Seventh on Fifth? Young Designers Go East

NEW YORK — Chalk one up for the kids. Putting on a fashion show just got a little easier. Brothers Mauricio and Roger Padilha, 33 and 30, respectively, owners of MAO Public Relations, are unveiling a new show venue for Fashion Week called MAO...

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NEW YORK — Chalk one up for the kids. Putting on a fashion show just got a little easier. Brothers Mauricio and Roger Padilha, 33 and 30, respectively, owners of MAO Public Relations, are unveiling a new show venue for Fashion Week called MAO Space. Pitched as the young designer’s alternative to Bryant Park, MS offers a treasure trove of advantages to Seventh Avenue’s fledgling talents: a cheaper space with loads of amenities just down the street from the tents.

This story first appeared in the February 4, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

First, the price is right. At $7,500, MS is almost half the price of Bryant Park’s least expensive venue, the Atelier, which is $14,000. To offset their costs, the Padilhas have signed up several sponsors, including Ian Schrager Hotels, Red Bull, Physique Hair, Creative Nails and MAC Cosmetics. The latter two are also offering use of their manicure and makeup teams free of charge.

But equally important to the success of MAO Space is location. At 260 Fifth Avenue, at 29th Street, it’s a 13-block walk from the tents, avoiding the problems posed by the far-flung venues that designers at this level usually use. The Padilhas will provide a bus to transport editors from the tents, and the M2, 3, and 5 run straight from the New York Public Library to the door of MAO Space.

“We wanted to centralize all these young designers,” says Mauricio. “It’s easier for everyone to come here than some basement in TriBeCa. ”

The space boasts a ground floor plate-glass front that will feature a display of monitors running live feeds of shows in progress and earlier footage at other times, a straight 60-foot runway, and seating for 350.

Hair and makeup stations, as well as a lounge area, will be set up in the 6,550-square-foot basement. The extra space allows for more backstage coverage. “In the past, we’ve had to limit how many journalists could be back there,” Mauricio says. “Now, we won’t have to turn people away.”

At present, 13 of the 15 available slots are filled — seven by MAO showroom denizens Arkadius, Gary Graham, Liz Collins, Zaldy, Michael & Hushi, Tracy 8 Kinney and ChanPaul, and the other six by David Rodriguez, Vasseur-Esquivel, Esteban Cortazar, House of Field, Peter Som and Tawfik Mounayer. While some firms are employing the Padilhas in varying capacities, they are also free to bring in their own production and press teams.

Rand M. Productions president Rand Burrus, who collaborated with 7th on Sixth on spring 2002’s alternative venues at the Puck Building, is positive about MAO’s effort. “In my opinion, there is a big hole,” Burrus says. “Younger designers just don’t have a place to show.”

Twenty-three designers, including Wink, Custo Barcelona and David Rodriguez, showed at the three spaces in the Puck Building, which ranged in price from $11,000 to $17,000. Although Burrus considers the venue a success, he still contends that its lack of proximity to the tents proved problematic.

Fern Mallis, executive director of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, is also supportive. “We think that when more people can get their collections seen in New York, it makes the whole week more important,” she says. “We would look forward in future seasons to working with MAO to connect everything to the bigger picture.”

And designers themselves are excited about the venture. “It’s affordable, which is important since times are hard all around,” says Bryan Fuentes, p.r. director of House of Field, which usually shows at Bryant Park. “But we also really like supporting a space that is about young designers. There’s a great energy there.”

The Padilhas’ plan for the future is to eventually have a few spaces around the city that operate on the same principle — a space for young designers to show, underwritten by sponsors, that smooths the way for the talents of the future.

It’s no fluke that the brothers came to this point. Their collective industry experience, since they began as Parsons students interning for Marc Jacobs at Perry Ellis, has taught them a thing or two about helping young designers. They did more than their homework on what it takes to begin in this business — they found out firsthand.

In 1993, after he graduated, Roger formed the now-defunct label Spooky with his partner Jennifer Gross. Although Mauricio was working as public relations director of Gemma Khang at the time, he doubled up by doing the same for his brother’s label. When editors came to see Khang’s collection, Mauricio would shuttle them afterwards across the street to see Spooky — an arrangement that Khang, to her credit, didn’t mind.

“Everyone was so supportive of us,” says Mauricio. ” There weren’t that many young designers back then.”

Mauricio soon left Khang to work for Spooky full-time, and the Padilhas began to create their DIY methods of working. These included everything from asking top models to paint their own nails before a show to writing an earnest letter to Ellen Von Unwerth requesting that she shoot a picture for their invite gratis. Charmed by their combination of naïveté and talent, she said yes.

“We didn’t really understand that Ellen probably made $20,000 a day on advertising,” says Roger. “But it was a good lesson that if you want something — and you have something good to back it up with — you should just ask people.”

Despite editorial attention in magazines like W and ID, and sales to such stores as Barneys New York and Louis, Boston, they closed Spooky in 1997 because they found it difficult to make ends meet without a backer. During the company’s last season, Mauricio and one of their interns decided to produce several other shows in order to finance their own. The birth of MAO was a result of that venture. The firm quickly established a client base, consisting mostly of raw, young talent, mixed with the odd major company, such as Searle and Coogi Australia, that was looking to tweak its image.

Since they had started a new label themselves, the Padilhas easily relate to their clients’ trials. “I always tell them stories to make them feel better,” says Roger. “Like the time I had my dress on the cover of ID, but I had to choose between buying the magazine and a pack of cigarettes because I only had $3.75.” While the decision was difficult, the cigarettes won out.

The brothers do everything from helping their clients to secure a loan to providing a shoulder to cry on.

“We hold their hands through everything,” says Mauricio. “But we’ve always believed that young New York designers shouldn’t be limited to an alternative audience, but exposed to the fashion industry at large.

“And we really love what we do,” he adds.

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