NEW YORK — The Bryant Park tents could be history after the fall ’96 collections here in March.
The 7th on Sixth Corp., intent on keeping the New York show scene centralized, is scouring the city for alternative sites. The favored spot in some camps is an open space along the Hudson River at the end of 42nd Street and 12th Avenue — with shuttle buses moving the fashion flock to and fro.
The main reason for folding Bryant Park, according to the expansion-minded 7th on Sixth, is the lack of space. Other reasons: the financial impact on an unfriendly neighbor, The Bryant Park Grill, and the fact that the “command center” at 40 West 40th St., which houses the operations and press offices, is for sale.
And despite designer grumblings about ennui setting in, high costs, the occasional leaky tent and space limits, most show participants have grown to like the shows, especially the global media attention they’ve pulled.
“We’re proceeding cautiously with the tents. We’re working out our contracts for the season [with Bryant Park], and there are no commitments going forward,” said Fern Mallis, executive director of 7th on Sixth, which produces the Bryant Park tent shows.
“We’re considering a couple of places,” said Stan Herman, president of 7th on Sixth. “We’re moving forward, and everyone wants a community setup.”
According to Herman, a site at the base of 42nd Street and 12th Avenue, below the Intrepid, is a strong candidate. The plan would be to pitch three tents along the flat space, next to the water. The tents, which would resemble the Bryant Park setup, would be a lot roomier, said Herman. “We have looked at other parks, including Central Park,” said Herman, “but the piers, to me, look very good. We’re looking at the river, and feel strongly enough about it that we’ve done drawings on it.”
Herman said Bryant Park’s space “is so finite. If the tents are going to go forward, they have to grow naturally for our people, and people in Europe,” he said.
“We can’t go on the grass; there’s no place to move; there’s concrete and trees. We’ve maxed out right there where we are now,” added Mallis.
She pointed out, however, that 7th on Sixth is still negotiating with the Bryant Park Restoration Corp., and the situation could change. Normally, 7th on Sixth doesn’t have a definite commitment with Bryant Park until closer to the season, said Mallis.
“We’re negotiating that. There might be ways we can stay in Bryant Park forever,” said Mallis.
As for the Bryant Park Grill, whose views are blocked during show week, the restaurant’s owners and 7th on Sixth “are eyeballing each other about space,” Herman said. “The growth has forced me to do these things. Most of the designers either want an intimate show or bigger space. We’ve got some superstars — Todd, Isaac, Ralph, Donna and Calvin — we can shoehorn 1,200 into Gertrude [Pavilion, the largest tent].”
The Bryant Park tents generally house about 50 to 60 shows each season.
Dan Biederman, executive director of the Bryant Park Restoration Committee, said: “We don’t know if they [7th on Sixth Corp.] are going to leave the park. They tell us after every show whether they want to come back, and we renegotiate. We have no restrictions on how many people they can have here, but we do set the number of days they can be in the park, which is from 16 to 18.
“We like the tents. For the period that they are there, they give the Park the status as the fashion capital of the world, and considering this used to be a center for drug pushers, it’s obviously a sign of how far we’ve come,” said Biederman.
When asked if the relationship between Michael Weinstein — head of Ark Restaurants, which owns the Bryant Park Grill — and Mallis was difficult, Biederman said, “It’s no worse than any other discussion between two entrepreneurs. We find them both extremely difficult because they are both out to do the best job.”
Biederman said 7th on Sixth has a contract that entitles it to be in the park for three more seasons, or through the end of 1997. He said Mallis and Herman had asked for more space, and that the BPRC was “attempting to find ways to make that possible.”
“We have an architect looking at possibly reconfiguring the tents,” he said.
Some observers have said that 7th on Sixth hasn’t been the best tenant, and there have been complaints about damage to the park, and that 7th on Sixth fights over every dollar.
Designer companies here acknowledged that they’d heard rumors about the tents leaving Bryant Park, while others were caught by surprise.
“We always heard that might happen, so it’s not a shock,” said Patti Cohen, vice president of public relations at the Donna Karan Co. “Have we thought about alternative sites? Are you kidding? I have a men’s show and a women’s show between now and then.”
Cohen said she expects the Council of Fashion Designers of America will try to keep 7th on Sixth together.
“They’re not going to abandon it,” she said. “They’ll find a place that will hopefully be even more flexible and have even more options for shows. I know they were talking about getting more of Bryant Park, but as the week keeps getting longer and more Europeans keep coming here, I can see how that would be difficult.”
“I’m perfectly happy with the tents,” said Nicole Miller. “I’ve heard the park is being difficult, and that’s too bad. The whole format has worked very well, and its been a great thing for New York.”
“I think we’d go if they organized the show in another area,” said Nina Santisi, vice president of public relations and advertising at Isaac Mizrahi. “They’ve made it very simple. It’s very difficult to find a large enough space that really fills the bill. I think they’d be smart to go after a location like that on the river. As long as people could go there and spend the day and not feel like they’re so out of the way.”
“I’ve found the Bryant Park tents most agreeable,” said Bill Blass. “It’s not the most glamorous place for a fashion show, but who says fashion shows have to be so glamorous? I think it’s worked very well for New York designers.”
Blass said that as a CFDA board member, he’s been involved in scouting show locations for years, and nothing has met the convenience factor of Bryant Park. He scoffed at the idea of Central Park tent shows, such as the one multiline show done during the Democratic Convention in 1992.
“The problem with Central Park, beside being far away from the fashion center, is the question of ‘How do you get in and out?”‘ Blass said.
Tony Longoria, business partner in Todd Oldham’s designer business, said he hadn’t heard a word about the tents moving. “Obviously, we have plans to show there in March.” he said. “It would be terrible if the tents had to leave; it’s so convenient.”
Longoria admitted that while he and Oldham have talked about things they’d like to be different at the tents, they are pleased with most of the setup.
“We’ve always had a creative set and taken a creative approach to the tents,” he said. “There are parameters, of course, but those are there in any situation, whether you’re dealing with size or the runway or the number of seats. I mean, yes, we’d like the tent to be bigger. In the last show we did before the tents, when we were on Lafayette Street, we had twice as many front-row seats. So when we went into the tents, a lot of people who had been in the front row weren’t anymore, and that was stressful,” he noted. Joseph Abboud, who serves on the boards of the CFDA and 7th on Sixth Corp., said of Bryant Park, “It’s not been a guaranteed long-term situation. There’s always been a logistics issue. The great thing about the tents is it’s been so central; I only wish we could have the tents for all the men’s shows. But we don’t have enough critical mass in men’s to do the tents.
“We’ve talked about moving them toward the river, but you’ve got to make it easy for people to get to.”
Finding a new site might be necessary in any case, said some sources, because some of the biggest names have been heard to grumble about the cost and confines of tent shows, while others have sought more intimate settings.
Michael Kors showed in the Bryant Park tents once but for two seasons has been showing in his showroom at 550 Seventh Ave. here.
“I didn’t switch to be difficult. For me, I crave the intimacy we lost when we were in the tents. We are not going in the tents this season.
“I’m on the board of the CFDA, and the whole idea of organizing the shows this way has been great for the New York Collections and brought a lot of attention to us. For me, ultimately, it’s better to be in a more intimate setting. That venue hasn’t been available at the tents. Logistically, it’s insane for people to run all over New York City. Since our showroom is so close to the tents, it hasn’t been a problem.”
— with contributions from Janet Ozzard and Arthur Friedman