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New York Fashion Week opens in gloomy context

Latest update : 2009-02-14

New York's Fashion Week has kicked off in a much more somber atmosphere than usual. Guest lists have been cut and less models used. The fashion industry is crucial to the city - it provides more than 175,000 jobs for New Yorkers.

AFP - Discarding its usual champagne-drenched extravaganzas, New York's Fashion Week kicked off Friday under a cloud of economic austerity and uncertainty.

The number of designers debuting their fall collections has remained stable, with 75 participants this year, only slightly down from 80 in September before the economic crisis swung into full speed.

The original Wonder Woman, actress Lynda Carter, US Olympic champions and a host of other celebrities opened this major fashion gathering by taking to the catwalk to preview the annual Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection to highlight awareness of heart disease.

But the mood was somber.

Yigal Azrouel, a young Israeli-born designer who made his debut in 1998 in New York, set a romantic tone with a show lasting less than 10 minutes that featured slinky dresses with pleated yokes worn under short, loose-fitting tweed coats with wide collars.

Only 25 to 30 models were used by most stylists, down from the usual 30 to 40 models. Some designers organized joint shows to cut costs that can reach into the thousands of dollars for space rental, after-show parties and model fees, plus make-up artists and hairdressers.

Four African stylists were joining forces to present their collections for the first time late Friday.

Some of fashion's best and most revered were on hand, among them Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein.

French label Lacoste, which has a big stake in the US market, will show its collection early Saturday, just before Lebanese designer Georges Chakra, who will present his first ready-to-wear line in New York.

The US fashion world's "enfant terrible" Marc Jacobs will continue his tradition of taking his show far from the tents of Bryant Park, choosing instead the 69th Regiment Armory in southern Manhattan.

But even Jacobs has heeded the call to austerity, inviting only 700 people to Monday's show, cutting his guest list by 1,300 from last season.

Up and coming stylists have also flocked to Fashion Week, among them Narcisco Rodriguez, who dressed Michelle Obama the night of her husband's presidential election win on November 4.

There are more "militant" designers, like Nanette Lepore or Anna Sui, who are fighting for the survival of ateliers in Manhattan, now threatened to disappear due to rising real estate costs and outsourcing.

The economic crisis is splashed across the pages of Fashion Week's official daily, under the heading "Chic Must Go On!"

Recognizing the city's deep links with the fashion industry, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced a five-year contract starting in 2010 for staging Fashion Week at the Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park, a venue 25 percent bigger than its current home near Times Square.

"The fashion industry is a vital part of our city's economy, providing more than 175,000 jobs and generating billions of dollars in wages for New Yorkers annually," Bloomberg said.

"Ensuring the industry's long-term success and promoting Fashion Week -- the industry's greatest showcase -- is more important than ever as we work to retain and create jobs during these difficult times and diversify the city's economy."

Date created : 2009-02-14