At Fashion Week, '80s Excess, '09 Woes

Shoulder pads and celebrities mask economic bleakness of NY's Fashion Week.

ByABC News
February 17, 2009, 5:42 PM

Feb. 18, 2009 — -- On the runways of New York's fashion week, the excess of a bygone age seems to reign.

Watching models strutting down the runway, celebrities "oohhing" and "ahhhing" in the front rows, and designers bustling backstage, it's easy to escape from the realities of all-time unemployment highs and a multibillion-dollar stimulus package.

This week, Paris Hilton popped up beneath Bryant Park's tents, Justin Timberlake walked the walk for his William Rast line, and the big hair and bulky shoulder pads of the '80s made a comeback.

But, the devil is in the details. Beneath the superficial glitz, 2009's fall fashion week isn't quite as over-the-top as it once was. A decidedly un-sexy economy has taken a toll on glamour.

Some designers aren't even on the runway this year: Vera Wang and Betsey Johnson chose to unveil their lines in their showrooms. Parties have been cancelled, guest lists slashed, swag bags are bare and fewer models are being hired.

"The mood backstage is maybe a bit quieter," said Neal Hamil, director of Elite Model Management. "But it's always fun and super-charged. I think the girls no longer take for granted certain things -- like having the job in the first place! They have all been really good sports, I must say."

Designers are saving tens of thousands of dollars by trimming what little fat one might see at a fashion show and focusing on, well, the fashion.

"I am all for the cutting back of the fashion show attendee guest list," Hamil said. "For all the people who are part of the business of the fashion business who really need to be there; the throngs of hangers-on really do just get in the way.

"It is a huge distraction to fashion editors who are there to be inspired," he added. "The presentation is, after all, the moment for the designer. ... I am all for a scaling back of the mob. I really commend Marc Jacobs and Robert Duffy and others for taking the lead on this."

Kelly Cutrone, founder of fashion PR firm People's Revolution and a regular on the MTV series "The Hills" and "The City", told ABC News that this year, for the first time, she organized a show that featured three designers back-to-back: Nicholas K, Sergio Davila and Mara Hoffman.

"There were three separate shows with three seconds between each show for a sign change." Cutrone said. "They were able to take a tent which costs $40,000 and divide that number by three, and at the same time, as a result of decreasing their overhead, they still had the presence and the big bang of the tents ... they were able to receive a ton of extra media coverage that they normally wouldn't have had independently. It's one of the great examples of power in numbers."