x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Retailers bank on teenagers during recession

As adults back off of fashion spending in response to the global financial crisis, retailers are betting that teenagers are willing to spend obliviously.

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said: "Youth is wasted on the young." Make that fashion too. The British retail billionaire Sir Philip Green recently announced he was putting all his efforts into his money-spinning brand Topshop, aimed solely at the young and fashion-conscious. Green believes that while the rest of us are in the grip of an economic downturn, image-obsessed young people with a disposable income are continuing to shop like crazy.

He is so convinced teenagers are the saviours of fashion that he takes his 17-year-old daughter, Chloe, with him on "range reviews" with senior buyers and in-house designers (Kate Moss included), infuriating experienced thirty-somethings by asking his daughter's opinion. Although Chloe is possibly more sophisticated than most of her chums, we can surmise that the approval of most 17-year-olds would side with silly jumpsuits rather than sensible black jackets. And yet it's the silly jumpsuits - and leggings and beanies - that are helping make Daddy very rich indeed.

Green is not alone. Asos, a fashion website aimed at super-young, brand-savvy shoppers, saw sales double to Dh918 million in the year ending in March 2009. Now the London department store Harvey Nichols, whose profits plunged by 40 per cent in the last financial year as the banking collapse wiped out the wealth of its traditional thirty-something customers, has revealed it is switching to "recession proof" young labels such as Marc by Marc Jacobs to attract a younger clientele.

At last week's World Retail Congress in Barcelona, WGSN, the world's leading fashion and style forecaster, confirmed that the youth market, unlike the rest of the apparel sector, had not been as hard hit by the recession. It's not just that kids are keeping fashion in business, it's that they have grabbed hold of the steering wheel and are starting to dictate trends. Youth are connecting everywhere thanks to blogs such as Style Rookie, penned by a 12-year-old from Chicago called Tavi. Karl Lagerfeld is counted among its global fan base.

Thanks to Tavi, WGSN, says "12 is the new 20". People over 30 are, meanwhile, "growing down", nicking trends aimed at teenagers, who then adapt them to put wrinklies off the scent. As depressing as this sounds, it is apparently good news. Appealing to "generation MySpace" means marketing men and designers have to come up with brand new ideas. Uniqlo's vending machine of HeatTech T-shirts and "pop-up" shops in malls are a case in point.

Although I can see flaws with teenage worship, it does explain why for two seasons catwalks have given us skinny leggings, 1980s jackets (worn only by those who weren't there first time around), jumpsuits, strapless or one-shoulder ra-ra frocks, short hemlines and not a lot else. With my youthquake conspiracy theory in mind, I got ready for a charity fashion party thrown by the Italian luxury giants Hogan. Pulling on my Current Elliot boyfriend jeans (knowing everyone else would be looking fabulous in skinnies) and a Castelbajac blazer (to hide my muffin-top middle age spread) I felt positively prehistoric. But I reminded myself: Who's going to be looking at you anyway?

So imagine my surprise when I pushed past a scrum of paparazzi only to find myself getting a sideways glance (of approval?) from fashion's hottest - or should that be coolest? - it-girl, Leigh Lezark, who was rocking the decks with her DJ trio, the Misshapes. The party was packed with mostly stick-thin fashion types and designers such as Giles Deacon, Luella Bartley, Savannah Miller, Luisa Beccaria, Guy Pugh and Henry Holland.

But we were only interested in Lezark. With her ironed black hair, purple suede Dior dress and killer heels, she annihilated younger partygoers including Pixie Geldof, Lily Cole, Poppy Delevigne, Amber Le Bon and Tolula Adeyemi. She is all of 24, and it's obvious why Karl Lagerfeld ("he understands the importance of black"), Giambattista Valli ("the only guy to get me into a fuchsia jacket and eight-inch heels") and Matthew Williamson are battling to make her their muse.

Lezark, remember, is the fashion icon most tweens want to emulate - in which case there really is hope for fashion.