February 20, 2009 / 12:44 PM / 9 years ago

Creativity is key to weather recession in fashion

<p>British designer Paul Smith speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in central London February 17, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Winning</p>

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Sticking to what you do well is the best way to make it through a recession, say two British designers who have steered their businesses through previous economic storms and survived.

Betty Jackson, who launched her first collection in the middle of a recession in 1981, and Paul Smith who opened his first London shop in 1979 as a downturn took hold, are now two of Britain’s most well-established designers.

“In times like this you have to focus on what you do well and do it better and really try and not be too much affected by it,” Jackson told Reuters, dressed in black and seated before a large window in her London office.

Jackson, who was last year asked to design a new robe for civil judges in England and Wales, said she was able to weather Britain’s early 80s recession because 75 percent of her business was abroad, including in the United States.

“Of course you have to respond to it but you also have to concentrate on what you do and actually deliver what you do better,” she said.

She said her Betty Jackson Two diffusion range, launched in 2004, was getting a “great response” and that women were opting more for accessories as a way to keep buying brands they loved at a time when money was tight.

Jackson also said she expected 2009 would be difficult, particularly for those without solid finances who would struggle to get credit, but she remained positive about the outlook for fashion industry.

“We’re in a credit crunch not a creative crunch, so I think in fact what everybody’s going to do is work harder and that will be quite exciting,” she said.

STICK TO YOUR GUNS

For London Fashion Week, which runs from February 20-24, designers told Reuters they were adapting to the global downturn, with some opting for presentations instead of catwalk shows, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

Design duo Aminaka Wilmont said their decision to opt for a presentation was in response to the credit crunch, though it was not a cost-cutting measure.

“We want to create a more intimate and personal connection with our customers and clients, a return to a couturier style,” they said.

Maria Grachvogel, known for her carefully tailored jackets and trousers, said she too had chosen to do a presentation as a smaller audience allowed her to build better relationships with buyers and get instant feedback.

Smith, who sells his wares in 74 countries, said sticking to classics rather than trying to be attention grabbing was key to retaining sales.

“It’s very important to get the balance right between the commerciality of a collection of clothes and the clothes that are going to look good in magazines and newspapers,” he said.

Like Aminaka Wilmont, Smith said he was focusing on making more couture-like pieces. He said sales in his retail stores rose 1 percent in January.

“If you haven’t got so much money to spend, then buying things that are slightly more timeless is more important,” said Smith, who calls his designs ‘classic with a twist’.

Whether they opted for or against a catwalk show, Smith said designers were ill advised to lower their prices in response to customers’ waning disposable income.

“People who suddenly think you should go lower in price or be more commercial, in my opinion that’s the wrong way,” he said.

Smith, whose company is privately owned and has never borrowed money, said his new collection combines his love of vintage with his love of color, with some “ethnic” touches. “Don’t really compromise, don’t really react to much in terms of creativity or price to the recession,” said Smith. “Stick to your guns.”

Additional reporting by Cindy Martin; Editing by Paul Casciato

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