Last July I logged a post -"Whither The Young Designer" - subsequent to a dinner I had with a friend who owned and managed a pretty powerful retail spot in downtown Manhattan. The upshot of her projections? A lot of designers, especially the "young and emerging" contingent were headed for serious trouble and would be off the runway soon. Our lady of prescient hiss thought the bloodbath would be in September. She was wrong. It came in December, a retail debacle like I have never seen in my life.
My lady was furious with me after that post blew the hell up ( via a pick-up by NY Mag's The Cut) . She felt I took lunches and dinners with a tape recorder rolling. For months I kept assuring her that was just the nature of the beast that is my restless mind. It is only today at a New Year's day brunch that we made amends. Maybe because I was clobbered in gear I had scooped up at 70% off she warmed to my company like it were old times. After brunch we took a walk through Barney's which I have taken to haunting daily just to prove it wasn't all a strange dream. My lady wanted to see how her best adversary was doing . Well there we were on Jan 1 and it seems the deluge has subsided. Spring was in-store and it was seriously full price, like the Givenchy leather shorts clocking in at around 4K. The new Balenciaga, Lanvin, Rick Owens and Margiela were all hanging on their spare racks, judiciously curated and looking like fashion-clique war armor posturing in competing corners. And yes, prices were hovering up to that rather optimistic 4K figure. The merchandise, as was logical was super-safe , black/gray/navy coats...jumpers...sheer-T-s, basic but luxurious, tentative and inoffensive. Let's just say a lot of that fuschia lace from Givenchy Spring 09 was MIA on the Barney's racks and while the Margiela mannequin wore those instantly legendary sequined tights, said tights were not to be seen on the shelf. Maybe it's by special request?
Knowing I'd be chronicling, Our Lady was very self-censorious in her perspective on Barney's buying strategy but she did share an interesting point-of-view after our trek . " The problem we're all going to have in retail for the next six months," she sighed "Is that everybody is going to remember that they bought all these super-exclusive labels dirt cheap. Its going to take a long time for people to forget that. And people bought a lot of all the basic things they've always wanted. Everybody who ever wanted a Lanvin dress now has one. The only way I'm going to get the fashion victims back now is if I trick them. "
She didn't wait for my "how" before venturing, " Special pieces. Limited edition. Maybe only 5 of a certain thing. The whole Colette idea of pieces exclusive to the store. I'm going to focus on accessories and focus on shoes which now sound affordable next to bags. I'm going to start pushing very strong jewelry. I'm going to use the word avant-garde a lot because if you're really into fashion and your whole job depends on going out and drawing attention from your looks then you're going to be disgusted by the fact that everybody is wearing all the same things. Now is a terrible time to look bourgeoise. What does bourgeoise mean anymore? If I'm going to have fewer customers then I'm going to treat them like rock stars and dress them like rock stars. We're cutting it down to the hardcore true believers now. Specialness. "
I admired that commitment and it also inspired me. The credit lines might run out but creativity is infinite. I thought about my own personal reaction to the coiling clouds of doom and gloom. Money, it' s a fantastic thing but its also terrible when it becomes the only thing, the only index by which people measure their self worth. In fact let me be honest and say I've always been confused by that company that expected homage because they were monied. Money is necessary but it was never a virtue. And as fashion over the past three years started to be become completely a proposition of money, as mediocre designers started to put out lazy and perfunctory designs and heave that they were "luxurious", something got lost that I hope might come back now . That is the part of fashion that is about being a passionate, creative person pursuing excellence in craftsmanship and quality because that was what their soul drove them to do. That deserves to be bought. From Balenciaga to Rick Owens, Azzedine Alaia, Martin Margiela and Comme des Garcons, I still get a crackle, this transmission that even if the money dwindled to nothing, something beautiful and passionate, even if 1 look, 1 dress would still come out of those houses. And then somebody would buy it. That one perfectly wrought, painstakingly crafted visionary thing.