by Sebastian Smith

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the winter of despair,” is perhaps the most famous line penned by Charles Dickens. However, if Charles Dickens were alive today I suspect that he would have written something more like "It was the worst of times, and I can't afford the new ‘it bag’”.


This leads me to ask: how have designer trends changed with the frugal attitude of the masses, and how would the modern day scarf and ascot wearing Mr. Dickens cope with the current economic - add your favorite expletive - storm? It seems that whether you are a small independent designer or an international design house, game plans have been formulated to counteract the current decline in sales in hopes to stay afloat until buying trends make an upswing.  Everyone has the general attitude that this won't last forever.  But when asked how long will these crises last, no matter whom you speak with, no one has the answer.

So what are designers doing to make their products accessible to clients in these economic circumstances?  They range from simple decisions, such as using rich textures and prints instead of embellishments in their designs, to major overhauls like moving their factories overseas to drop the price of overhead. Independent designers say their game plan has changed drastically to meet the public's needs.  Anthony Maxwell, a milliner in NYC, says, "For most designers, a focus on sell ability and designing for today’s woman vs. over excessiveness is a key strategy." Maxwell has seen the price of blocking rise to such a degree that he's had to start negotiating a deal to have all his hats blocked in China in order to drop the price to match current spending attitudes. According to Maxwell, "People are not motivated to walk into Bergdorf’s and drop $400 on something that they can get on E Street for $10, so I have to produce hats that are trendy and functional with a twist, at a good price. Producing my collection abroad was the only answer to keeping the quality I expect, and at the same time keeping the price low."  Keep in mind; this struggle to survive also creates a catch-22 of sorts.  Designers like Maxwell are forced to start looking overseas in order to keep clients, but this only makes it more difficult to improve the economy here at home.

So how are the fashion-forward coping with the current economy?  In speaking with friends, the answers were insightful.  There is a range of things that one can do. Instead of buying willy-nilly, one has to be concerned with where the money is spent.  Finding that one essential piece per season that is a " classic element of style," is a good way to keep up appearances, says one fashion-conscience friend. Classic pieces will always be fresh.  Chanel from thirty years ago will still be in style today.  Other solutions have been equally as refreshing, such as sprucing up an old outfit with cute accessories; “scarves, scarves, scarves,” says another friend.  Out of all the recommendations I received, I must say that my favorite is: “Rent a bag!”  At www.bagborroworsteal.com, you can rent the current “it bag,” jewelry or sunglasses.  All the seasons’ hottest and trendiest accessories are at your fingertips.  It's lux for the fashionista  -without breaking the bank.

It's always easy to feel dejected about one's personal finances, but keeping in mind that we have weathered harsher storms, it's refreshing to know that consumers seem to find creative ways to keep the boat afloat.  It's also a beautiful thing to see that designers are keeping our needs in mind too...perhaps even taking a page out of Dickens book when he said, "It is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time."