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U.S. Designers Beat Europeans to Fall Runways

September 15, 1998|ANNE BRATSKEIR | SPECIAL TO NEWSDAY

If the early bird really does catch the worm, then a flock of New York designers who abandoned their scheduled Oct. 30-Nov. 6 spring presentations to show this week has the best chance of hooking the budgets of retailers, the praise of the press and ultimately the pocketbooks of consumers.

Helmut Lang, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Nicole Miller and Vivienne Tam are leading this preemptive strike on the European shows, which start later this month.

The move, which breaks a 30-year tradition of American collections being presented after a frenzied month of shows in London, Milan and Paris, is aimed at getting retailers to order earlier, before they commit a significant portion of their budgets to the European designers. A less tangible but equally powerful benefit may be a worldwide attitude adjustment about American designers, who have sometimes been regarded as followers rather than leaders because their shows come on the heels of the Europeans.

Ironically, it was the Austrian-born Lang, who recently moved his operation to New York, who first announced his decision to show earlier. Others quickly followed.

"It was truly, truly a business decision," said Patty Cohen, a spokeswoman for Donna Karan, who says the designer has considered showing early for a long time. In the past, she said, "by the time we were showing at collection, we had already sold the line."

Even designers who couldn't get it together fast enough to advance their shows applaud the idea. Oscar de la Renta, who is sticking to his original date, said, "I think it's a pity that there are very few designers doing it in September. It would have been so impactful to have the whole industry doing it at the same time."

According to 7th on Sixth, the production arm of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, most designers supported an earlier season but "couldn't be ready," said Fern Mallis, executive director.

"In the end everything is going to work out fine," she says, claiming to still have a strong schedule for the original show week. However, the fashion council said it will move the fall '99 shows from late March to February.

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