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Fashion Week Provides Economic Boost for New York City - 2003-09-17


The American fashion industry is holding its 10th Annual Fashion Week in New York City. Beyond the glamour, fanfare and celebrity, the industry pumps millions of dollars into the city's economy. But everyone involved may reap even more from the rush of international publicity.

Fashion observers say the annual fashion extravaganza, in which leggy models strut down runways parading the latest designs, focuses worldwide attention on New York City.

Robert Vassalotti teaches the business of fashion at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology.

"So many eyes are on New York," he says. "It's such an international community, a diverse community. The excitement it lends to the city is unprecedented. It's the best unpaid advertising you can get."

Fashion week is also a boon for the economy of New York, says Mr. Vassalotti.

"New York benefits obviously from hotel revenues, restaurant revenues, services, visual-display design groups, and freelancers," he explains. "Certainly you're going to have lots of people of taking lots of groups out for all kinds of public relations-type dinners. You have to take certain key people out for dinners, buyers, fashion coordinators, fashion directors, and journalists, people basically being wooed. Again it's just lots of good PR [public relations] for New York."

For young designers, intense media coverage of the annual fete can put them on the map of fashion couture. Just ask Haitian-born designer Marie Claudenet Jean, wife of hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean. Her spring collection has been touted as a cross between the gracious styles of the late American film star Audrey Hepburn and the MTV video crowd.

Ms. Jean calls her clothing label Fuscia, an apt name for her bold choices of color - from bright red ball gowns to teal-blue beaded bustiers. Still, she insists her blend of French-Caribbean couture and aristocratic flair is for all women.

"When I design I think of all women because I custom-design. I do all sizes whether you're tall, big, short. It's all for women, who just want to be elegant, hot, bold, wow," she says.

Kimora Lee Simmons is the brainchild of Baby Phat, a wildly popular line of clothing that includes rhinestone-adorned cutoff blue jean shorts and sexy dresses.

"My mom wears Baby Phat, my little girl wears Baby Phat, kids that go to school wear Baby Phat, and folks in Omaha wear Baby Phat," she says.

Baby Phat debuted its line of glitzy, barely-there dresses, inspired by Josephine Baker, the African-American showgirl who was a celebrity in Paris in the 1930s.

"I want it to be exciting and I want it to be sexy and I want it to be fun," explains Simmons. "But I want people to be able to use it. Even if it's not the way I intended it. It's some little twist that you put on it yourself."

Sometimes, however, the glitz of fashion brings on a firestorm of criticism. The animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, unveiled its new anti-fur campaign directly across the street from the runways of Fashion Week.