NEW YORK — The Council of Fashion Designers of America and Vogue magazine want to give designers a better chance of making it on Seventh Avenue.
The CFDA and Vogue on Wednesday said they would jointly establish a fund to grant awards of up to $100,000 to at least two designers annually, beginning next September. Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, said that the magazine is contributing $1 million — among the publication’s largest philanthropic efforts to date — and that a capital campaign has been launched with the goal of raising $5 million to create the program, which is called the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
Although the American industry often has been criticized for not supporting its young talent in comparison with government initiatives in the European fashion capitals, especially after several of the most promising designers to come to fame in the Eighties and Nineties went out of business, the number of sponsorship opportunities for young designers here has vastly increased in recent years.
However, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund is envisioned as a broader and more permanent initiative that would offer not only financial support to new designers, but also access to the business acumen and production resources of Seventh Avenue veterans who volunteer in the program.
“I started to think about this seriously after Sept. 11 , when we put together the American View show with Carolina Herrera,” said Wintour, whose staff organized a group show of 10 young designers after their original presentations were canceled in the wake of the terrorist attacks. “I really started to understand more fully how hand-to-mouth these businesses are for young designers. It’s always been tough; there isn’t anything new about that. But when they have to compete in a marketplace with so many big companies, these smaller designers often don’t have the same resources and are probably the last ones in line when it comes to factories and fabrics.”
The CFDA and Vogue will be approaching established designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren, as well as manufacturing giants like Liz Claiborne Inc., Jones Apparel Group and Kellwood Co., to not only sponsor the fund, but to also provide business training for new designers. Recipients of the annual grants will receive managerial guidance for one year, said Peter Arnold, executive director of the CFDA, explaining that a team of executives from a sponsoring company could come into the smaller designer’s operation and offer guidance on accounting, production and creating a realistic business plan.“We’re at a point in American fashion when people like Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein are looking back and saying, ‘What is the future of the fashion industry?’” Arnold said.
“And they’re asking, ‘How can we help?’” Wintour added.
The CFDA/Vogue initiative has been in development over the past year and also is supported by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who hinted last June at the CFDA Awards that he and Wintour had been discussing programs to support emerging designers in the city. He also said last week at a celebration for the 10th anniversary of 7th on Sixth that he had asked Wintour for further advice on issues relating to the city’s $35 billion apparel industry, which is believed to be its second-largest business, after financial services.
Wintour planned to announce the details of the fund to designers and industry titans at a private dinner at Bloomberg’s residence Wednesday night, where the guest list included such heavyweights as Sidney Kimmel, Mackey McDonald, Lawrence Stroll, Silas Chou and Mark Weber, in addition to Karan, Klein and de la Renta.
Although the city is not contributing financially to the fund, Bloomberg has expressed interest in supporting fashion in a more visible way, notably addressing the ongoing loss of skilled production and specialty factory jobs to cheaper offshore labor, and participating in efforts that support designers during what is generally an extremely fragile time in their careers.
“This is a symbolic meeting that reflects a concentrated effort to incubate new talent,” said Stan Herman, president of the CFDA. “It’s asking the industry to pull together. We haven’t done justice to the last two graduating classes of designers, those from the Eighties and Nineties. We didn’t develop a second string that would fill in, but the timing is absolutely right for this now.”
Wintour added the current generation of rising designers, names like Proenza Schouler, Zac Posen, Behnaz Sarafpour, Peter Som, Derek Lam, Sebastian Pons and Jeffrey Chow, has arrived at an unprecedented pace and also has been quickened largely, thanks to so much media exposure.
“The landscape of designers today has changed so much compared to even five years ago,” Wintour said. “There is emerging talent on a scale that we haven’t seen before, but it can be hard for them to keep pace with the publicity they’ve been getting. It’s a slightly double-edged sword. We want to help them get to the next level without falling to the wayside.”Arnold said the CFDA would organize a committee to spearhead the operations of the fund and to advertise and execute an annual applications process. The group will determine the amount of the awards, ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, which will be paid on a biannual basis, pending the reviews of the recipients’ progress. The funds are expected to be used to further develop the designers’ businesses in areas such as public relations, production, marketing and sales.
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