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FINANCE MEETS FASHION: Prada struts its stuff on the runway.


Recession Proof

By Joseph Rosenfeld

A YEAR AGO, fashion designers in Milan, Paris and New York all must have been advised by the same crystal ball that foretold tough economic times. The collections, presented in February and early March, are right on target for the state of our world, showing great insight into the psyche and savvy of many a designer's mind, as well as our very own.

Ultimately, the fashions fall into two factions. Most designers put forth practical designs, while a minority of others opted for opulence for their recession-proof clientele.

The first fashion shows took place in New York, a city as fitting for a financial meltdown as it is for fashion materialism. Three collections stand out as examples of the New York state of mind. At Ralph Lauren, urban urgings gave way to exurban escapism. Who saw the gritty economic graffiti on the proverbial brick wall when Ralph created these get-out-of-town looks? Inspired by his own Colorado ranch, he deftly drew upon plaids and paillettes to merge the "Rocky Mountain High" and high-rise city attitudes. In stark, recession-proof contrast, Oscar de la Renta was showing rich, opulent, fur-trimmed cashmeres and complementing wools, including a fitted pleated skirt, a mainstay for this season. The first-rate clothing, worthy of First Ladies, carries a price tag worthy of a bailout. BCBG Max Azria shows signs of what's to come from Europe: fresh, flirty and feminine looks awash in neutral tones. Body consciousness is inconspicuously introduced, save for belts and slightly skimming silhouettes.

Across the Atlantic, the Milanese designers channeled inspiration from the 1970s and the 1990s to create very different looks to get us through tough times. At Prada, a lace remnant was the foundation for an entirely feminine cache of clothes. The dark neutral palette was punctuated by pale blue and metallic. Lace was layered to offer transparency through a garment while covering up the body's shape, creating a harmonious contradiction. The look is feminine, yet not overtly sexy, and reminiscent of the austere times of the early 1990s. Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana took to the London streets of the 1970s. Gucci resurrected and glammed up its London rock chick with Russian tapestry textiles, chains, fringe and charmlike baubles worthy of a ruble-rich Russian rock star. Dolce & Gabbana gave their girls touches of town tailoring tinged with country-chic checks and texture. The resulting looks ranged from boyish bohemian to rustic romanticism, perfect for '70s London or today's toned-down times.

The Paris shows continue to prove it's a place of inspiration, if not outright optimism. At Dior, John Galliano set the tone with cheery bright color, in uncharacteristically understated get-ups that seem to channel Jackie Kennedy. Galliano's girls showed his theatrical side with temperamentally heavy eye makeup. But the abundance of paillettes and embroidery make it a party-ready collection. Over at Louis Vuitton, American designer Marc Jacobs made girl dresses for grown-ups. The collection was sober yet sophisticated, echoing the elegance of a sculptural silhouette and a perfectly fitting full skirt with a waistband fit to a T. Even luxe Lanvin took a practical approach. Albert Elbaz showed restraint in a tight color palette of black, navy and metallics. His nifty use of grosgrain ribbon as a fabric simultaneously showed restraint and opulence, and huge jewelry helped to hammer home a bit of escapism, making us forget about everyday reality.

Especially entertaining during difficult days, the fantasy that is fashion can keep us rooted in reality and enable us to escape. So while we may be tempted to tighten our belts when it comes to buying fashions, it still pays to find some femininity this season and wear it for all it's worth.

 Joseph Rosenfeld is Silicon Valley's image and style go-to guy. He consults 1:1 and speaks to groups. Visit for information.

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