NEW YORK -- As New York designers get ready for the fall collections starting Wednesday, SA is being charged with a double dose of adrenalin.
The creation of 7th on Sixth, grouping many major shows in one central area, and the formation of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, which went into operation last month, have brought a new sense of vitality to the fashion industry here.
The second edition of 7th on Sixth, created by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, is benefiting from a groundswell of interest from last November's inaugural production. In addition to the two tents within Bryant Park, 7th on Sixth has added under its umbrella the show venues at the adjoining New York Public Library.
In all, 59 shows will be staged under the tents and in the library during the eight days of Fashion Week, running through April 13, compared with a total of 40 last season.
In addition, there are another 31 firms having runway shows or informal modeling sessions during the week, apart from the 7th on Sixth organization. It's the busiest show season on record, according to Ruth Finley, who, as publisher of the Fashion Calendar, coordinates the show schedule each season.
Meanwhile, the new Business Improvement District -- funded by a 0.25 percent addition on real estate taxes -- has already begun its work, cleaning up and patrolling the garment district and making plans to promote the industry.
"The new mood in the market," said Bill Blass, summing up the feelings of many, "is a welcome change in an industry that's been depressingly stagnant.
"The BID is a major factor in creating an optimistic attitude that I haven't felt in years," Blass said. "Also, the coming together of all the designers in Bryant Park is a step in the right direction in creating the solidarity that's been sorely lacking in our industry. But never underestimate the fact that business has returned to the stores."
Blass said queries from various European designers about possibly showing in New York illustrates the city's growing stature on the international scene.
Blass, who last season showed in his showroom, is one of many additional designers joining the 7th on Sixth contingent this time around. The others are Prada -- the Italian house staging its first-ever New York show, Carolina Herrera, Arnold Scaasi, Randy Kemper, Ellen Tracy, Escada, Hang Feng, Yeohlee, Emo Pandelli, Jeanette Kastenberg, Lauren Sara, Rodney Telford, Cathy Hardwick, Bradley Bayou, Isabel Toledo, Label by Laura Whitcomb and Troa Cho.With the curtain about to rise on this new and expansive season, Fern Mallis, executive director of 7th on Sixth and the CFDA, acknowledged: "We're a little bit nervous, because it's the second time out and the pressure is on.
"We're still new at producing fashion shows. Last time everybody was so surprised about the relatively few problems and it's hard to top yourself."
Mallis said 7th on Sixth is making some changes in hopes of ensuring smoother operations this time around. New color-coded security tags have been devised, with separate access for the different venues as well as separate logos for each designer's staff and a separate picture pass for photographers.
In addition, security procedures have been revamped to allow for better entry at the front gate to each site, and there will also be an expanded backstage area in the big tent -- changes brought about by complaints and suggestions from the first round of shows.
"We learned a lot from last season and we're trying to tighten up all the systems and procedures," Mallis said.
The larger of the two tents -- the Gertrude Pavilion -- has changed from a white interior to black in order to provide better lighting, and will have frame construction instead of a pole set-up, providing for increased seating and better viewing.
The sponsor lobby area will be enlarged as well, with information and giveaways from the event's 11 corporate sponsors -- Evian Natural Spring Water, Cadillac, Clairol, Prescriptives, Godiva Liqueur, Pantone, Town & Country, Elle, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and the New York Times.
While the current corporate sponsors signed up for two seasons, Mallis said 7th on Sixth is working on obtaining long-range agreements with corporate sponsors for the shows.
Other corporate sponsorship has Wellman Inc. funding "Designs of the Future by Designers of the Future," on Sunday at 10 a.m. in the Josephine Pavilion, the smaller of the two Bryant Park tents. The show will feature looks created by students from the Fashion Institute of Technology using Wellman's Fortrel EcoSpun fiber. The Polyester Council of America is sponsoring The Next Generation show at Josephine on Wednesday.Special events during the coming week include Wednesday's CFDA Accessory Designer's show at Josephine, followed later by the annual CFDA press reception, held for the first time at Sony Plaza, located on Madison Avenue at 56th Street.
A press room, enlarged and improved, will again be set up in the NYNEX building across the street from the park at 1095 Sixth Ave.
Mallis said the many of the big-name models are expected to walk the runways under the same agreement on fees negotiated with the major agencies prior to the last shows after much controversy.
Information on the shows and promotional material from sponsors will be broadcast on TV screens throughout the week.
The cost of show space is up slightly from last season. The Gertrude Pavilion, which holds 1,150, costs $25,000, up $1,000 from last season; the Josephine Pavilion, which holds 800, costs $14,200, up $700. Among the show spaces at the library, the Celeste Bartos Forum, which holds 794, costs $2,000 more than last time at $12,000, and the Trustees Room, which holds 204, costs $600 more at $3,600.
Overall security will be provided by a 7th on Sixth private force and will be supplemented by the New York City Police Department, as well as Bryant Park and New York Public Library security. A command center will once again be set up on 40th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, serving as a main production office, security desk, lost and found, first aid and volunteer center.
Adding to the excitement this season was the talk from several European designers that they were interested in showing in New York. Giorgio Armani flirted with the idea, but has given it up. For the upcoming season, Italy's Prada is the only new design house from Europe showing, joining U.K. firms Ghost and Liza Bruce, but Stan Herman, CFDA president, said there is "serious interest" from Italian designers to show here next season.
With all these developments, Herman declared: "There is absolutely a new sense of pride in the industry and in the CFDA. For us it goes back to 7th on Sale [the big fund-raising sample sale staged by designers and retailers] and moving our awards show uptown. These moves brought about a sense of togetherness while also helping to promote the fashion community in New York as a vital, vibrant force."Herman said the creation of the FCBID on the heels of the first Bryant Park tent shows had "a sense of timing made in heaven."
He said even the restoration of Bryant Park is part of the revitalization that's going on in the fashion center.
"One thing feeds on the next," Herman said. "The cumulative effort is apparent and everything adds up to an extraordinary energy which is only going to help business in a time where American designers have become truly global."
"The international focus is now on New York," added Donna Karan. "There is a rebirth and an incredible energy here created by New York designers and companies banding together for 7th on Sixth and the BID."
Carolina Herrera said she decided to have a show in Bryant Park this season -- after not having any show the past two seasons -- because of the excitement and attention from last year's shows.
"To have a place where everybody can show together is wonderful," Herrera said. "You don't have problems crowding into elevators and buyers running all around town, you have all the press from out-of-town and from other countries attending and it's really fantastic.
"New York is the capital of fashion, all the Europeans want to come and sell here," Herrera said.
"The Business Improvement District should help us have a cleaner and safer neighborhood," she added, "and hopefully Mayor [Rudolph] Giuliani will get more involved. New York should be the best, and I'm very happy that we're going in that direction."
"There's definitely a renewed interest in the fashion district," agreed Oscar de la Renta."I have met the mayor a couple of times, and he is the first mayor who has been genuinely interested in doing something about changing the area."
De la Renta said the FCBID and 7th on Sixth represent a "unified voice," where companies are banding together with the support of the government, as is done in France and Italy.
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