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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

It's New York Fashion Week. Bryant Park is full of white tents, and inside, models are showing off fashion designers' latest creations. Just across the street from Bryant Park is NPR's New York studio, where Vogue Magazine's fashion news and features director Sally Singer has visited us, taking a break from the shows. Good morning.

Ms. SALLY SINGER (Fashion News and Features Director, Vogue Magazine): Good morning.

SHAPIRO: You know, fashion can be an escape from reality, or it can reflect the present day. So I wonder, in the shows this week, are you seeing fantasy escapism? Or is it more Depression-era chic?

Ms. SINGER: Well, so far, I think we've seen a mix of both those trends. I mean, we've seen people playing it very safe, but then we've also seen shows that are really about making a sort of fun statement on the runway - Marc Jacobs' sort of 1980s Mudd Club extravaganza on Monday night.

SHAPIRO: Huge shoulders.

Ms. SINGER: Huge shoulders. It's the show that's really about provoking people to think about the kind of proportions that made the '80s so fun, and maybe they could be relevant again. And I think he took it to a place that was far beyond the '80s.

SHAPIRO: Do people feel at all self conscious about presenting over-the-top, crazy-looking things in a time where, as we're all aware, thousands of people are being laid off across the country?

Ms. SINGER: Well, I think it's a difference between presenting luxury for luxury's sake in the obvious ways in which luxury has been defined during the boom - you know fancy textiles, fur for those who wear it. That people are self-conscious about, and they should be. Designers should think hard when they do that. But I think the idea that style can be a place where you can be exuberant, you can be creative, you can be talented, you can be interesting, that doesn't change. In tough times, why not express yourself by how you dress? Whether you are doing it from what's in your closet, what's at a vintage store, what you made yourself, this is a moment to say that times can be tough, but that's exciting. That's what brought on punk. That's what brought on the great kind of fun movements in self-expression that have trickled through, you know, all of the booms and all the busts that have followed.

SHAPIRO: If, as you say, some of the great movements in fashion and style have come out of tough times, like punk for example, what do you think the present day embodiment of that is?

Ms. SINGER: For me, on the sort of streets of New York, I've thought it so funny to see so many girls wearing menswear and wearing like a men's jacket with little lace-up shoes and a striped shirt. And I keep saying oh, my God, they're borrowing their banker boyfriend's clothes. He's not going to work...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SINGER: ...but they're wearing the clothes. And they're wearing it well, and it looks adorable.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk for a moment about Michelle Obama, who's on the cover of the next issue of Vogue. And as I understand it, she's just the second first lady ever to have been on the cover of the magazine.

Ms. SINGER: That's right.

SHAPIRO: I've heard her described as a one-woman stimulus package for the fashion industry. Is that overstating it? How much influence can she really have on American designers?

Ms. SINGER: I don't know how much influence she can have on American designers, but I think she could have a profound influence, as we've seen, on American consumers. I believe the J.Crew Web site was shut down just by the sheer volume of people looking to find the gloves and the children's clothes after the day of the inauguration. So, she wears clothes well in part because she's beautiful and she's 5' 11" and has this incredible poise. But she also wears clothes well because she doesn't let the clothes overwhelm her. She wears clothes that she looks good in, and in doing so, inspire us all to think about ways that we can do that with clothes for our lives.

SHAPIRO: There are undoubtedly listeners tuning into this conversation, thinking to themselves: Why do I care about fashion when the economy is in a tailspin? You've made the emotional, aesthetic argument. What's the economic argument?

Ms. SINGER: Fashion is an enormously important industry, not just in New York City, but across the country. And there are a lot of people in America who make clothes, who sell clothes, and we want to keep those people working. Not shopping is not a moral act at this time. So many people think that their frugality is somehow a new moral front. Now that might be true if they were kind of excessive and bizarre in the years before. But when people don't shop, other people lose their jobs. That's a fact.

SHAPIRO: Sally Singer is an editor at Vogue Magazine. Thank you very much.

Ms. SINGER: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: You can take a virtual tour of New York city's catwalks on our Web site. NPR.org has a gallery of photos from fashion week.

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