's fashion week held six months ago there were already hints of an economic downturn, as Americans tightened their belts in anticipation of leaner times.

That effect is being felt even more keenly with retail sales down, consumer confidence in retreat, and the jobs market down sharply.

American fashion houses have put on a brave face as they grapple with a weak dollar and the increasing expense of imports.

One upside is that the current downturn favors young designers hoping to elbow their way to the top of the fashion world, who may not face the same overhead in mounting a fashion week spectacle as some of the more established houses.

Fledgling couturiers from around the world long have viewed the week as an unrivaled opportunity to access the massive US market and capture some of the insatiable media attention that comes with one of the world's leading fashion events.

Adding to the air of uncertainty during this year's Fashion Week is the unsettled US political landscape, with the winner of the election for the White House not to be determined until November.

Fashion analysts said American women voters often often look to the wives of the US president for fashion cues, and this year are presented with two radically different style alternatives in Michelle Obama, the wife of Democrat Barack Obama and Cindy McCain, wife of Republican nominee John McCain.

The marked contrast in styles -- Obama, young, black and hip and McCain classic high fashion and white -- means that US designers may have to wait until after November to know which way the Americans' fashion tastes will veer.by Paola Messana

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