Downturn Designers

by Sara Clemence on July 27, 2009 in Culture

wrapdress-1501This economic rough patch has not been kind to clothing. It’s become the norm for retailers to offer 70 percent off. Fashion brands from Christian Lacroix to Hartmarx to Kira Plastinina have filed for bankruptcy. (Though it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that a line by a 16-year-old Russian heiress would last less than a year.) Haute couture houses are struggling to survive.

Yet in last week’s New York Times, designer Diane von Furstenberg, who also heads the Council of Fashion Designers of America, advised “confidence.”

“Everyone else is insecure,” she said. “If you start to take a little bit of everyone else’s insecurity—forget it.” (And btw, you were all spending too much during the boom.)

Sure, DVF has an uber-successful fashion company and a billionaire husband. But does she also have a point? Von Furstenberg debuted her namesake brand in 1973, smack in the middle of a major recession. In fact, some of the most popular and respected designers and innovative materials have emerged in downturns—just further evidence that creativity can flourish in recession, and success can take root in hard times…

zipcar-new-york-mini-150Mom always told you to share. But it turns out her advice might not always be best—at least, not when it comes to saving money during a recession.

According to the Washington Post, companies with a business model based around the concept of sharing are faring well lately, with car services like ZipCar seeing a 70 percent bump in membership since last year and the book-swapping website BookMooch increasing its membership roster by 30 percent.

While sharing sure sounds recession-friendly, we couldn’t help but wonder if it works out as well for the people doing the sharing as it does for the companies themselves. To find out, we’ve did the math on some of the most popular sharing-based businesses.

For a monthly membership fee of $5 to $15, sites like Bag Borrow or Steal and From Bags to Riches let users rent handbags for months at a time. But membership fees aren’t all users have to pay, since actually renting the designer purse can cost an additional $20 to $200 (or more!) per month…

forever-21-blue-chiffon-dress-200I wouldn’t mind being 21 again, to see what it’s like through wiser eyes and maybe correct some of my youthful screwups. But I don’t think I could take it for more than a few days. On the other hand, I could spend a week in Forever 21.

During the boom, when some fashionable friends started pushing the teen store as a source of cheap, trendy duds, I popped my head into New York’s Union Square location. It was loud and so packed with adolescents I didn’t even check out the merchandise. “I like to shop with grownups,” I said.

But when the recession rolled my clothing budget back to where it was when I was 16, I took another look at Forever 21—and discovered its discount charms. The shop is a great source of sexy summer dresses, shorts and accessories…

Woman with Shopping BagsThe economy may be looking up as of late, but that’s not necessarily good news for everyone. Or for shoppers, at least. That’s because many of the “recession discounts” and super sales that have been going on at stores across the country will most likely become a thing of the past once stocks go up and consumers return to their usual ways.

So what goods and services should you start buying now before the bargains dry up? Forbes has a rundown:

Real Estate: The combination of falling interest rates, discounted foreclosure properties, government incentives, and bottoming home prices is making this a great time to buy. Not that this news is especially shocking to you, we’re assuming …


As if getting in shape for summer weren’t enough pressure—now you have to figure out how do you pull together warm-weather looks that are fashionable, flattering, and affordable. If last year’s bikini is too stretched out or your swim trunks are faded beyond recognition, consider these 10 resources for finding a perfect beach wardrobe while still staying financially afloat.

Old Navy: The ultimate resource for beach items that are fresh, bright and, most of all, cheap. Their men’s swim trunks in solids and prints are only $15. Mix and match separates and one-piece swimsuits for women are all under $20; kids’ swimwear is a steal for less than $10 an item. And who can beat flip-flops for five bucks? Prefer doing laps in the pool to lounging the beach? This site has more athletic-style swimsuits…

hangers-150The dilemma: It’s spring, and you’re dying for the new look blossoming in fashion magazines and store windows—but you have very little money these days to buy anything.

This year, I had particular need for a wardrobe refresh. With my new book coming out (In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment and Motherhood), I was going to be touring the country giving readings. But since I work from home, my uniform generally consists of jeans, a T-shirt, and a comfortable pair of clogs. And like most people, my bank account is screaming extreme frugality much more than extreme luxury.

But transforming your look doesn’t have to mean spending an exorbitant amount—it just means getting creative. I called Samantha von Sperling, director of Polished Social Image Consultants in New York, for a little help. Von Sperling has produced style identities for celebrities, royalty, business executives and regular Joes…

mouse-and-money-150You don’t need to be on your toes anymore to score the best deals on the best clothes—you just need to be online. Over the past few years, some fabulous sites have sprung up that offer bargains that were once limited to sample sales in New York, discount codes, inexpensive basics, and even cash back on clothing purchases. These seven websites will get you in the know and have you saving like a fashion insider.

Gilt Groupe

My favorite online secret. Gilt Groupe offers daily sales on the best men’s and women’s designer merchandise at incredible savings—think Zac Posen, Alvin Valley, Jack Spade.

matthew_williamson-for-h-m-silk-dress-150With so many designers jumping on the “high-low” bandwagon, there are a lot more ways for the budget-conscious to get big names at small prices. (Thanks, Target, for starting the trend.) But it’s hard to keep track of who’s designing for who and what to get where. Here are the nine best designer collaborations this spring, a look at what you should get now, and a sneak preview of what’s to come.

Matthew Williamson
The most exciting collaboration this spring is by far Matthew Williamson for H&M. Available April 23 in select stores and May 14 in all locations, the offerings are truly inspiring—and not for the fashion-timid. His bright color palette, including electric blue and shocking pink, screams for attention. The silk fabrics and bold prints will having you running back for more. Price points are a bit high for H&M, but still manageable. Silk short-shorts come in at around $50 and the best silk party dress retails for $129…

begging-dog-250“Hey—I got to hop, I got some friend of a friend I have to talk to. I’ll lose him in 10 to 15 minutes.”

Ummm, I am waiting right outside your office. I can hear you.

So that’s how I met Kevin, a friend of a family friend who runs a $2.5 billion hedge fund. When I actually met him I was greeted with a terse, “How can I help you?” No pleasantries with Kevin—after all, our informational conversation was going to last 15 minutes tops and he was doing me a favor. But I was determined to stretch it to 20. Ha. That’d show him.

I have been to too many meetings in my professional career to count, and along the way I learned that every single face-to-face is an opportunity to establish your standing in the power structure…

haircut and scissors 150Clothes go on sale, cars go on sale, even food goes on sale. But when was the last time your hairstylist offered you a discount?

Well, maybe now. As a way to serve their communities (and, of course, bring in business) salons around the country are offering recession specials. In Los Angeles, some are offering donation-only services, or complimentary bang trims for current customers. In New York, a few deals are specifically targeted at people who have lost their jobs. Here are a few high-end spots trimming prices: