In the 40 years since modern ready-to-wear came into existence in Europe and America, and made household names of Ralph, Calvin and Donna, designers have enjoyed enormous respect and prosperity. However, in the past few years, they have lost some face with consumers. Their clothes became exotically pricey as they courted celebrities and did quick-and-dirty deals with makers of fast fashion.
This week the situation reached a nadir of sorts when the Paris house Emanuel Ungaro — once the pride and joy of the Upper East Side — announced that it had hired Lindsay Lohan as its artistic adviser.
Another impact of recession-driven designing is a retreat to more predictable styles, a repetition of the safe looks that sold well in previous seasons. The designer Elie Tahari, whose labels generate about $500 million in sales, is focusing on dresses, animal prints and leggings and slim pants worn with tunics.
“Fashion has to be new and wearable and there has to be a need to it,” he said. Mr. Tahari has cut prices by 30 percent and closed a handbag factory he had in Italy to move that production to China.
Even Oscar de la Renta, the very emblem of high-end New York design, known for $4,000 and $5,000 dresses and suits, plans to offer a $1,500 dress in his spring line to meet retailers’ demands.
And although he recently bought a local garment factory that had planned to close, to help maintain his label’s craft standards, he has also sought out less expensive suppliers in Asia and Eastern Europe.
In his Seventh Avenue studio, Mr. de la Renta pointed to a sleeveless black dress with two knitted, frilly panels. The panels, done in Romania and combined with an Italian wool, will help keep the price of the dress down to $2,500. And Mr. de la Renta likes a silk faille that he gets from a mill in South Korea. Aside from the price — it costs a third of what Italian faille does — he likes the look.