c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
On television, the fashion world rarely shows itself. Instead, with most programs and Webcasts, you get a checklist of compulsory scenes: the nervous, befuddled designer; the delayed fabric order; the world-weary “you’re toast” looks from the pros; a meltdown or two; and, inevitably, a blast of “Pump Up the Jam,” the 1989 hit.
Documentary and feature films hold out some hope, at least in terms of telling the stories of titans and their muses. Two films about Yves Saint Laurent are in the works, as is a partly animated documentary about Isabella Blow. And short Web films, like Anjelica Huston’s piece for Donna Karan, demonstrate the potential to bring clever storytelling to the sales pitch. But fashion on TV tends to ignore these challenges, if not whole aspects of the industry. In fact, critical sectors like manufacturing and corporate dominance are completely missing from the picture.
The latest fashion event to come to television is the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, the competition initiated by Anna Wintour to recognize young talent and reward the top winner with big money. What? Another competition show? “The Fashion Fund,” a six-part series that begins Nov. 12 at 10 p.m. on the Ovation arts channel, may be a little different.
For one thing, the CFDA/Vogue Fund is a legitimate competition. It’s been around for a decade, and winners include Proenza Schouler and Alexander Wang. Along with Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the CFDA, the current judges include Jenna Lyons of J. Crew; Reed Krakoff; the retailer Jeffrey Kalinsky; and Ken Downing, the fashion director of Neiman Marcus.
Downing was a guest judge on “Project Runway,” and as he noted, only Christian Siriano has emerged from that popular show with any star power.
“There’s not a nurturing process afterward,” he said.
The CFDA/Vogue Fund provides mentors to winners.
Although one member of the panel said that the presence of cameras was mildly inhibiting, the judges are certainly used to them. There have been Web segments on vogue.com and, two years ago, a series on Hulu. But, as Steve Kolb, the executive director of the CFDA, said, “It’s not reality TV and would never be.”
That was also Robert Weiss’ thinking when he made Ovation’s pitch to Condé Nast Entertainment, which licensed the series. Weiss joined Ovation as chief creative officer nine month ago, after working in both traditional and digital media.
“One of my missions was to expand the modern definition of art,” he said by phone. “Fashion is one of those amazing pillars of art.” He admitted that until he began to look around for projects for Ovation, he had never heard of the fund.
“The last thing I want to do is make something up,” he said, adding that he had told Condé Nast — and Wintour — that his plan was to film “The Fashion Fund” more like a compelling documentary. “A consistent theme of mine is authenticity,” he said. “There’s no running down the hallway with scissors here.”
The first episode looks at the committee’s deliberations to choose the 10 finalists. In the next installment, the finalists make their presentations. Weiss said previous fund winners will be included in the series.
Although the fund seems a natural for television, a larger question is whether the medium can broaden its outlook and represent more personalities. Wintour and von Furstenberg are already well known.
“I’d be dishonest if I said that Anna isn’t a way to bring people into the tent,” Weiss said. “I definitely wanted her and Diane von Furstenberg to have a presence in the series.”
Nonetheless, he said, each time the filmmakers tried to make them “the epicenter,” they backed away in favor of the competitors. “There’s some Anna, there’s some Diane,” he said, “but you’ll see 90 percent is about the designers.”