NEW YORK — Fashion week will still have a home in Bryant Park come February, but the circus probably will be forced to move on after that.
Exactly where remains the big question. While Lincoln Center was debated as a possible venue last month, that now appears less likely. A site on the West Side remains another alternative — but no one knows exactly where there is enough space, since the tents now take up almost two acres.
It took the intervention of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to keep the tents in Bryant Park for at least another season. After lengthy negotiations, the Bryant Park Corp. has made no secret of the fact that it wants New York Fashion Week to vacate, while IMG Fashion, which owns 7th on Sixth, is eager to remain in what almost everyone in the industry agrees is an ideal site.
"The fashion industry is a vital part of our city's economy, providing more than 150,000 jobs for more than 15,400 businesses," Bloomberg said in a statement. "It is paramount we ensure the long-term success of both the industry and fashion week, which takes place in Bryant Park twice a year. Fashion week plays a significant part in the industry's New York City success story."
Fern Mallis, vice president of IMG Fashion, said in a separate statement that she applauded Bloomberg's decision. "We also fully embrace the search for a long-term solution and look forward to working with the city, the [Council of Fashion Designers of America] and all of our constituencies to identify a permanent home."
The need for a new location surfaced last month when the Bryant Park Corp., which operates the park, said it wanted to extend its popular ice-skating rink through February. But reports of a discord between executives at IMG and the Bryant Park Corp. have been ripe for some time. At issue were the early dates of the shows, which resulted in the park's closing to the public on Labor Day to allow for the construction of the tents, and the damage to the lawn the tents can cause.
The shows made their debut at Bryant Park in November 1993 and have been held there since, except for a much-panned season in fall 1997 when they moved to the Chelsea Piers, on the Hudson River at the end of West 23rd Street. As the number of designers showing multiplied over the years, attendance rose, and special initiatives such as the UPS Hub were added. The tents once occupied about 10,000 square feet, but now take up almost two acres of the park."From its modest beginning as two tents on opposite ends of Bryant Park, New York Fashion Week has grown to become a hugely successful fashion industry and corporate event," Daniel A. Biederman, executive director of Bryant Park Corp., said in a statement. "It has also grown to a size that is physically too big for the park. We are grateful to Mayor Bloomberg for his commitment to help find a new home for fashion week and his recognition that the event has outgrown Bryant Park. The Bryant Park Corp. has already provided assistance to IMG to find a more suitable location and are ready to provide additional assistance to help fashion week relocate for its September 2007 shows."
Bloomberg said, "While it is clear that, due to its success, fashion week has outgrown the facilities available at Bryant Park, fall fashion week, which takes place in February, is just around the corner, and we have determined that the search for a suitable home will require further analysis and planning. The city will continue to work with IMG and the fashion industry to locate a permanent home for fashion week."
He added that the shows have "an economic impact of about $177 million annually, which does not include the millions of dollars spent on wholesale apparel merchandise in the weeks that follow."
As reported, producing the shows in Bryant Park costs IMG about $12 million a year, and the park takes in more than $1 million from the shows annually.
In recent weeks, industry leaders have rallied to keep the shows at Bryant Park in February. Diane von Furstenberg, the incoming president of the CFDA, and Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, both are said to have been in touch with the mayor to find a long-term solution.
Von Furstenberg said she was "thrilled about the mayor's intervention. I am looking forward to working with him to give great exposure to the number-two industry in New York, fashion."
Oscar de la Renta also lauded Bloomberg's decision. "It's great that the mayor has agreed to allow us to use Bryant Park until a better solution is found," the designer said. "Fashion is such a vital part of our city, and it brings, in many ways, so many millions of dollars into the city. Certainly, from the point of practicality, Bryant Park is great because it is so central. I am glad the impasse has been solved and hope that a permanent solution will be found."Steven Kolb, CFDA's executive director, praised the mayor and his office for being so responsive to the matter.
"They looked at the park versus alternative locations and realized that, given the short amount of time, it made sense to stay there through February," Kolb said. "There's no question that, at some point, the park will be too small to accommodate the growth that this event is experiencing. An ad hoc group will be put together to look at the alternatives there are for a more permanent home to house fashion week."
Yet many in the industry believe no alternative site will be as good as the park, with its central location and proximity to the Garment District and most major media outlets.
Badgley Mischka's James Mischka said, "I am very glad the mayor stepped in and did this. I wish he would do it again and make it a permanent situation, which it needs to be. I think it will be a nightmare to find a new site. The tents [in Bryant Park] are perfect."
That will, of course, be one of the major challenges for the fashion industry in the months to come, since space in New York is notoriously limited. Lincoln Center, long touted as a potential site, is looking less likely; the city acknowledges the event is outgrowing Bryant Park, and Lincoln Center's footprint is 35 percent smaller.
"The solution has to be long range," said outgoing CFDA president Stan Herman. "It has to be prepared with intelligence, whether there is a building in the future for them, or a relocation of districts for a large enough space. My eye always looks to the West Side. There is so much going on between the Garment District and the Hudson River, which is happening at an opportune time."
Bill Blass designer Michael Vollbracht pointed to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center as a possibility, though he conceded it is not as ideal as Bryant Park. "Why can't someone develop some kind of transportation, or a restaurant or two, to bring you to the Javits Center?" he asked. "It's such a dead and underdeveloped area."CFDA's Kolb added, "There are a lot of locations in the city that could be looked at and evaluated from a strategic perspective. The great thing about Bryant Park is that it's a big field. There are no trees, whereas in most parks, you would have to cut down trees. But there are some parks that may be able to accommodate it. You also have to look to the West Side. This is giving us time to really evaluate the situation and make the right decision."
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