U.S. shoppers bold with fashion during downturn

Tue Sep 15, 2009 12:34pm EDT
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By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. recession may have made consumers cautious about spending, but they are not playing it safe when it comes to fashion, say buyers for top department stores.

Retail fashion directors told Reuters that as the spring and summer collections for 2010 are unveiled at fashion shows in New York this week, they are watching for bright colors, "wow" pieces and versatile styles to satisfy their customers.

"One of the overall trends that we're seeing is that the customers are not looking for wardrobe basics," said Colleen Sherin, fashion market director for Saks Fifth Avenue. "They are working with what they already have in their closet and they're supplementing with special pieces.

"That's what we're having success with and looking to go after as we go through the spring market," she said, adding that consumers want versatility, such as a blouse that could be worn in the day with a jacket and accessorized for the night.

Consumer confidence has plunged in the past year as the United States suffers its worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Sales at U.S. retailers have fallen every month for a year.

"(Consumers) are purchasing with more thought," said Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director at Barneys New York. "If something is expensive, it better look and feel the price, more than just having a 'label.'"

"We are all looking at things with fresh new eyes," Gilhart said, adding that at New York Fashion Week she was seeking clothes with "emotional depth, pieces that can make a customer look twice."