Designers Get Creative To Fight Off Recession Blues

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

2008 was the last large scale fashion show of Hungary's most international haute couture designer, Kati Zoob.

Since then, her glamorous grand designs have not dressed the catwalks.

She was one of the young designers that broke into the fashion world 20 years ago.

Hungary woke up to the glamorous side of capitalism with the fall of the Berlin wall and large fashion shows by elite designers became trendy social events among rich Hungarians.

But the 2008 financial crisis put an end to the country's fashion industry boom.

Traditional "high society" events have almost disappeared.

And even for those who have managed to survive the stock market stumbles and the reiterating recessions, there are fewer opportunities to wear their expensive designer clothes.

Hungary's successful fashion designers have had to adapt to the new reality.

Kati Zoob, who built up her fame mostly through her grand annual fashion shows in the Telecom building, was among the first to recognise the changing times.

"I don't think that haute couture is that important anymore. It's less significant today, and not only in Hungary. Designers of the big haute couture houses in France and in Italy share my thoughts. There are only a handful of customers for haute couture dresses," Zoob says.

Now, she says, is all about quality pret-a-porter and her business is expanding thanks to more sales in Vienna in Austria than in Hungary.

"I don't want to be a curiosity, I want to be a market player. I forced myself to change. It's not a survival tactic. I want my designs to be available to a wider public. I don't want to be a dictator anymore. I want my artistic thoughts to be closer to realism," she explains.

In 2008 she held her last big show - showing off the highlights of her career over the past decade - and after that she chose to remain silent.

While enjoying a break from designing haute couture, Zoob established Attitude, a new brand which gives her the freedom to produce high-quality clothes but at a fraction of the price of her prominent haute couture collections.

"I really hope that this silence made sense. But this doesn't mean that in the meantime we did not sell anything, the brand is alive, but with much less hype than years before," she adds.

Others, like Barbara Leber, have plunged into a different strand of the industry.

Leber was known in Hungarian fashion circles for her classy wedding dresses and outfits for high society events.

At the last Hungarian Opera Ball, two years ago, some 80 dresses were Leber designs.

After her business grew too big and unmanageable, she suffered from the loss of direct contact with her customers.

When the crisis began, she was forced to close her store and decided to change her core business.

She now focuses only on a tiny fragment of high fashion - designing, almost exclusively, high quality swimwear.

"Designing swimwear is one of the results of the crisis. Things stabilised around me. My mood and my life are normal now, realising my old dreams. I was happy with the crisis, it gave me the opportunity to breathe" Leber says.

Her designs use Swarovski crystals or freshwater shells for a luxurious effect... Almost like a tribute to her past in haute couture.

"Certainly I can't fully change myself. I'm a high-fashion designer who was never involved in street-wear or in classical pret-�-porter, so I design unique swimming dresses," Leber points out.

Less drastic business tactics are being applied by the Manier brand.

Aniko Nemeth and her business partner, Gabor Horvath, kept the Manier store opened in downtown Budapest as well as retaining its business model, but, in a cost-cutting measure, the owners no longer organise large-scale fashion shows.

"People's quality of life here has changed and the middle class is shrinking. Although many are open to quality products, they can't afford to buy expensive fashion items. Nowadays 80 to 90 percent of our customers are foreigners in our boutique" Nemeth says.

The fashion house still organises smaller events in their own premises.

"Most of our profits are not from Hungarian consumers anymore. The problem is that in the past every year we spent a significant amount of money on organising one or two big fashion shows. But we realised that profits were bigger for those who do not spend on these costly shows, " adds Horvath.

They hold their annual shows in their own store where they can still seat 100 to 150 selected guests while keeping costs low.

The compromise is saving money while keeping the glamour of the catwalk alive.

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