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PARIS Spring 2004

New York Fashion Wars

It is now no longer a matter of big names in the New York fashion world. The industry that once worshipped Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and the late Bill Blass has re-embraced that old stand-by--manufacturers. Power is more evenly divided these days. The Polo Ralph Lauren people can no longer push around their manufacturer Jones Apparel Group. Jones, instead of shutting up and taking it as manufacturers have done for decades when dealing with their big name designers, has decided to sue Polo with a $550 million breach-of-contract lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court and have abruptly halted production of the Lauren line. Well, well…things are shakin' on Seventh Avenue. Let we, The Customers, engage in a little self-examination.

When was the last time you just HAD to have a pair of Polo Jeans? Levi Strauss is just a bit cooler, right? What about Donna Karan in general? Kind of expensive? Ditto Ralph Lauren? I remember vividly buying my first pair of designer jeans, by Calvin Klein, in 1977. They cost more than 30 dollars, and I knew it was ridiculous. I had already bought little pieces, tops and skirts and such, from Halston's second line. It was obvious that we, the customers were in for a period of slavery to the designer. Americans were just not ready for the onslaught of Ralph Lauren. It is as if he single-handedly took us by surprise and insisted we needed to, no HAD TO look like some version of Brideshead Revisited or The Great Gatsby.

In spirit, I was a California Bohemian surfer girl. I loathed the music of James Taylor, chitchat about east coast boarding schools, and people who called their moms and dads "mummy and daddy". I had grown up going every weekend to Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco and saw (often several times) the Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Albert King, Janis Joplin, B.B King, Eric Clapton and just about every other illustrious rock or blues group. After school in the seventies, when I needed clothes for work, I went to Macy's San Francisco and bought good looking pieces from Jones New York and Evan Picone. Polo Ralph Lauren was the alien planet to me. He didn't even "discover" surfers, rock and roll or the blues until late in his career. But like everyone else who loved fashion, I ultimately succumbed to Polo's rich fantasy world and great styling.

Well, my friends, Jones New York has taken back its power. On page seven of the Sunday New York Times, September 28, 2003, Macy's ran a full page ad for Jones New York, showing a beautiful dark-haired model in the same elegant and reasonably priced clothes I once wore. A ruffled cardigan retails for $99 and a boucle checked pencil skirt for $89. This is a Godsend for working girls who want to look good. I salute Jones, and I will send young working girls I know to the stores that retail this great American line.

This reminds me of a true story of a young American designer who is just starting out. When he told his father he was going to pursue a career in fashion design, namely with his own label, his dad exclaimed, "Oh no! At least tell people you're a manufacturer!"