NEW YORK -- Who's afraid of Giorgio Armani? Bring on the Europeans.

That sums up the suprising reaction of many SA designers to the growing number of Italians who say they are thinking about staging shows in New York.

Although a European invasion of any magnitude is not likely to occur next month -- relatively few spots remain open for the 7th on Sixth tent shows in Bryant Park, for one thing, and only a handful of formal inquiries from abroad have been made -- the interest in New York has been intensifying.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America, responsible for the tent shows, says that so far it has received inquiries about showing here in April from Giorgio Armani (who probably won't show here this season due to the constraints of time, according to the CFDA's Fern Mallis) and Gianni Versace. Dolce & Gabbana has expressed an interest, but made no formal overtures.

The one Italian house that has made a firm commitment is Prada. The CFDA is now looking for a slot to accommodate the company during 7th on Sixth.

The sudden interest by the Italians is only one part of a new European fascination with New York. Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix, Helmut Lang, Jean Paul Gaultier and Franco Moschino have been making frequent trips in and out of Manhattan. Thierry Mugler relocated his headquarters here from Paris. Other European houses -- Ghost and Liza Bruce, for example -- have been showing their collections here during the New York runway shows.

Although Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren declined comment about the possibility of showing cheek by jowl with their European counterparts, others were less reticent.

"I think it's great," said Richard Tyler. "With the tents last year, and now someone like Giorgio Armani thinking of showing here, the prestige it adds to New York is great.

"The European press will pay much more attention to the shows, and with someone like Giorgio Armani or Versace, it will be brilliant," said Tyler, adding that he doesn't think Armani's participation would take anything away from the American designers.

"The buyers come here to buy, and we're here to show," he said. "They've already bought Armani in Italy. Of course he'll get a lot of press, but I still think it's great for us. The American press will focus on him, and the European press will come over and focus on us. I think it will be fun.""I think it's a fascinating idea," said Bill Blass. "I think it can only be a plus for America as a place in which to show. It could become a trend."

Blass believes that Armani's participation "could enhance the idea of New York as the showplace of fashion." He said no matter where Armani shows, it takes away from other designers, but added, "I think we'd be foolish to do anything but welcome him."

"It's very exciting," Donna Karan said through a spokeswoman. "It just shows how important New York is as a fashion center."

"I think it's fabulous," said Isaac Mizrahi. "I think it would be fantastic for us. It's a big statement for him [Armani], admitting that Milan has turned into this provincial trade and crafts show and that New York is a typically hopping place."

Mizrahi also said he wishes New York would show before Milan and Paris.

"As long as New York shows after Paris, people think we're copying them," said Mizrahi.

"It would be so great for me," Mizrahi said. "It would make us into the world class fashion capital that we are. The cognoscenti know that, but the world doesn't."

Stan Herman, president of the CFDA, said: "At the moment, space is the first priority because we are very tight already. If we do get more European designers, we will have to accommodate more space."

Herman said American designers should be proud to show alongside the likes of Armani and Versace, but he does acknowledge the feeling of those who fear that the presence of high-profile European names might diminish the exposure and coverage of the U.S. crew.

The only designer contacted who confessed to such misgivings was Michael Leva. Leva, who is doing a show with Stephen di Geronimo at the Celeste Bartos Forum on April 11, said the CFDA should monitor the situation carefully.

"I guess I really have a problem with it because it's already so hard to get show dates, and for the small American designers to get attention," said Leva. "It seems people are so much more likely to get excited about a small European designer. It bothers me that we're going to have to compete with them over here. I think the CFDA has to protect its own designers first."Ruth Finley, publisher of the Fashion Calendar, who coordinates the show times, said that since the show week has already been extended to include the weekend, there is room for a handful of European designers to show this season and next. This season's shows start on April 6 and run through April 13, with no shows scheduled at the tents on Saturday, April 9. Finley said Armani's people have spoken to her about getting on the schedule, but have not yet confirmed anything.

Finley said next season's shows are scheduled for Oct. 29 through Nov. 5, so there will be three weekend days to accommodate extra shows.

"Having Europeans should make it more exciting and truly make New York the fashion capital we want to be," Finley said.


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