Two Fledgling Designers Beating the Downturn

Most people might consider launching a fashion line during a recession a daft idea. But, in fact, says Cathy Horyn, certain fledgling designers — in particular Givenchy alumnae Joseph Altuzarra and former Bill Blass employee Prabal Gurung — are proving that an economic downturn is nothing to be afraid of. In Gurung’s case, after honing his skills at the aforementioned now-defunct fashion house for five years, he put all his money into funding a namesake operation only to be told that “he should make clothes like Balmain.” Well, he didn’t and, fortunately, the fashion industry didn’t mind a bit. Soon after, “four stores bought the line, including Bloomingdale’s and DNA, a boutique in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, owned by Princess Deena Abdulaziz, whose advance payment helped Mr. Gurung pay some bills.”

In Altuzarra’s case, funding came from his father, but the theme of following the beat of his own drum is the same. And in just two seasons, it has paid off. “He picked up half a dozen new stores for fall, including Holt Renfrew and Colette in Paris, in addition to Barneys and Ikram in Chicago (the pipeline retailer to Michelle Obama).” So, what’s the secret? In larger part: being frugal. And knowing when to listen. For Altuzarra, that meant acknowledging that “buyers wanted to see more variety in his line. [And, the bizarre fact that] American women won’t wear dresses without a bra.” European women, on the other hand, don’t mind a lack of support beneath an Altuzarra dress. Perhaps that’s why the young designer counts Carine Roitfeld, the editor of French Vogue, as one of many fans.

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