THE SHOW WILL GO ON WITH THE OWNERSHIP OF 7TH ON SIXTH UNCERTAIN, THE INDUSTRY WONDERS: IF THE BIGGEST SHOW IN BRYANT PARK CHANGES HANDS, WILL IT BE A BOOM OR A BUST FOR DESIGNERS?
Byline: Shirliey Fung
Industry insiders are waiting with keen interest to see whether a potential changing of the guard at 7th on Sixth will impact what most feel has been a successful run by the offshoot of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. With the likelihood that the CFDA will sell or license the 7th on Sixth name to an outside organization--the present front-runner reportedly being International Management Group, a sports licensing and model management conglomerate--designers, publicists and show producers involved in putting on the semiannual runway presentations in Bryant Park are showing some concern over what will happen. While many designers still choose to do their own thing, under the direction of CFDA president Stan Herman and executive director Fern Mallis, 7th on Sixth has been, and remains, the major venue for designer collections since its inception in 1993. The wait-and-see attitude is reflected by Cynthia Steffe, showing with 7th on Sixth for the first time in several seasons, who said: "The CFDA in charge of 7th on Sixth has done a fabulous job; it'll be a hard act to follow. But they've done such a good job, I'm sure that they will see it through and pass on their expertise." Most of the industry sources that WWD polled for this story seemed as sanguine as Steffe, believing that the CFDA's interest in maintaining the legacy of the institution it has created insures that whatever deal goes through will not allow standards to fall. Seventh on Sixth unfolded its tents in November 1993 for the first time in Bryant Park and quickly took off as a concept with the support of City Hall, attracting most Seventh Avenue designers, as well as many from other world capitals. "I'm certain the CFDA wouldn't turn [the shows] over if they themselves didn't think it would be beneficial to everyone," said Deborah Hughes, who is producing the Catherine Malandrino and Douglas Hannant shows. "They started it themselves, and they're quite proud of their achievements. I trust they wouldn't let anything happen to it." James LaForce, principal of LaForce & Stevens, which will be producing shows for Steffe and Jill Stuart, said: "I have the feeling that what the CFDA has done for the New York shows is establish a standard that all of the designers and all of the press can hold future shows up to in terms of organization, practicality and functionality." But some expressed concerns over such issues as price hikes and overcommercialization. They are worried that prices for shows, which currently run from $10,500 to $27,000, depending on day and venue, could increase to the point of pricing out the new and small designers. Hope Boxwell, president of ASHA (the name means "hope" in Hindi), which is doing press for the NY BASED and the Margie Tsai shows, as well as producing the Lloyd Klein Paris show, said she's been working with fledgling designers, some of whom already cannot afford a 7th on Sixth show, which includes venue rental and some production and security support. "What's going to happen to the younger designers?" she wondered. "Are [the new owners] going to be favorable to young designers or will they just focus on big names?" Katie Ogan, principal of Ogan & Dallal, producers of the Moet & Chandon Designer Debut and Badgley Mischka shows, expressed concern that a new owner might no longer have fashion as its primary focus. The shows "are very much an industry event right now; it's run by the industry and for the industry," she said. Ogan said if 7th on Sixth is bought or licensed, it's likely to become more expensive to participate. "It's going to cost more for the designers, who already have a tough time, or [the owners are] going to bring in many more corporate sponsors who are going to want their due," she said. But designers like Margie Tsai embraced the possibility of increased sponsorship. "A more experienced company might be able to bring more sponsors to the show," said Tsai. "It's definitely good to get more sponsors. That way, the fashion shows aren't just limited to Seventh Avenue. It can expand to all different types of industries and be more of a lifestyle event. It's too early to say whether changes will be good or bad, but I think it will definitely open doors for other opportunities for designers who haven't been showing with 7th on Sixth." Robert Danes believes that a change will be positive. "I trust Fern and Stan. I doubt they'll let it go to someone who's not top-flight and won't promise to retain the quality of events," he said. "And this way, the CFDA can really concentrate on focusing on fashion and design." The CFDA board has reportedly sought to separate itself from 7th on Sixth in order to return to its original focus as an association strictly geared toward promoting causes close to the fashion industry and hosting an annual awards show. The sale or license would also be a means to establish a financial backbone for its foundation activities. Herman and Mallis remain mum on the possible sale or license, but negotiations are said to be ongoing. As for how this would affect prices, Robert Danes was among those who were not concerned. "I think the market will take care of that," he said. "It might be painful in the short term, but if prices go too high, they will come down." Some designers pointed out that even with higher costs, showing in the tents would still be a bargain when compared with the lighting, staging and production costs of showing off-site. Erica Roseman, a partner of Company Agenda, which is producing the Yigal Azrouel and Angel Sanchez shows, said" "We are concerned about prices, but we'll be optimistic. If young designers can't afford the tents, they'll have to come up with alternatives. It could force more creativity." If rents are not raised, the new organization could seek increased sponsorship as the way to bring in more revenue. LaForce warned that bringing in overly commercial sponsors could backfire. "If they sell out too quickly to a mass sponsor, they'll kill the golden goose," he said. "They'll create an environment that designers won't want to be in." He pointed out that many designers would balk at showing under a McDonald's logo, for example. "It will be important to choose like-minded sponsors," he said. Hannant said that he hopes whoever takes over will maintain the separation between the designer and lower-end tiers. "In America, the line between the designer and commercial product seems to be blurred more and more. It's becoming more and more about money and commercialism and less and less about design," said Hannant. "It seems more lower-end companies are being acknowledged as fashion. There needs to be some sort of separation between the designers and lower-priced lines. If it becomes too low-end, I would no longer show in the tents." But Hannant said that the greatest priority will be for the successor to preserve the centralized tent shows. "It makes a lot more sense than travelling all over New York," he said. "It's convenient for the press and for the buyer. The attendance is better if you show for a group." Norma Quinto, owner of Quinto & Co. and the producer of shows such as Cynthia Rowley and Marithe & Francois Girbaud, said she was concerned that the new company might not maintain the cachet of the shows and that, if IMG did indeed take over, they would put pressure on producers to use the models they represent. Calls to competing modeling agencies Ford Models, Women and Next to get their comments on this issue were not returned. Vivienne Tam took a positive tone when she said: "The CFDA has done a great job, but change is sometimes fresh and positive." Diane Von Furstenberg also said that it might be a positive for the CFDA to return to its original mission of promoting fashion as an art. "They should protect designers and help designers and protect the industry and the product," she said.
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