Feb 10, 2009
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Designers tighten belts for NY Fashion Week

Feb 10, 2009

NEW YORK, Feb 10, 2009 (AFP) - Whatever color dominates wardrobes this year, the mood will be dark when Fashion Week kicks off in New York this Friday.

Marc Jacobs collection spring-summer 2009

Almost all invitations to catwalk shows are being sent out in black envelopes, symbolic of the serious downturn hitting one of the world's most extravagant industries.

Top designer Marc Jacobs is inviting only a third as many people to his show, while Betsey Johnson and other stars are exchanging their usual costly displays at Fashion Week for private presentations.

Fashion's belt tightening follows a relentless slew of shop and chain closures, whether luxury or mass retail, as consumers desert the high street and the economy continues its downward spiral.

Even good news usually comes sandwiched in bad.

Just after Fortunoff jewelers closed, Estee Lauder laid off 2,000 people and Macy's sacked 7,000, French luxury group LVMH announced a three percent rise in fourth-quarter sales and plans to open 25 new stores in 2009.

That kind of performance was rare in 2008, but did not mean LVMH was in the clear. Its Christian Dior parent group had a difficult year while LVMH profits were flat.

Giorgio Armani bucked the deep gloom by opening a four storey flagship store on New York's 5th Avenue, a so-called "concept store" that will house luxury collections and the trophy Armani Jeans.

Armani said the project sends "a clear message of change," while "requiring a degree of courage."

While big-time consumption is out of fashion, more than 70 designers will be at Fashion Week, just under last year's 80.

These will include the usual stars such as Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg and Calvin Klein, as well as newcomers like Georges Chakra.

However, some designers, like Mara Hoffman, Sergio Davila and Nicholas K, are cutting costs by holding joint shows. Others are showing 25 to 30 outfits, compared to the 30-40 in other years.

Marc Jacobs is never on the official list, preferring to hold his own show in the Armory building in southern Manhattan. But if he usually invites 2,000 guests, this time only 700 will get in -- a recipe for panic among fashionistas desperate to score the week's hottest tickets.

Fashion and New York certainly aren't planning to go down without a fight.

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 in Lincoln Center -- 25 percent bigger than the current home in Bryant Park, 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."by Paola Messana

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