By  on July 22, 2009

NEW YORK — A designer battle appears to be brewing between MAC Cosmetics and IMG Fashion.

Confirming a WWD report on July 9, MAC, which is owned by the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., is partnering with Milk Studios and creating a sponsored show venue at the photography studios at 450 West 15th Street. The new venue offers designers a space to stage runway shows, presentations, special events and other services during upcoming New York Fashion Week, starting with the next round of collections scheduled for Sept. 10 to 17.

MAC already has snagged the likes of Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, Peter Som, Threeasfour, Vena Cava, Band of Outsiders, Adam Lippes, Altuzarra, Barbara Tfank, Costello Tagliapietra, Erin Fetherston, Pamela Love, Preen and Temperley London — and the list could grow to 30 designers, evenly split between runway shows and presentations. However, none of the designers it’s attracted so far have shown at the Bryant Park tents in recent seasons other than Fetherston.

MAC and Milk will provide the raw space for designers for free, saving them some $26,000 to $50,000 to rent a tent at Bryant Park — a particular boon to designers in these tough times. According to a MAC statement, the partnership with Milk Studios also is seen as a way “to inspire new ways of presenting and showing collections in a unique environment, fostering the evolution of fashion week in New York.”

MAC, IMG Fashion and Milk Studios executives all claim there is no competition between the venues, with John Demsey, Estée Lauder group president, saying MAC is working closely with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to plan the Milk Studio events within the official fashion calendar.

Still, the deal has spurred a torrent of speculation. Did Demsey’s plans upset Fern Mallis, senior vice president of IMG Fashion, which organizes Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week? With IMG’s shows moving to the far-flung Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center come September 2010, could the venue become a viable competitor to the tents? Or could this development speak volumes about the beauty industry, especially MAC versus Maybelline New York, which replaced MAC as the cosmetics sponsor at the tents, and, according to some speculations, was willing to dig deeper into its pockets to have its name placed in a line with a myriad of sponsors at the tents?

And if IMG isn’t miffed, why did, which is produced by IMG, send out an e-mail blast on Wednesday trumpeting its roster of designers at the tents this season, including Doo.Ri and Isaac Mizrahi and Bryant Park newcomers Tory Burch and Derek Lam? On the site, Mallis is quoted as saying: “In these times, designers are realizing that showing at Bryant Park is the way to go when they need to make the best possible impression. The economy is tough. But come September, Bryant Park is going to rock.”

“We are not looking to create a parallel universe,” Demsey said Wednesday. “We are looking to create an editorially relevant fashion venue. [The CFDA] was fully in support of it. We thought it was a good thing because a lot of the designers are not showing in tents to begin with. The ability to consolidate those activities in an amazing creative space with amazing photographic and digital capabilities and sound systems makes the week more rationalized and more organized.

“Not every designer should be in tents…and not every designer should have a runway show,” Demsey added. “It will be a fashion space integrated on many different levels. We are still booking and talking about a lot of different things that we will be doing in the space over and above traditional runway shows.”

As for any of the speculated ruffled feathers, Demsey said: “As a corporation, many, if not most, of our models are IMG-contract models. We have a very good working relationship with IMG and with the CFDA. We think the way this is being done makes the week for NYC and for fashion even better.”

Mazdack Rassi, founder and creative director of Milk Studios, concurred. “It was never to create an alternative show space,” Rassi said. “Many on the roster never showed in tents. It was also to create a bit of a movement and a new way of doing things.”

Zach Eichman, vice president of global marketing and communications at IMG Fashion, said there were no hard feelings between IMG and MAC. “Ultimately, MAC has decided to activate their brand in an interesting way and do something that is going to be very helpful to a handful of designers,” Eichman said. “It will give them some good press and good will. It’s a very smart activation for an endemic brand in the fashion industry.”

Eichman said IMG will be offering a shuttle service to Milk Studios, “provided that the shows don’t conflict with the shows on site.”

After sponsoring Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week for five years, MAC decided to change its strategic approach. At Milk, MAC’s dollars won’t get lost in the myriad of sponsors typically found at Bryant Park.

“To reinforce our participation in the creative process in the back of the house, we made the decision to collaborate with Milk and the creation of this fashion space where presentations and runway shows would take place,” said Demsey. “MAC, along with Milk, will provide makeup services and support for many designers — some very well known, some not known at all, and some from the international community, to show their collections in a cohesive way.

“In this collaboration, we will have the opportunity to be much more deeply integrated with the designers and with the presentations,” Demsey added. “It’s beyond sponsorship. It’s truly an integrated support of fashion and makeup artistry. We felt that Milk is the premier venue in terms of a professional resource here in the city. And we felt that an adjunct to what was being done at the tents in a more formalized manner was good for fashion, good for New York City and good for MAC.”

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