Slow economy, demanding consumers force designers away from outrageousness and toward reality

BACK TO BASICS

November 28, 1991|By Loretta Grantham | Loretta Grantham,Cox News Service

New York -- Dogged by a lame economy and frugal shoppers, designers are creating wearable clothes to lure real women onto Seventh Avenue.

Outrageous styles are still runway staples (the show must go on), but spring '92 collections are largely conservative. Hemlines are lower, for example, and silhouettes are looser.

"I think there is a definite trend toward conservatism because of what is taking place on the world stage," said Lynn Manulis, president of Martha and Martha International.

"All of our priorities are changing accordingly," she said. "The buyers have become more serious in their choices."

Robert Rosenthal, fashion director for Macy's South/Bullocks stores, agreed.

"The collections were very wearable, and the consumer could relate to them," he said. "I think [designers] realize the customer is being more selective, and they have to be attuned to that."

And designers took note. Even Bob Mackie created styles that didn't require a body like Cher's. ("You know times are tough when Bob Mackie makes clothes that are normal," a photographer remarked after the Nov. 7. show).

Stores such as Sears -- which prides itself on offering classic outfits at affordable prices -- watch runways with interest. Then, looks are reinterpreted by less-pricey manufacturers.

But Lee Hogan Cass, Sears national fashion merchandise director, says styles are conservative enough as is.

"Are there still some crazy designs out there? Yes," Lee Hogan Cass said, "but there are many more things that -- if you could afford them -- you would wear right off the runway."

Indeed. Hemlines may be dropping, but prices aren't.

Shoppers, therefore, are demanding that clothes be worth the money.

Consider the pantsuit, which is a top spring trend. "The customer can wear it on a plane, to a morning meeting, to a parent-teacher conference," Ms. Manulis said.

Or the coatdress.

"We're definitely going to see more," she said. "They're going to be worn with a little slash to give a sense of leg. But they'd be appropriate in a room full of CEOs. Then, you could take the same dress and give it a more jaunty appearance for evening with a wonderful accessory."

"There's been a 180-degree turn in fashion," Ms. Manulis said. "Designers are feeling it. They're being nudged, they're being forced, they're being pushed. They feel what's happening in the street. That's really the creative melting pot."

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