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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

The September 11th attack
Retailers scramble to meet demand for patriotic wear

 •  Red, white and blue flowers
 •  Halloween mood toned down

Advertiser Staff and News Services

In this time of reflection and grief, Americans are finding a sense of comfort and pride in wrapping themselves in the American flag.

Suzanne Roper of Polo Ralph Lauren wears her flag sweater, one type of patriotic clothing that has been flying off the shelves since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

At a Los Angeles memorial service for victims of the New York City and Pentagon tragedies, young women covered their heads with sequined flag scarves. On the streets of Manhattan, the fashion-conscious are wearing flag-emblazoned clothing from past collections of Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, while others don Old Navy T-shirts last worn at Independence Day parades.

In Hawai'i, the staff and customers of Polo Ralph Lauren have bought out the entire stock of American flag sweaters, and Old Navy has sold out of T-shirts while local designers are rushing out a line of island-style accessories with flag themes (see accompanying story).

The eery irony is that quite a few designers already had featured flag-emblazoned clothing in their recent lines. "Flags were a strong trend in spring/summer 2001," said Mari Stewart of Rafael at Ala Moana, though she said that merchandise, which included T-shirts, glitzy belt buckles and other wear, is sold out now.

The renewed vigor with which Americans are adding stars and stripes to their wardrobes is making patriotism freshly fashionable. Swarovski is rushing out a new Brave Heart crystal pin that will sell for $35. Tiffany has received orders for a $60,000 flag pin from customers who wanted the antique piece featured in the jeweler's ad expressing sympathy. Los Angeles handbag designer Timmy Woods is promoting her American flag and White House bags and donating the proceeds to disaster relief.

At Ala Moana Center, Deron Tongpalan, general manager of Guess, said they expect delivery of a shipment of American flag T-shirts today, but that's iffy because of disruptions in delivery systems. There will be a "baby T" for women and a crew-neck T-shirt for men. Each will sell for $15. The flag will appear on the chest. All proceeds will go to the relief effort. He said he doesn't know how many he will receive. "It was all put together during the latter part of last week, and they're rushing them out to the stores," Tongpalan said.

At Jeans Warehouse stores, items range from shirts with flat motives to dresses, skirts and jeans in microfiber prints. Ala Moana has a "patriotic section" at the back of the store featuring red, white and blue clothing and flag-imprinted garments — mostly dresses, skirts and jeans in microfiber stretch fabrics. The Kahala store has crop T-shirts, tops with a camouflage/flag mosaic-looking print, one-shoulder tops with flag prints and chains across the back, capris in flag prints and a shirt featuring a cowboy on a horse with the stars and stripes in the background.

One of this fall's print trends includes odes to Old Glory, which has saved some designers from looking as if they are cashing in on the crisis. The fashion industry's embrace of the symbol on the runway had more to do with the graphic appeal of the tricolor motif. It is the latest chapter in flag wearing, which at times has been a symbol of protest and counterculture, as in the 1960s, and controversial for those who believe the banner belongs only on a flagpole.

Lauren, who has called the flag "the symbol of the American dream," has carried a flag sweater in his collections since 1986. But the company isn't filling requests for more of them. "We don't want to look like we are out to benefit from a national tragedy," said a company spokesman. "We want to be very cautious of that."

Instead, the New York-based company is donating nearly 34,000 pieces of clothing to the Salvation Army and has created a fund for victims and the relief effort.

Since the tragedy, many retailers have pushed patriotic wear into flag-bedecked store windows. The front window of the Polo Ralph Lauren store at Ala Moana Center is one big flag.

On O'ahu, Boutique A Propos in the Kahala Mall carries two French lines that have American flag-related clothing and accessories. Morgan, a cutting-edge line of French sportswear, has camisoles and An'ge, another French company, has pants and dresses. She also has belt buckles with crystal flags.

Liberty House fashion director Lavina Wong said Tommy Hilfiger and PoloJeans incorporate the flag into their collections all year round. Right now, they have PoloJeans dresses and T-shirts with the flag, as well as Tommy Hilfiger shirts.

Several large retailers have been overwhelmed by the demand for apparel emblematic of the star-spangled banner. In less than a week, Kmart's online venture, at bluelight.com, sold 11,600 of its $7.99 T-shirts emblazoned with American flags or a bald eagle. Proceeds from the shirts will benefit the Red Cross disaster relief fund.

Old Navy is reprinting a special edition of its popular flag shirt, said spokesman Jonathan Finn. For five years, the moderate-price clothing chain has printed a summer-season T-shirt featuring the company logo, the year and the American flag. "We are printing, as we speak, a limited run of our flag tees that will have nothing on it but the American flag," said Finn, in response to a flood of customer requests.

Old Navy was able to produce shirts to supply less than half of its 700 stores last week. For customers elsewhere, the company plans to offer its remaining 2001 flag T-shirts on its Web site, oldnavy.com. All proceeds from sales of the shirts will benefit the September 11th Fund.

So far, a new sense of pride in the flag and the fact that many retailers are donating proceeds to disaster relief have shielded the merchandising from complaints that it is crass commercialism.

Valli Herman-Cohen of the Los Angeles Times and Advertiser staff writer Paula Rath contributed to this report.