The new New York Fashion Week: A change of style and venue

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK — New York Fashion Week officially gets underway Thursday, but there’s one trend that already has people talking — change, and lots of it.

When industry insiders and style spectators alike descend upon the Big Apple to see what designers have in store for spring/summer 2016, they won’t be returning to the mammoth tents at Lincoln Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where so many runway shows have been headquartered since 2010. Instead, they’ll attend events at not one, but two locations: the Skylight Clarkson Sq. in west Soho and the Skylight at Moynihan Station across from Penn Station. Mercedes-Benz won’t be touted anymore as the week’s title sponsor, either. Meanwhile, some designers have had to forgo their longtime time slots for shows for new ones during the eight days of events.

It’s all part of the shifting landscape of this biannual global fashion affair, which owes its makeover to a number of factors. With the departure of Mercedes-Benz from the picture (the luxury automobile company announced in January its decision to pull out as title sponsor), the name “Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week” is no more. Now this lineup of events owned by WME | IMG, a global leader in fashion show production, will go by New York Fashion Week: The Shows.

The news of a new home for the shows broke last December, prompted by a lawsuit filed by city park advocates arguing that the 2.4-acre Damrosch Park space, where the tents had been erected, should no longer host private vendors or events. If not for the suit, Fashion Week was slated to have remained at Lincoln Center until 2020. Prior to its time there, the tents were situated twice a year for 15 years at Bryant Park in midtown.

The migration to lower Manhattan makes sense, many say. It puts shows closer to the Garment District, the up-and-coming Hudson Yards development (where the makings of a major retail destination is under construction and possibly a permanent home for New York Fashion Week someday) and major media offices, given the recent move of publishing house Conde Nast to One World Trade Center.

“The collective move downtown and across several venues levels the playing field,” says Rebecca Strong, who serves as backstage manager for Nolcha Shows, a day of events during New York Fashion Week that gives independent designers a cost-effective platform to showcase their work. “When the majority of the shows were in the tents, it was more of a struggle to get buyers and media to go off site to a different venue.”

The Skylight properties also are promising choices, given their histories. Both are veteran venues for fashion shows (the Skylight Clarkson Sq. being the epicenter for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men’s events in July) and are repurposed structures with rich legacies. The Skylight Clarkson Sq. is a former terminal for the Highline, and the Skylight at Moynihan Station is in the James A. Farley Post Office, which at one time processed 90 percent of the country’s mail.

“It ties you to the common history we have as New Yorkers,” Skylight Group founder and CEO Jennifer Blumin told earlier this year. ”It’s a constantly evolving city so that a post office can become a runway. A tent can be anywhere and fleeting, and that’s not the right message to send.”

The move also puts NYFW: The Shows in close proximity to other spaces that continue to make a splash season after season with their own robust lineups. In the Meatpacking District, Milk Studios will be the site for nearly two dozen events as part of MADE Fashion Week, which came on the scene in 2009 as an alternative presenter, especially for emerging designers. Its founders Jenné Lombardo, Mazdack Rassi and Keith Baptista also launched it in response to the recession. Lots of aspiring designers weren’t able to afford to show their collections at the tents, so MADE Fashion Week provided them with a place. In addition to these shows, MADE is a year-round global media company that supports rising talents in a range of industries, from fashion and art to film and technology.

Earlier this year, WME | IMG acquired MADE Fashion Week in hopes of providing more resources for its designers.

“Many of the designers who made their debut via the MADE platform are now prominent designers on the NYFW schedule, so the synergy between the two programs works even more seamlessly than it ever has,” a representative for MADE told Stylebook. ”The acquisition and partnership is great for designers and partners of both MADE and NYFW as it expands opportunities through an extended network of relationships globally and additional creative resources that WME | IMG offers.”

Another venue that’s been growing its Fashion Week footprint is Pier 59 Studios, part of Chelsea Piers along the Hudson River. It has held photo shoots, fashion shows and other events for designers from around the world for 20 years, and this summer it brought on former Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week executive producer Christina Neault to be its first fashion programming consultant.

“There was a need for more options during New York Fashion Week,” Neault says. ”We have increased the production value of staging, lighting and sound to appeal to some of the more established designers and offer presentation spaces for those looking for something a little less formal than a runway show.”

Pier 59 Studios will feature a mix of established and emerging designers (including several who used to show at the tents) such as Custo Barcelona. Mathieu Mirano, Michael Costello, Lie Sangbong, Jay Godfrey, Nolcha Shows and Pittsburgh native Sheena Trivedi.

The venues aren’t the only features that are new. In many cases, what time or even what day collections will be shown will be different, too, to accommodate the transition of so many shows to new venues. WME | IMG and other major presenters during New York Fashion Week all told Stylebook that they worked closely throughout the planning process with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the nonprofit governing body for fashion in America and the organizer of the industry’s Fashion Calendar (which the CFDA acquired control of last year), to help make their schedules complement each other and support their shared goal — promoting the success of fashion designers and America’s fashion community at large.

In this spirit, the CFDA also crafted an official New York Fashion Week logo for the September shows to help encourage this sense of unity across the many venues and programs that will be producing Fashion Week programming.

“There’s definitely an excitement,” Neault says. ”Once you get over the fact that you have to change, there’s a newness to it. That’s always exciting.”


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