Tuesday, July 28, 2009

DVF Goes to ‘Town’ (Hall, that is)


Yesterday morning, CFDA President Diane Von Furstenberg presided over a Town Hall Meeting held at FIT’s Katie Murphy Auditorium. It was part ‘cheering section’ and part, ‘fashion call to arms’ (Who can forget that now famous mantra, “Can’t we all get along?”) With a large screen emblazoned with the words, “New York Fashion Week- Looking Forward” serving as a backdrop behind both Diane and the organization’s Executive Director Steven Kolb, (who stood together on the stage), it was obvious what the topic du jour would be (not that there was any question about that at all).

This event came about not only as a way for DVF to start an important dialogue and make things happen, but to help the designing woman effectively “process all the thoughts” that have come into her head beginning last October, when “things went really bad”, prompting calls to retailers in a frenzied attempt to find out what was going on and to see “what we could all do”.

“I always try to look for the light at the end of the tunnel” she said. “Last October, things went really bad. Everybody went too far. Everyone was too greedy and thought the party was forever. All of a sudden, it was too much of everything. Everything went too far”. (Among her remedies?: “Reduce offerings and create the demand. A better product at a better price equals more value.”)

Among those influential fashion heavy hitters in attendance (editors, designers, retailers, publicists, etc.) were WWD’s Executive Editor Bridget Foley, Donna Karan, Fern Mallis, Stan Herman, Neiman’s Roopal Patel, KCD’s Ed Filipowski and Julie Mannion, the designing duo behind Proenza Schouler, Betsey Johnson, Marylou Luther, Dennis Basso, Conde Nast’s Jonathan Newhouse, Vogue’s Sally Singer, Candy Pratts Price, Andre Leon Talley, Virginia Smith, and last but not least, Anna Wintour, (whose conceptualization of “Fashion’s Night Out”, www.fashionsnightout.com, a CFDA sponsored, global shopping event which will kick off New York Fashion Week on September 10th, received kudos from all).

After her quick greetings and open remarks, the ‘Type A’ personality multi-tasker got right down to the sobering business at hand. She admitted having been up since “3:30 this morning”, and wasted no time in highlighting the pressing issues that have been tantamount to her and everyone else in attendance. The dialogue and discussions to follow would center on the concept of ‘trade vs. consumer’, the never ending seasons, the issue of markdowns and discounting, the relevance of fashion shows (who are they for and are they necessary?), and how to make New York Fashion Week the best in the world.

Since the session was only an hour and a half, Steven Kolb diplomatically asked those who would be called upon to make their feeling known, to keep their words as brief as possible. He also promised an email address to go to, fashionweek@cfda.com, for those who wanted to make their thoughts, comments, and suggestions, known.

These are some of the highlights of the session:

DVF: When you’re in the midst of a Tsunami, you can’t change everything all at once.”

“There has to be a balance. We live in a world of immediacy. Sell a little bit of ‘wear now’ and a little bit of fall. We should ship less but more often.”

“The issue is trade versus consumer.”

“Retailers are not the end. Nor is the press. They are all a part of the distribution. We all have to support each other so we can survive. It’s important that we’re all together. We’re not enemies; we’re friends.”

“I want to make New York Fashion Week the best fashion week in the world. Part trade, part consumer. We can’t fix everything all at once and we need each other and shows are relevant. We will work together and work with the city. We all have to vote for Bloomberg. ‘Fashion Night Out’ will begin this. There should be a Fashion Week that is trade, and a Fashion Week that says, “SHOP”! We have to drum up excitement and create momentum. Lincoln Center promises a dynamic Fashion Week. We should look at the positive and build on the positive.”

Donna Karan: “The final answer is the consumer. She is now completely confused. It’s no wonder she’s saying “enough”. We have to focus on the problem and find a solution. The clothes in the stores are not the clothes that are in season. We have all these pre season seasons.”

Ed Filipowski: “Having 4 or 5 seasons a year makes it very confusing.”
“The media landscape has changed and pr people have to adapt at the changing times.”

Sara Easley (co-owner, Kirna Zabete): “It’s all about the economics of supply and demand. There’s been too much supply and not enough demand. Also, designers have to edit their collections better.”

Betsey Johnson: “I’d love a show at Madison Square Garden. I’m lucky because I have a retail operation. What I’m seeing is more spending on incredibly unique things that are as seasonless as possible, and where prices are down.”

Stan Herman: “I think the shows are relevant; they are what put us on the map!”

Sally Singer: “The big problem is the incredible overproduction and overstocking. Produce a little less and the consumer will feel more confident about the value she’s getting.”

Fern Mallis: “This discussion is absolutely relevant and important. The shows began as a press vehicle and they succeeded well past our wildest expectations. It wasn’t fashion’s fault people stopped shopping. It was Wall Street’s fault. Nobody in this room probably needs one new anything but that’s not the point. It’s the job of the designer to create dreams and items that become desirous by the consumer.”

Anna Wintour: “There is a deep psychological block on the part of the consumer NOT to buy, but we all need your help for “Fashion’s Night Out”

“Could someone lead a committee that regulates discounting and makes rules about discounting? I know that’s a tall order but can’t there be an agreement about everybody discounting at the same time?”

--Marilyn Kirschner

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