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American Made: New ideas fuel fashion

NEW YORK -- Martha Stewart and her American Made project turned Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall into a hub of crafts, croissants and conversation on Wednesday with experts in the areas of gardening, decorating, cooking and fashion.

In a session called "The Makers of American Fashion," Stewart did a one-on-one interview with J. Crew CEO Millard Drexler, and then led a panel discussion with Calvin Klein, Tory Burch and Ralph Rucci.

As the grande dame of the home, Stewart said what she brought to the fashion table is an ability to sew, an affinity for design and a desire to promote American-grown talent.

The talent in question seemed to agree that the success of the industry lies largely with new ideas and the customers who will embrace them. Right now, everything looks too similar, said Drexler: "It's a broken record around the world."

It's the person willing to be a "contrarian" that will leave the biggest impact, he said.

"In business, you must stay creative," Klein added. "If you give people what they will want, your business will grow."

Burch, who in eight years has grown from a kitchen-table idea into a global brand, said she takes inspiration anywhere she can get it: art, music or a book, for example. But she also has to keep regional trends and taste in mind. There's a big divide between Brazilian bathing suits with very little fabric and the covered-up customs in the Middle East, she said.

The goal, according to Burch, is balance.

Rucci made the case that being a well-rounded person makes him a better designer, and that fashion doesn't operate in a total vacuum. For him, painting is "my trap door."

On the practical side, though, Drexler said price is a factor in long-term success. "As a kid, I realized you can never afford everything you want. ... Calvin (Klein) and Ralph (Lauren) were it, but they were more expensive than I thought it should be. No offense. But I didn't think good taste should cost more."

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