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

This story first appeared in the July 23, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

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 Fashionweekdaily.com, 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.”

Some of the participating designers may choose to use the venue for their runway shows or presentations, while others could be hosting fashion week parties there.

Milk Studios long has been a go-to location for shows, although it’s had a somewhat checkered past as a venue. Calvin Klein showed there for eight years before creating its own event space in 2006 until a disastrous season when the studio’s air-conditioning broke and several top editors walked out before the show began. Still, over the years, many designers and labels, including Proenza Schouler and Doo.Ri, have used the venue to present their collections. But the trek to the far West Side long has been a point of contention with some press and buyers, their complaints exacerbated by the location’s slow elevators.

In September, Milk Studios’ main-floor gallery will be set up for shows and some larger presentations; its second-floor gallery space will feature most of the runway shows, and another 10 studios, ranging in size from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet, also will be made available and could be used for castings, hair and makeup tests and look book shoots.

Asked for the criteria to show at Milk, Demsey said it ranged from “young talents” to designers “with a strong point of view.”

“We wanted to have a good editorial mix,” he said.

“There is no question it gives star billing to the brand, but in our opinion, the star of fashion week is the fashion designers,” Demsey said. “It puts the focus on fashion and on the designers, and it allows us to be deeply integrated in an authentic way. It’s not a promotional front.”

Demsey declined to disclose the size of MAC’s sponsorship, other than to say it was a “significant investment” that mirrored its previous arrangement with IMG Fashion. According to industry sources, the investment is in the seven figures.

CFDA executive director Steven Kolb said the association embraces any move that enhances a “more successful fashion week” in New York.

“To me, the calendar and time slot needs to drive the venue,” Kolb said. “In the end, Milk and MAC are creating a space that is helping designers who may not be able to afford to show, and brings attention to designers, which is a good thing. I support anything that is new and brings something to fashion week. I don’t see any competition between MAC and IMG.

“If ever anything new was created that started to unravel the foundation and core of fashion week,” he added, “then I would speak up against it, but that’s not the case here. The more venues, the more access, the more opportunity there is for American fashion.”



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