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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Designers cut back in downturn

Marketplace Staff Jun 11, 2009
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: On the theory that too much talk of stock research and Wall Street regulation is never a good thing, let’s detour here for a second into the world of fashion. It is a bit of a turn, I grant you that, but recession-related, I promise. We’ve got Kate Betts back to help me out with the economics of style. Kate, good to talk to you again.

Kate Betts: Nice to talk to you. Thank you for having me.

Ryssdal: Well, we have you actually because of purses. Apparently there was a discussion — not one that I was involved in — but there was a discussion around here about purses the other day. And how they are plainer these days, less fringe, less flash. Is that something that’s happening to design right now? Just less?

BETTS: And it’s not just purses either, by the way. It’s clothing too. I think people are reverting back to what’s classical and what is more enduring in terms of style, because they feel nervous about the economy, obviously. And also I think people are tired of these trends, and the idea that fashion changes so quickly, and it’s so instantaneous now. So I think they’re looking for something that is lasting, and not trendy, and doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles.

Ryssdal: And also something that you don’t have to necessarily replace next year when it goes out of style, right? So they’re buying these things that are going to last a couple of years.

BETTS: Exactly. When you look at some of the luxury companies, or the only luxury companies that are still doing relatively well, it’s companies like Hermes that are very traditional and very classical.

Ryssdal: Is it possible also that these fashion houses are looking to cut their own expenses so they’re designing things that are less expensive for them to produce?

BETTS: Yeah, that’s possible on some level. I think people are looking for ways to cut costs and that is certainly a way to do it. I think also it cuts the cost for the consumer, and I think a lot of people are producing lesser price points in the market so that they can attract the consumer.

Ryssdal: Think back in history with me for a little while here. Is there another parallel? I’m thinking of ’87 and the stock market crash then. I mean, did fashion respond in a similar way?

BETTS: Oh yeah, I mean fashion always responds. And that was a very dramatic response because when you think of ’87 that was the year that Christian Lacroix introduced the poof skirt, and things were getting really over the top.

Ryssdal: All right, wait, because when I think of 1987 that’s not what I think of. Christian who? And the what?

BETTS: Christian Lacroix, the French couturier, who actually just filed for Chapter 11, introduced the poof skirt. And all this very exaggerated, elaborate design was coming out of Paris. And that was kinda the look. You know, huge shoulders, bright jewel-toned colors, lots of embroidery, very garish almost. And then the stock market crashed, and you saw the paring down once again, and all of sudden we had minimalism, and we had designers like Jill Sander and Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang. And everything was very pure, and black, and white, and gray. And people were wearing very simple kind of pants suits. And that was a very, very exaggerated difference from what came in 1987.

Ryssdal: Well, and arguably, I mean this whole event that we’re having now economically is bigger than what happened in ’87. Are we going to go back to blacks and grays and plain and very straight lines and all that?

BETTS: It’s not going to black and white and gray because actually the consumer has really adopted color and become very comfortable wearing color. So I would say we’re going to see things that are classical but maybe special in the way that they are, in their color way, or in the pattern, or the way that it’s fabricated. But I think we are going to see an increasing paring back of the silhouette and more tailoring. And probably fewer looks. You know, I think designers will make their collections smaller and make the offerings smaller, so they don’t have to produce as many clothes.

Ryssdal: Kate Betts. She’s the editor-in-chief of Time Style and Design. Kate, thanks a bunch.

BETTS: Thank You.

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