There is an old maxim that when women start lowering their hemlines, it signals an economic downturn. But this fall, retailers are hoping that a new fashion trend towards longer skirts will give the economy—or at least their own balance sheets—new strength. At Holt Renfrew & Co. Ltd., Canada’s ultrafashionable and expensive department-store chain, many store mannequins last week displayed skirts with hemlines that had plunged to mid-calf, from mid-thigh just a few months ago. “We have had a phenomenal reaction to the long skirts,” said Barbara Atkin, the company’s Toronto-based fashion director. “It looks like our customers like them.”
But many women say that they are dismayed at the sudden attempt by designers and retailers to tug their skirts down. “They just talked me into short skirts,” said Jane Lesslie, a Bay Street banker who is considering her fall work wardrobe options.
“Now they want me outl”
Canada’s fashion industry needs an infusion of cash. Along with the rest of the nation’s retail sector, it has been battered by the worst recession since the 1930s, the introduction of the GST in 1991, a crossborder shopping craze, and even by Canada’s recent mild winters, and the summer’s inclement weather.
Long skirts—if women decide to buy them—would provide help for retailers, because the new long look features not only plunging hemlines, but a return to high heels, new colorco-ordinated stockings and longer winter coats. Vancouver-based marketing consultant Ann Coombs said that the designers’ and retailers’ decision to drop hemlines represented “a conscious effort to create new interest.” But Coombs added that
the profit-motivated strategy would -
succeed only if designers create styles that women really like. “The consumer today is not going to be dictated to by a fashion design team,” she said.
Uncertainty over how women will greet the drastic change is forcing retailers to be extraordinarily cautious about introducing the new fashions. As a result, designers are offer-
ing some suits with as many as four different options: short skirts, long skirts, shorts and pants. And many stores are carrying the full line on their racks.
Members of the entire fashion industry, from designers to magazine editors, are hedging their bets on the new look by suggesting that women buy one long skirt just to try it.
Shelley Black, editor of Flare magazine, which like Maclean 'sis published by Maclean Hunter Ltd., said that “fashion is about choice these days.” Flare has featured some of the new long skirts in its fashion layouts, but Black noted in an August editorial that she remains “committed to above-the-knee” for her own skirts. Said Black of the longer skirts: “They look great on tall women, but I am not that tall, and they just don’t look right on me.”
Deborah Russell, a shopper browsing through a rack of skirts in Fairweather, a highfashion, moderately priced women’s-wear store in downtown Toronto, said that she does not favor the new long lengths. Russell, at five feet, three inches, is almost a foot shorter than many of the models featured in the fashion layouts. “I will not be buying one,” she said. “I don’t need to look four-footthree.”
Serge Senécal, who rims the Montreal fashion boutique Serge and Réal, says that although 80 per cent of the skirts he sold in August were short, he expects that the longer skirts will become more popular in the fall. “It is marvellous,” he said. “They are done in a sexy way.” Fashion, almost by definition, requires change. Said Black: “Skirts had gotten so short that there was nowhere to go but down.” After more than a decade on the fashion fringes, short skirts began reappearing for day wear in 1987. By the fall of 1990, Karl Lagerfeld, the influential designer at the French fashion house of Chanel, had shortened skirts to the point of maximum abbreviation and, in some cases, had replaced them entirely with formfitting bodysuits. This spring, Lagerfeld surprised the fashion industry by dropping most of his hemlines, g But just as suddenly, in the 2 summer, said Senécal, “he I showed everything short.” s With abrupt shifts like that 5 coming from influential designers, some experts say that shoppers may become confused, and reluctant to buy. Some women may have another good reason for not buying the new look: the long skirts from the 1980s—when women did not show their knees at the office— still hanging in their closets. Just the same, retailers will do their utmost to convince women that knees are out—and covered—for fall.
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