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NEW YORK — With William Morris Endeavor and Silver Lake Partners’ acquisition of IMG Worldwide Holdings Inc. for more than $2.3 billion, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week has changed hands at a time when the future of centralized fashion shows here is in flux.
MBFW, which has been owned by IMG since 2001, will now become the property of WME and Silver Lake. IMG produces and is involved in fashion events around the globe in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Berlin, Sydney, Mumbai, Moscow and Istanbul, where sponsorships with companies including Mercedes-Benz, American Express, Maybelline and DHL have made it a big business.
Officials at Silver Lake and WME declined interviews on Wednesday.
WME and Silver Lake will have their work cut out for them to make MBFW in New York more compelling and the show venues more attractive to designers and a better experience for editors and buyers. The crush of international media and fashion-industry voyeurs illustrates that there is no shortage of interest in the shows. But complaints have mounted that a logistically challenged, circuslike aura prevades the New York runway season. Designers such as Vera Wang and Carolina Herrera have publicly stated that they’re not interested in showing at Lincoln Center because of the atmosphere, although Herrera hasn’t made a final decision yet.
Interestingly, Ari Emanuel, co-chief executive officer of WME, made overtures 10 years ago when he was at the Endeavor Agency (where he was founding partner) to buy 7th on Sixth from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. He held several meetings with the CFDA in New York and Los Angeles, was very interested in fashion week and had a lot of ideas, said a source. Instead, 7th on Sixth was sold to IMG.
IMG’s contract for New York Fashion Week with Lincoln Center runs through February 2015 (fall 2015 shows). After that, the fashion shows will need to find an interim home. As reported, the Culture Shed, the arts center at Hudson Yards, is slated to become the new home of New York Fashion Week once it’s completed around 2017, and it’s still up in the air who would run the centralized shows. Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg has dedicated $50 million in city funds to the Culture Shed, which is expected to present a new opportunity for American fashion.
“The business model for the Culture Shed is undetermined at the moment,” said Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA. “The CFDA, Diane von Furstenberg and myself are all very involved in what fashion week will look like at the Culture Shed. What it turns out to be will be driven by the CFDA. There’s no contract for them [IMG] to go there.” He said now that WME, with their strength and assets, owns IMG, it may create a stronger fashion week. “Hopefully, they’ll build a stronger group venue,” said Kolb.
“I’m really pleased. It’s a really exciting time for us. I started my career at William Morris so I’ve come full circle. It’s run by two visionaries,” said Catherine Bennett, senior vice president and managing director of IMG Fashion Events and Properties, referring to WME’s co-ceos, Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell. “We have a thriving business globally,” she said. Jarrad Clark, vice president, global creative director, added that IMG operates in 40 markets around the world “giving designers the opportunity to put on a world-class production.” He’s also seen plans for the Culture Shed, and said, “I’m very excited about what’s going on with it.”
NYFW remains a splintered affair, with buyers and the press running all over town to fashion shows. Last season, there were 350 fashion shows on the New York Fashion Calendar. About 60 shows were part of MBFW and took place in the tents at Lincoln Center, and roughly 35 showed off-site and paid an affiliate’s fee. Between 20 and 25 fashion shows were held at Milk Studios as part of Made Fashion Week, which sources say has been very successfully run and prompted MBFW to make improvements.
Fashion publicist Paul Wilmot concurred that the Lincoln Center shows have become “very circuslike.”
“The shows are great and the venues and lighting are great, but the lobby looks like a carnival midway. I know there’s a push to make money.…All the editors and buyers go past, and there’s a strange amalgam of unrelated companies before they go in.” Wilmot said that a lot of designers are defecting from the tents and some of it is a desire to do something new.
For an emerging designer, he will always recommend the tents. “Off-site things are still risky business. At the tents, the editors are all around. Hundreds of editors come into town. Lighting and sound are ready to go. All they have to do is deal with seating and the runway,” he said. “There are great efficiencies with a central venue. It will be nice if the tents still maintain a relevance. New York is still the number-one show venue in the world. The shows should be healthy,” he said. As far as WME’s management of fashion week, Wilmot said, “They’re smart. They’re coming into a business they don’t know anything about. There’s going to be a learning curve. WME is going to have to invest in it now.”
Earlier this month, IMG outlined some key structural changes to MBFW in New York to better control the event and crowds and make it more exclusive to fashion insiders. In addition to a redesign of the on-site venues, the improvements include a redesigned lobby, increased space for designers to hold hospitality events, a more carefully curated press and industry list, and redesigned flow and front-of-the-house protocols.
The fall 2014 shows will be held in New York Feb. 6 to 13. In making those changes, Bennett said, “In recent years, the global fashion week landscape has seen a major shift. What used to be a platform for established designers to debut their collections to select media and buyers has developed into a cluttered, often cost prohibitive and exhausting period for our industry to effectively do business.” She said that the new MBFW will have “better curated live shows and presentations at The Tents at Lincoln Center, a new off-site satellite hub for emerging talent and an expanded digital platform” for up-and-coming designers. The new structure also included price reductions for some of the venues.
Last month, IMG Fashion informed designers of plans to outsource production of its MBFW events in New York and Miami and laid off several production staffers.
It was reported last week that the CFDA was taking a more active role in the planning of shows and presentations and intended to work with Ruth Finley and the Fashion Calendar, starting with the fall 2014 shows in February. This will involve the scheduling of shows to service editors and buyers with better ways to organize their week.
Since acquiring IMG in 2004 for $750 million, Forstmann Little & Co., led by the late Ted Forstmann, greatly expanded the scope of its services. In addition to IMG Fashion, which owns and operates fashion events around the world, there’s IMG Models; IMG College, handling collegiate marketing, licensing and media rights; IMG Media, an independent producer and distributor of sports programming, and IMG Events and Federations, which owns and manages events with international sports organizations, leagues and federations. IMG also owns Art + Commerce, which represents photographers, art directors and stylists. IMG represents more than 1,000 elite athletes, coaches, industry executives and sports organizations across the sports, entertainment, fashion and media industries.
Meantime, Standard & Poor’s on Wednesday placed its ratings for IMG Worldwide Holdings Inc., including the ‘B’ corporate credit rating, on CreditWatch with negative implications. The listing reflects S&P’s expectations that financing for the acquisition could include additional debt at the combined entity, given the price paid and the integration risks inherent in an acquisition this size.