You see them everywhere now, harbingers of Fashion Week. Clutching a black portfolio, she was doing go-sees with another model: nine appointments that day. She gave her name as Anniek.
“Are you Dutch?” I asked.
She laughed. “We all are.”
That morning, I had called or e-mailed a number of designers: Narciso Rodriguez, Prabal Gurung, Joseph Altuzarra. Around 12:30 p.m., I dropped in to see Ralph Rucci, whose sewing loft overlooks Broadway near Spring Street. There was activity at every machine and cutting table. At 1 p.m. I went around the corner to the Crosby Street Hotel for a long-planned lunch with Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. They had spent the morning fitting jeans because they plan to bring out their first denim line, in December or January. That was exciting news. In July, Mr. Hernandez and Mr. McCollough closed a deal with Andrew Rosen, a founder of Theory, and the investor John Howard that promises to significantly expand the Proenza label. Don’t expect either Mr. Howard or Mr. Rosen to dilly-dally. But with the Proenza spring show less than two weeks away, the designers were faced with a fairly daunting reality. It is one nearly every designer shares this season.
“What’s different than a year ago?” I asked the boys.
“Besides natural disasters?” Mr. Hernandez said.
Hurricane Irene certainly caused disruptions. Mr. Rodriguez said that his studio lost about a day and a half of sewing time. But a far greater problem is the shortage of materials, including leather (reported Mr. Altuzarra). Mr. Rodriguez, who gets most of his fabrics from Italy, said, “The mills that are left there are dependent on only a handful of dyers and finishers.” And that’s causing delays in his fabric deliveries. At the same time, the price of raw materials has risen sharply in the last year. Mr. Rodriguez said that a meter of silk that cost, say, $25 a year ago is now roughly $35. And instead of offering wools blended with silk or cashmere, mills are often substituting viscose. Mr. Altuzarra said some of the Italian and English mills he works with were unable to produce fabrics he wanted because yarns were unavailable.
All this, as Mr. Gurung noted in an e-mail, poses a challenge to achieve the target cost of a garment “that will make the retailer — and, in turn, the customer — happy.”
The last thing designers want to compromise on is the quality of fabrics, because it’s the first thing their customers touch. Mr. Rucci showed me a creamy white jacket (almost a bolero) that was quilted in swirls, with articulated sleeves. I then noticed on a wall the menu for dinner. Mr. Rucci always provides dinner for his staff in the days before his show.
The fact is, retailers are buying fewer runway pieces in favor of hefty preseason orders, which they want delivered earlier, and with favorable opening prices despite rising fabric costs. In some cases they’re also asking designers to put expensive garments on consignment in stores. Of course, for independent houses, without leverage, this further raises the stakes.
Back to the Crosby Hotel. Mr. McCollough said they were expecting more fabric to arrive next week, and that between Tuesday and Friday, some 40 sample garments would have to be made in time to begin runway looks. The designers planned to hire freelance seamstresses. Meanwhile, the other night, they sent an intern to Italy to pick up some fabric.
“She thought it was so glamorous to fly to Italy,” Mr. Hernandez said. But she wasn’t going to be leaving the airport. As soon as she landed, someone would hand her the package of fabric, and she would board a plane back to New York.
By CATHY HORYN
By CATHY HORYN