By  on February 10, 2010

Elyse Kroll is no shrinking violet.

The founder and chairwoman of ENK International Trade Events has also quietly been running CCK, a second unit producing trade shows of the nonfashion variety. The fashion trade show mogul is poised to produce WNET’s education trade show, “The Celebration of Teaching and Learning,” March 5 and 6 at the Hilton New York, featuring Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Queen Latifah and Queen Noor, among others. It will be the third time CCK is producing the show, according to Ron Thorpe, vice president and director of education at WNET, New York City’s public television channel.

A foodie who waxes poetic over Jeremy Bearman’s butternut squash soup at Rouge Tomate, her favorite restaurant, Kroll has also staged a food trade show. (“He has toasted pumpkin seeds in there, for the crunch, which you’re not expecting,” she enthuses about Bearman’s soup.) She chews on the links between food and the fashion business.

“I’ve been paying attention to food the way I’ve been paying attention to fashion,” Kroll confides over a chopped salad at Monkey Bar, “simply because people in fashion care about food, care about where they eat, certainly care about where they sit.”

Kroll herself is no exception. Upon entering Monkey Bar for a lunchtime interview, she chastened the host for escorting her to a table that was not up to her standards, Kroll being a regular at the restaurant. A few tables away, Geraldo Rivera sat placidly. (Kroll and the reporter were quickly whisked to a quieter banquette.)

With similar determination, she’s sprung the 28-year-old fashion trade show empire from its beginnings in cramped East 54th Street offices sublet from The Gap to Pier 94 — which she spotted lying dormant on Manhattan’s West Side and gained New York City’s permission to use — to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. In between, she’s finessed the last-minute, emergency relocation of the Fashion Coterie to the Javits Center, following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the City reclaimed the Pier 94 building for a Family Assistance Center as New York recovered.

Now, Kroll is in the throes of developing a virtual fashion trade show. It could premiere as soon as this fall — but Kroll is not expecting ENK to jettison shows on terra firma. “It’s not a reason not to come” to Fashion Coterie, she says protectively.

WWD: How many shows does ENK manage and produce?
Elyse Kroll: Twenty-nine.

WWD: When you began in 1982, how many ENK-produced shows were there?
E.K.: There was one — Designers Collective, a men’s wear show. I started Fashion Coterie in 1986. Right after that, in 1987, I started Accessories Circuit.

WWD: What inspired you to go this route?
E.K.: I was doing p.r. for Giorgio Armani and some other Italian clients. It was time to move on. I found myself in this meeting with a bunch of men’s wear designers. At the end, I asked if I could hand in a proposal for being a group p.r. person. I don’t think I left my apartment all weekend. I wrote a proposal. I charged them $1,000 to produce the first event. I handed it in bright and early Monday morning. I was on pins and needles. Andrew Fezza called me up and said, “You’re hired.”

WWD: Who was the first client?
E.K.: In the show we had Gene Pressman of Barneys New York and Lance Karesh, a [designer] at Barneys All American Sportswear Co. It was the beginning of Designers Collective. There were about 18 designers.

WWD: What is your biggest show now?
E.K.: Fashion Coterie, our women’s show [with about 1,200 exhibitors].

Has it long been?
E.K.: Yes, it has. We do a lot of legwork for the retailers. We screen. It’s trendy for trade shows to say “we screen,” but we do it. You can come in to our offices almost any time and see racks of clothing. People send us samples. We have a screening committee that looks at the samples for quality, for design integrity, for craftsmanship, where it sells, [whether it’s] important to our retailers. We choose who can be in the show.

WWD: Who’s your top competition for space?
E.K.: At the Javits Center? We bump into the Toy Fair. We bump into the New York Boat Show, and the [New York International] Gift Fair, all the time. They’re fixtures. It’s not like I can push anybody around. Usually, even if my space is available, there’s not enough move-in time.
    In 1997, I was moving out of The Plaza hotel. All my shows were in the big hotels. The Plaza was getting renovated, and I went to the piers on 55th Street. I had a show at the piers, Accessories Circuit. And then there was no more space. I went to the City because I saw, as you go up the ramp to the piers, there was a building at street level [Pier 94] that was empty. I asked the City if I could use that building. It was March, and they said I could use it for July, August, September, which was what I needed. To bring that building up to code, I had to put a lot of money into it. The City allowed me to stay. We built up a nice business at the piers, doing trade shows. Then I became a landlord, renting it out to other trade shows.

You purchased the building?
E.K.: You can’t purchase waterfront in New York City, so they gave me a long-term lease.

WWD: You can sublease?
E.K.: I rented it out to other trade show operators. To any show that wants to go in. [Kroll held the lease from 1998 until last year.]

WWD: So you had it for quite some time. Why did you unload it?
E.K.: (Pause) Well, I didn’t quite unload it. It’s been given to a powerful development team. Now what they’re supposed to do is renovate it into a full-blown exhibition center. We’re waiting for that.
    [The developer is Merchandise Mart Properties, owned by Vornado. The project has been stalled by a suit brought regarding MMP’s Environmental Assessment Study, said NYC Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman Janel Patterson. MMP has been operating Piers 92 and 94 since 2008 on an occupancy permit.]

WWD: How big is it?
E.K.: 175,000 square feet. They’re combining it with Pier 92 next door, so the total will be about 400,000 square feet.

WWD: Is ENK profitable?
E.K.: It is.

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