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Economy Casts A Shadow On New York Fashion Week


Now let's look at an industry that's very much for profit - the fashion industry, which is showing off at New York City's fashion week. It's the start of a series of events that continues in London, Milan and Paris. Sally Singer, the editor of T, the New York Times style magazine, has been watching.

Ms. SALLY SINGER (Editor, T): We've seen trends that are not surprising. We could've seen them coming. The proliferation of sort of Yves St. Laurent references in the aftermath of the great show in Paris last year. And a lot of tunics and trousers and kind of minimal silhouettes. And a kind of narrow men's cut trouser with possibly a tunic as a top.

So a woman goes to work or goes out in the evening in just something that, you know, is slim, well-tailored and has a very spare line to it and is relatively embellishment free, i.e., no beading, no googa(ph), no little fur bits hanging off for no apparent reason.

INSKEEP: I think there's a whole practical industry looking at changes in fashion over time and what that says about trends in society or in the economy. Do you see anything that symbolizes larger trends to you?

Ms. SINGER: At the moment I would say from New York probably not. But if you ask me, you know, in a month after I've gone around the world, yeah, then - by then you start to see things. And the world is changing. In a month, God knows what the world's going to look like. It'll be really interesting.

On the day Mubarak resigned, all my friends are saying, should we dress differently? What are we going to do? This is exciting. We've got to mark this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SINGER: We all just sat there staring at our, you know, black ensemble, thinking we can't even begin. I think right now what you do see are designers trying to excite the public. Ten years ago, 15 years ago, designers thought a woman throws out her whole wardrobe at the beginning of the season and buys full looks. Overdone. No one has the money. You have to have a look, and you have to add to it with a special piece.

INSKEEP: You know, I loved that you mention Hosni Mubarak, the departed president of Egypt, because isn't the Arab world, the Middle East, one of the real growth areas for the fashion industry?

Ms. SINGER: It is, as is Asia. I mean, you know, there are few at the moment. There's Asia and there's the Middle East and Russia in a kind of - in a sort of shakier way. You know, areas like Dubai are very big shopping centers at the moment.

INSKEEP: But we're talking about Fashion Week in New York City, and then it moves on to Europe. Is fashion still dominated by America in Europe?

Ms. SINGER: Well, I think that the global consumer crowds in, and so you find that designers now design for all seasons, every season. So you'll see, you know, heavy coats in every collection, and you'll see, like, a swim suit in every collection - maybe not on the runway, but in the showroom, because they don't know where their customers and where they're wearing the clothes and where they're buying the clothes anymore.

INSKEEP: How does it influence what is designed?

Ms. SINGER: Well, I think if you are catering to certain parts of the world, you have to do longer lengths. And my God, you know, hemlines are going down. All the skirts are hovering mid-calf. That's new. You know, a long - there are a lot of long sleeves. Long sleeves used to be seen as a very expensive detail put in a dress. Now you're seeing more sleeves. I love that there are more sleeves, but that probably means that it's cultures where you need a sleeve that are dictating that, to a certain degree.

INSKEEP: Oh, wow. I...

Ms. SINGER: It's good, though. It's good. Sleeves are great.

INSKEEP: You're a sleeve fan, then.

Ms. SINGER: Everyone should be a sleeve fan. A long sleeve and a high neck on a dress, very, very hot.

INSKEEP: You mentioned that designers are expecting now that their customers are not going to buy a whole ensemble or a whole new wardrobe. They're going to buy a piece. Do they expect that that is going to be the pattern for quite some time to come, even as the economy improves?

Ms. SINGER: Well, the hope, then, is they'll buy a few pieces, you know? But, yes, I do think that they expect that the woman who wears their clothes also has in her closet a great pair of jeans that she's going to throw the jacket on with. Everyone now shops in this kind of high-low way and saves the best pieces from the seasons and brings them out again. And it's good. That's good. We love that, and I think designers even love that.

INSKEEP: Sally Singer is editor-in-chief of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Thanks very much.

Ms. SINGER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.