By and  on September 11, 2007

NEW YORK — Circus or salon — which does the fashion industry want?

The growing divide between designers who choose to show in the commercially driven atmosphere of the Bryant Park tents of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and those who go off-site to edgier, loftier or far-flung venues is defining this New York season, and designers on both sides of the fence argue theirs is the best way.

As reported, IMG Fashion, which owns Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, has signed a deal to keep those shows in the park through February 2010. But what happens after that remains up in the air — and there could be major changes in the wind as designers press the Council of Fashion Designers of America to take more control over fashion week.

While the industry pushed for a centralized locale for shows for years, many designers now grumble IMG has created such a frenzy around Bryant Park that it has the general media and public convinced it's the official home of fashion week. But the media circus is a double-edged sword. While it draws much-welcomed attention to the industry as a whole, IMG Fashion may be the victim of its own success, as some influential designers whisper the hype machine is overwhelming, relegating the editors, buyers — and clothes — to supporting roles. The shows are a commercial enterprise, from the sponsors inside the tents to the general public now being able to buy tickets to the shows for about $900, complete with a skybox view.

Showing off-site allows designers to find venues that give their presentations a less generic touch. The downside of that is the logistical nightmare of buyers, press and other fashionistas gridlocking their way through the city's streets. (Does anyone really look forward to those requisite treks down to Milk Studios, or some similar venue, particularly in foul weather? Remember the anniversary year of the United Nations — when even a two-block trip seemingly took an hour?)

That wouldn't be anything new, however. As in the past, the bulk of this season's participants are showing away from Bryant Park. Of the 263 shows to be held during New York Fashion Week, only 57 will actually be held in the Bryant Park tents. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler found alternative venues years ago. Oscar de la Renta defected from the tents this season to a former Christian Science church on Park Avenue. That said, the tents still have their share of marquee names, including Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Carolina Herrera and Vera Wang. And Fern Mallis, IMG Fashion's senior vice president, has no concerns about the growing trend of designers moving away from the tents.

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