It’s Fashion Week vs Fashion Week. As the extravaganza of designers, models, bloggers, buyers and magazine editors unfolds in New York this week, a once-scruffy shadow event is becoming increasingly prominent.
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week – run by IMG and with a slate of corporate sponsors, including Maybelline – is the official New York Fashion Week, the one with the runway shows under the iconic big tents at Lincoln Center. The five-year-old Made Fashion Week – represented by Creative Artists Agency and with a roster of “partners” like Lexus – is the upstart, housed 50 blocks downtown in the Milk Studios, a former industrial building that has been transformed into photography studios and space for cultural events.
While the former has been experiencing something of an identity crisis, increasingly criticised as having the atmosphere of an overbranded trade show, the latter has been enjoying a growing following as a hipper, purer event – while still managing to lure big-name commercial partners of the type that have brought the other scorn.
The founders of Made, and others in the fashion world, say the two events are not really in direct competition. Made’s mission is to offer resources and space to “emerging” or unknown designers who would not otherwise get to show at Fashion Week.
“This is the indie stuff, it’s not the establishment, those who have broken through,” said Andrew Rosen, founder of the Theory fashion label and a member of Made’s board of advisers. But there is no debating that, in contrast to its more established counterpart, it is rising in esteem.
Eva Chen, the editor in chief of Condé Nast’s Lucky magazine, remembers going to the first Made shows five years ago. “It had a raw, homespun feeling,” she said. Now, she added, “it definitely has a feeling of being a Fashion Week hub, and I definitely think it is.” Made began in 2009, when the economic recession was threatening the professional survival of young designers trying to get a start. Jenni Lombardo, an executive at MAC Cosmetics, called her friend Mazdack Rassi, the creator of Milk Studios, to think of ways to help. They came up with Made, or at least its basic concept. The idea was to hand-pick designers with promise and offer them a venue, lighting, sound, production assistance and other amenities free of charge for presentations and shows during Fashion Week.
Lombardo and Rassi brought in a third partner, one they considered the best in the business, Keith Baptista, a production designer who had worked on many fashion shows. “Back then, it was a passion project,” Rassi said. “Today it’s more of a business, but it’s still a passion project.” One of the main goals was to create a critical mass: If enough promising unknowns were showing in one place, the chances were greater that editors and buyers who could elevate their careers would come. And they have. Among the names MADE is said to have helped propel are Alexander Wang, Joseph Altuzarra and Proenza Schouler. “I remember feeling like it was like too good to be true,” Altuzarra said. “It was basically they were offering you a space, a pretty big space, they were offering you all these amenities, backstage and a ton of visibility. All this for no money. It did feel really sort of incredible.”
Like others, Altuzarra has “graduated” from Made, but has taken that independent spirit with him. This Fashion Week he opted to show not at Lincoln Center but at another downtown space, Spring Studios. Wang went even more rogue, choosing to show in Brooklyn.
A string of big-name designers are adopting similar attitudes. Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors and Vera Wang among others shunned the Lincoln Center tents this year and chose venues around the city instead. On the weekend of Feb 1st, just six days before his scheduled show, Zac Posen abruptly pulled out of Lincoln Center, too, announcing plans to move the event to his own studio downtown.
The defections have added to growing uncertainty about the main event. The talent agency IMG Worldwide has owned the contract for New York Fashion Week since 2010, having bought it from the non-profit Council of Fashion Designers of America. But recently IMG was sold to William Morris Endeavor and Silver Lake Partners.
A spokesman for IMG said he and others at the agency “respectfully decline” to be interviewed for this article. The contract with Lincoln Center ends after the February 2015 shows, though IMG will continue to own the event. Plans are to eventually relocate to the yet-to-be-built Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West side, but the search is on for an interim site.
“Everybody caught the same cold – all of a sudden it looks like there’s an exodus,” said Paul Wilmot, a fashion publicist referring to the defections from the Lincoln Center site. “I don’t think there’s an exodus. We’re in the waning days of Lincoln Center anyways.”
Meanwhile, Made faces its own growth challenges if it wants to avoid becoming a slick commercial event. It is already a thriving commercial enterprise. Earlier this year, Macy’s started a line of branded Made Fashion Week clothing, Made Fashion Week for Impulse, which the department store bills as “cutting-edge looks inspired by the downtown-chic style of NYC.” A new board of advisers includes Eric E. Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, a man not usually associated with the leading edge of fashion.
In an emailed statement, Schmidt said he was attracted to Made “not simply because of its unconventionality but for its innovative business model – built around supporting emerging talent.” Made has been careful to avoid the preponderance of logos and corporate booths that had annoyed some denizens of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. For example, Lexus’ role as a sponsor is to provide a backstage lounge for designers and families to relax in between shows or to hold parties and receptions, said Andrea Lim, engagement marketing director at the luxury car company. There are no displays of its cars, but Lexus does provide vehicles, as well as drivers, to shuttle designers around the city during the week. They are Lexus vehicles branded with a Made Fashion Week logo.
American Express is unique as a backer of both events. The main motivation is to give premium cardholders access to the big fashion shows, said Walter Frye, director of entertainment marketing at Amex. When Made first started, he said, it was harder to sell tickets.
“People didn’t know what they were about,” Frye said. “Now, every single package sold almost immediately.” Already, Made feels more polished than it used to be, some observers say. Though the founders continue to embrace emerging designers, some of those showing there this year are not exactly unknown, like Peter Som, who showed his fall 2014 collection Friday, and Public School, the award-winning men’s wear design duo that showed to a packed house Sunday.
“I’d say a lot of the designers who show there now are definitely more well known,” Chen of Lucky magazine said, adding that all of fashion has become “more corporate.” “It’s always hard to maintain that cool factor,” she said. “I do think that’s why designers hopscotch around so much.” But, she said of the Made team, “it helps that they are innately cool. I’m not worried about them losing their cool.”
Courtesy: Jeremy Scott, irishtimes