from the ground up

NYC shows fashion under a new roof, yet, this isn't the first time the collections have changed address.

The concept of a 'fashion week' originated from the 1940's, as the brainchild of the late Eleanor Lambert (former press director of the New York Dress Institute, and founder of the International Best-Dressed List). As examined by nytimes.com, Lambert's showcase was "held twice a year in New York, to replace what had been uncoordinated showings by designers... and the grouping of their individual shows enabled American and international fashion writers to cover the industry in a condensed period." Fast-forward to present day, and Lambert's event still drums on.

(photo, Eleanor Lambert)

New York's Fashion Week, once owned and operated by the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), and its 7th on Sixth extension, is now managed by the mass-media conglomerate IMG (International Management Group), and its worldwide fashion division. The CFDA (also founded by Lambert, in 1962), was an "attempt to bring together often warring designers, enabling them to present a united voice on issues that affected them and... to enhance their prestige," quotes the New York Times. Having acquired the rights to NYFW -from the CFDA- in July, 2001, IMG says, "7th on Sixth was created in 1993 to organize, centralize and modernize the American Collections and provide a platform for American designers to become players in the global fashion business. The name 7th on Sixth was derived from 7th Avenue, home to New York's Fashion Industry, and 6th Avenue, the location of Bryant Park, where the huge tents become the epicenter of New York City twice a year."

(photo, Bryant Park's "final season," February 2010. Fall/Winter '10 Collections)

Trip Gabriel (a former New York Times writer), reported that when 'the tents' were first pitched -17 years ago- behind the New York Public Library in Bryant Park, "they spoke of the convenience, the added seats for buyers and press and a hoped-for economic lift for one of the city's major industries. They got that, and more: a social juggernaut," he said. Interviewed by Gabriel, Ed Filipowski, partner of public relations powerhouse KCD (Keeble, Cavaco & Duka), said, "You have journalists and models and celebrities and retailers and V.I.P.'s descending upon a centralized location, and you're creating the opportunity for a buzz to be created." Gabriel further said, "Fashion week, once a nuts-and-bolts market, has become a happening."

But, at the time of its inception, not everyone was happy with the shows at Bryant Park; harsh words resonated from the outside-looking-in via a 1993 letter from Manhattan resident Frank Scalpone to then editor of the New York Times. Scalpone wrote, "The fashion industry is enthusiastic about the success of Seventh on Sixth, the celebration of Fashion Week in Bryant Park, as well it should be. But it was in the wrong place. For those of us who live or work nearby, it was a disaster. The essential purpose of the park, to be a haven from the city streets, was violated."

Ironically, from the inside-looking-out, participants of New York Fashion Week also became displeased with the presentations (albeit, in a different manner). Purportedly following the lead of international designer Helmut Lang's move to New York, after six years of showing last, stateside designers decided to up-the-ante by showing their collections first during the 1999 Fall/Winter season.

Having reported for the Los Angeles Times in 1999, Valli Herman Cohen interviewed Fern Mallis (then Executive Director of the CFDA and 7th on Sixth), regarding New York's decision to show first. Mallis said, "Everyone is going to see the New York shows without being exhausted. They are coming here without that sense of 'seen it, done it, surprise me. American designers have long been accused of merely reinterpreting trends that appeared on European runways. Showing before the Europeans [sic] do sidesteps that issue ...moving the collections forward, they will have to be reviewed without comparison to what people have seen everywhere else." The aforementioned formula has continued to work and has operated smoothly, without interruption; that is, until 2001's September 11th tragedy, which caused IMG to pay back millions to designers, after only two months of controlling New York's Fashion Week, and it wouldn't be -again- until the February blizzard (of this year), that the shows would be interrupted.

But, as seasons change, so has the beat of NYFW -and last month- it moved from midtown (Bryant Park), to the Upper West Side (Lincoln Center), amidst a ton of publicity and speculation; in addition to 'the-biggest-fashion-show-ever-produced' for the public (as part of VOGUE magazine's 'Fashion's Night Out'), Fashion Week settled into its new residence.

Nymag.com reported that at the announcement of the new Fashion Week layout (on April 29, 2010), CFDA President, Diane Von Furstenberg said, "We want to make New York Fashion Week the absolute most styling Fashion Week. And we will make it happen. We made a commitment. It won't be immediately perfect. But we definitely will [make it happen]. I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

(photo, Diane Von Furstenberg)

They further stated, "What was the Tent at Bryant Park is now the Theatre at Lincoln Center, a 969-seat venue with a larger backstage area. The new Promenade is called the Stage, a 740-seat space. And the new Salon is named the Studio, a 396-seat space. Lincoln Center will also house one 125-person venue for presentations -Fashion Week's first presentation-only space- named the Box."

(photo, Lincoln Center, New York Fashion Week's "new home")

Another new element added to Lincoln Center, was the formal introduction of Fashion GPS, a high-end RSVP system that offers designers streamlined guest check-in, and accurate 'up-to-the-minute' seat charting (among other things).

(invitation, Gottex, September 15, 2010. Spring/Summer '11 Collections)

One Fashion Week element that remains the same, is the high-volume of national and international press, fashion buyers and retailers, and -of course- the throngs of celebrities and spectators; other 'location concerns' included an improved inability to gate-crash (reportedly a nightmare at Bryant Park), which was a contributing factor to the installation of Fashion GPS.

Moreover, the major problem with Fashion Week's former address was that it "eats into the revenues of Bryant Park vendors; forces the ice-skating rink there to close in the middle of winter; pushes the public to the fringes of the park in the spring; and gives the lawn a beating," said Daniel Biederman (president of the Bryant Park Corporation). Interviewed by Lysandra Ohrstrom (of the the New York Observer), in 2008, the Bryant Park Corporation wanted its relationship with Fashion Week to be over. Biederman said, “...we’re so anxious to get rid of them that we’re working probably as hard as they are to find a new spot that fashion will like..." Ohrstrom further revealed that BPC once 'refused to renew IMG’s lease' back in 2006, and they [IMG] had to call on the help of Mayor Bloomberg to get the contract extended to earlier this year.

(photo, Daniel Biederman)

(logo, IMG)

According to Ohrstrom, IMG had to pay BPC, "for maintenance and use of the park, $1,210,000 for each Fashion Week in 2008; $1,330,000 for each one in 2009; and $1,460,000 for the one in February 2010." Ohrstrom also reported that some of Fashion Week's costs are covered by designer fees, with IMG charging between $26,000 and $48,500 to show on-site, and $4,000 “associate member” fees to be listed in the program (if showing off-site). Mercedes-Benz (title sponsor of New York Fashion Week), underwrote the show costs during the latter years at Bryant Park, and nymag.com reported that the company will continue sponsorship at Lincoln Center (until 2013), as confirmed by Lisa Holladay (national manager of experiential marketing for Mercedes-Benz); former, title sponsors have included General Motors and Olympus.

As for revenue and Fashion Week's 'bankability,' nytimes.com reported that in 1997 (four yeas after its inception), the city released 'unofficial' figures estimating that the shows brought in a total of about $206.2 million, including $8.9 million in tax revenue, and $86.3 million in visitor spending, but, this was during a time when there were two women's shows and two men's shows; in 2002, John Tepper Marlin (chief economist for the city comptroller's office), said, "a week of shows might bring in about $28 million." The New York Post reported figures released in 2006 showed an estimated cost of $12 million to produce NYFW, and according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, $177 million in profits were generated that year. In regard to NYFW's production cost, Mallis said, “It’s a multimillion [dollar] project, and it’s an expensive proposition, but an important one for New York’s fashion industry, which is a vital engine of the city’s economy.”

Having virtually 'seen it all,' a decade's worth of changes at Bryant Park's presentation of Fashion Week, to the baton being passed to Lincoln Center, Mallis recently stepped down from her position as IMG's senior vice-president, but has agreed to operate as a consultant (for as long as she's needed). In regard to Bryant Park -and its loss of the tents- Mallis said, “It’s where it started... It’s been the central heartbeat of [the event]."

(photo, Avon Dorsey with Fern Mallis. Bryant Park's "final season," February 2010. Fall/Winter '10 Collections)

As of September, a new team of players have entered the scene, carrying out the legacy of New York Fashion Week, including Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the first-ever 'Fashion Director' of Lincoln Center.

(photo, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff)

As for the foundation laid by Lambert (the godmother of American fashion), longtime friend and design director emeritus of Tiffany & Co., John Loring said, "There were no rehashes or post-mortems." As quoted by the New York Times, at the time of Lambert's death (in 2003), Loring said, ''Her motto always was 'Don't look back,''' and it's apparent that the fashion industry has followed suit.

www.google.com, en.wikipedia.org, www.cfda.com, www.latimes.com, www.nytimes.com, www.olympusfashionweek.com, www.nymag.com, www.imgworld.com

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