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FIT Panel: Critical Time for N.Y. Fashion Industry

Although globalization threatens New York's reign as the fashion capital of the world, the city plays a critical role in the industry, according to a recent panel discussion at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

NEW YORK — Although globalization threatens New York’s reign as the fashion capital of the world, the city plays a critical role in the industry, according to a recent panel discussion at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The discussion, sponsored by Sterling National Bank, covered topics ranging from the importance and future of the garment district to Bravo’s smash hit, “Project Runway.” Other key topics included the need for mentoring young talent, and maintaining domestic production.

Patrick Murphy, head of the fashion-retail desk at the New York City Economic Development Corp., said New York harbors companies that represent $47 billion in annual sales and a whopping 5,400 showrooms, the most of any city in the world.

“The Garment District is a key strategic asset to the city,” said Murphy, who added that the area consists of an important cluster of designers, suppliers, production and showrooms that no other city can match.

“This cluster creates a synergy and lends uniqueness to the garment center,” said Sarah Crean, director of the Garment Industry Development Corporation, “GIDC has been working with the city for several months and there is a lot of concern that we hold on to what makes the garment center so functional and unique.”

There was unbridled unison among the panelists when discussing the need to maintain domestic production within the cluster. The panelists agreed production has been lost overseas and cannot be regained, but they stressed the importance of keeping the remaining production within New York.

“We have people like Oscar de la Renta and Charles Nolan making great clothes right here in New York,” said Stan Herman, a designer and former president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

The panelists also said it was critical to foster and mentor young talent in New York. “The CFDA has a mentoring program that is real and rich,” said Herman. “From the Proenza Schoulers to the Phillip Lims to the Doo-Ri Chungs, [they] all started here.”

Murphy said there’s no central place in the city to go if you’re a young person looking for a start in the industry. “There’s a lot of opportunity to create some sort of central hub. That’s a key initiative of the year.”

This story first appeared in the March 26, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

One area of disagreement among the panelists was “Project Runway.” While most agreed the show offers big breaks to unknown fashion talents and that it has helped the fashion industry, Herman felt the Bravo show feeds an unhealthy obsession with celebrity culture, which is, according to him, the biggest change in fashion in the last 10 years.

“‘Project Runway’ is a phenomenon with great attitude,” said Herman, “but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt because there are many kids who don’t know anything else about fashion besides ‘Project Runway.'”