Toning Down the Runway

Unless you're a celebrity or a jet-setter, you probably wouldn't rush out to buy an outfit from New York's Fashion Week.

But this year, designers who usually try to outdo each other with outrageous styles are creating looks the everyday person can appreciate.

"With seemingly few ideas left of their own, designers showing here… churned out clothes that look like the ones at mass-market stores Banana Republic, J.Crew and their High Street ilk," fashion columnist Libby Callaway wrote in The New York Post.

Every September, the fashion world's most influential designers unveil their latest innovations in Manhattan's Bryant Park off 42nd Street. Most years, "ordinary" folks would have no place for these bold creations in their wardrobe. Clothing such as a diamond studded sheer blouse isn't exactly practical attire for the company picnic.

But practicality is usually the farthest thing from a designer's mind.

"A lot of designers create clothes for the runway to attract media attention," said Joseph Abboud, Chairman Emeritus and Creative Director at the menswear label that bears his name.

"I never want to show clothes just to get press coverage, but if it's too tame, it's not worthy of press coverage," Abboud explained. "That's the paradox."

But this year is different. The styles on New York’s runways have shocked the fashion world not because they’re so outrageous, but because they’re so ordinary.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution commented, "Linda Allard and menswear craftsman Ron Chereskin…helped jump-start New York Fashion Week with low-key presentations that bowed more to consumers' tastes than their own creative inclinations."

Making a splash in a fashion show can mean lucrative contracts with large fashion companies and a chance to be sought out by celebrities to dress them for major appearances like the Oscars.

With a chance to get such notice, it's easy to understand why traditionally designers experiment with wild colors, scattered patterns and new fabrics during Fashion Week.

"But it's a terrible disservice to the everyday person who likes clothes and fashion," said Abboud. "It's dishonest, because it's hedonistic. It's often about the designer, not the consumer. Sometimes the designer can't see the forest through the trees."

But some say no one should take fashion so seriously.

"When you see a fashion show you have to take it with a grain of salt," said Tina Maher, fashion editor at Lucky magazine. "It's entertainment."

But what's the difference this year?

"It's a reaction to the economy," said Joe Zee, fashion director at W Magazine, while on location shooting the November cover. "After all, we are a nation at war. Designers are being a bit more cautious in their approach to luxury goods."

Zee knows from caution: It was Zee who actress Jennifer Lopez thanked during the VH-1 Fashion Awards when she won a Best Dressed trophy after wearing her famously low cut green number at the Grammys.

"In past seasons, there's always (been) an element of fantasy," said Zee. "The runway is theatrical. It's over-the-top and a bit of a statement."

But with decadence on the decline and nearly everyone’s stock portfolios shrinking, designers too are cutting back.

"It can’t be a bad thing that the little guys are now influencing the big guys," Callaway wrote. "Truthfully, the fact that Fashion Week designers are making things that they know will sell makes a lot of sense in this crappy economy."