ALTERNATIVE SPACES

Byline: Alice Welsh and Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK--"I could show in the tents or I could go to Acapulco for a week, and I'd rather get a tan."
That remark, from designer Kalinka, just about sums up why some designers--usually running small companies--choose to show off-campus during show week, away from the Bryant Park tent compound.
Whether down in SoHo or just across the street, every season several designers find alternative spaces to display their lines. Often, it's cost that keeps them from doing a whiz-bang tent extravaganza, but these designers say it's also a question of esthetics and environment.
"There are certain things I like about fashion shows, like the runway, but in the tents, there's too much distance between you and what you are looking at," said Mark Jacobs. "I like slightly quirky things; I don't want to have to make them quirkier because they are on the runway."
Jacobs is doing his second independent show at photographer pal Mario Testino's SoHo studio on Hudson Street.
"My clothes are very simple and the cut is intricate," said Michael Leva. "They can't be appreciated from far away." Leva is putting on a small show at Aero Design's showroom.
"I think you can show less in a smaller space," said Elizabeth Fillmore, who is using a cabaret room at the Algonquin Hotel. "I don't have a 60-piece collection, and I want to love each piece that goes out. It's not like I can say I'm going to throw in HotPants because it shows up better on a runway."
"I always think that the context and environment of what's being presented is important," said Puett, whose signature store holds her natural fiber clothes displayed amid old farm tools, a bed made from charred wood and rusty hoop skirts dangling from the ceiling. "The tents seem sterile to me. My show is short, sweet and it's in the environment."
Puett is probably the only designer who is calling on conceptual artists to walk down the runway in her show, which she said has been inspired by a 17th-century French painting.
Some of the alternative crowd had even booked time in the tents, but constraints of time, space and money forced them out.
Label by Laura Whitcomb had a tent show, but the designer canceled to do a show at the newly reopened Studio 54 that would better showcase her James Bond-inspired clothes. Whitcomb is said to be designing the wardrobe for United Artists' next Bond flick.
However, because of sample troubles, Whitcomb may not do a formal show at all.
New designer Lawrence Scott had tentatively booked time in the tents for his first runway show, but then decided that he preferred to show in his West 39th Street showroom.
"My space is 100 feet long," he said. "It's not that I couldn't have afforded the tents, it's more that I like it here. I'm in my element. I'm not forced to get in and out. I have two weeks to decorate."
But for most, money is the number one barrier. Designer Tracy Feith said a tent show, which costs a minimum of $15,000, was "prohibitive" and "elitist."
"If they want everyone to participate together, they need to come up with an alternative plan so it's not so expensive," he said. "These big prices are very elitist. They don't take into account young talent."
Feith showed in the Library last season and plans a show-week presentation, but at press time he had not yet confirmed a space.
"I think people are wanting to get away from the area, and I want to go somewhere with a little more personality that's cheaper," said Feith.
Other gripes from the alternative set are the impersonal nature of the tents, the distance from the runway and the time constraints and limited ability to make decorating changes.
Until last year, New York designers traditionally chose various locations. Although buyers and press might complain about running around, designers often claim that it's the same people who go to the ends of the earth in Paris who won't get in a cab to go to SoHo.
"I'm a little torn about the whole Park experience. I think it's exciting to run around town, seeking out new things, even though I recognize it's very time-consuming," said Leva.
New designer Christian Blanken, formerly a design assistant with Zoran, is having his first show at the Jonathan Morr Gallery and espresso bar on Greene Street in SoHo.
Blanken's runway show is sponsored by Johnny Walker Black Label, which will host a buffet after the show.
Other designers are sticking closer to the tent neighborhood, hoping that buyers and press won't flinch at walking a few blocks.
Alpana Bawa will be at Parsons Fashion Center for her third season in a row.
"It's affordable, first of all," said Bawa. "It's still close to the area. Parsons has everything I need--lights, a good sound system, seating and runway. At the tents, you are guaranteed so much more of an audience, but I can't spend that much on a show."
Russell Bennett is showing away from the park, not because of cost, but the nature of his show.
"I'm showing in a 10,000-square-foot industrial space at Sixth Avenue and 38th Street. I'm creating a garden inside with painted stretch canvas. It's sort of like 'Cecil Beaton does the collections,"' said Bennett, referring to the English writer, photographer, designer and illustrator. "It also takes four days to set up, so there was no way to do the tents."
John Scher and Jeannette Kastenberg both chose a location near the Park at 111 West 42nd St.
"It's right across from the tents, very convenient. I usually like to show downtown, like many young designers, but I feel it's important to find a place uptown that's not too expensive," said Scher. "I wanted a raw and basic space that I can mold. Personally, I like a space with more interest."
Kastenberg had done one show in the tents last season, but this time around, said: "I wanted a darker, more intimate space this season. I wanted to do a very private, exclusive show, rather than a free-for-all."

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