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Free Speech: Hadley Freeman On Bad News and The Glimmer Of Hope In Brown Bags

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No one likes to start the new year on a downer, and yes, there are many things to be cheerful about. Well, there’s Obama, anyway. And a new Michael Cera movie coming up. In regards to everything else, though, it’s all pretty much in the “to hell in a handbasket” category. The state of the fashion industry has, unusually, been an interesting bellwether for how the crisis in the world’s economy is affecting the man on the street. With gloriously ironic timing, news of the looming collapse began to emerge during fashion weeks in September and October. Front pages of newspapers portending mass poverty were being read in the front rows of Chanel, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton. As juxtapositions go, it was pretty striking. Yet the fashion industry carried on, merely lowering their Herald Tribunes and watching the parade of $3,000 dresses stomping down the runway. This wouldn’t affect us, went the industry thinking. Sure, the mid-market might feel the pain, but the upper echelons will be protected because now more than ever fashion buyers will make the effort to buy pieces that will truly last: the bona fide, special investment pieces. And then came—dum dum dum—December. News broke over Christmas that Chanel—an investment label if there ever was one—was letting go of 200 staffers. It also announced the premature end of the line for the touring Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion. Meanwhile, various labels, including Temperley London and Vera Wang, have announced that they are making the cost-cutting steps for for the next round of fashion weeks, and many more have simply canceled their menswear shows altogether. The fashion industry was relying on the comfortable assumption that somehow the super rich would be protected, but this theory has already been crushed by the thumping foot of Bernie Madoff and his ever-growing list of monied victims. Moreover, the fashion industry provides a huge number of jobs, whether it be for people who work in the stores or seamstresses. It’s not all about celebrities and expensive gowns. Times are a-changing. Already some high-end retailers, in a display of canniness matched only by taste, now offer plain paper bags instead of the usual logoed ones when their few remaining customers buy something. After all, people will always need clothes for the more heartening human truth that people who love fashion will always want to spoil themselves from time to time. They’ll just be carrying them home from the shop in brown paper bags for the foreseeable future.

 

 

Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for CHANEL

 

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