There in the front row at a slew of shows, rubbing shoulders with the fashion cognoscenti, sat factoring firm Hilldun Corp.’s co-chief executive officer Gary Wassner. And if he wasn’t present, Hilldun’s executive vice president, Joshua W. Kapelman, was there instead.
So were hedgies and bankers. What gives? Surely critiquing fashion wasn’t topmost in their minds.
Hilldun execs check out more than 100 shows each season—including Rodarte, Jason Wu, Derek Lam, Mara Hoffman, Nicholas K, Stella Nolasco and Skingraft. But they’re not always the runways of current clients: While Wassner attends some shows to ensure existing clients kept their DNA intact, he’s also on the prowl for up-and-coming designers who might need some help in the finance department.
Kapelman looks for “talent and a distinct point of view that resonates with the brand’s target customer. I also want to see who’s there—friends and family, or buyers and press who can help advance the brand.”
Andrew L. Sole, managing member of Esopus Creek Advisors LLC, the adviser to the hedge fund Esopus Creek Value Series Fund, which acquired Loehmann’s in a bankruptcy sale in January, said his team checked out show week to glean how the fashion set interacts at live events as it builds out Loehmann’s Web site. Some of the shows he took in were Carmen Marc Valvo and Mark and Estel. Esopus shot a street-style video during fashion week that was posted on the off-pricer’s site, and “experimented with blogging and social media sites such as Instagram to engage with the customer who couldn’t be at Lincoln Center,” he says.
For investment bankers, it’s about circumstantial evidence. For instance, audience reaction hints at how a brand is received. But who knew that staging a show can be a gauge on the economy?
“I’m looking for the reaction to the designer and the energy in the room,” says Gilbert W. Harrison, chairman of Financo Inc., a frequent front-row denizen at such shows as BCBG, Vera Wang and Tommy Hilfiger. “I don’t care as much about the attendees or the celebs, although the stars in attendance can say something about a designer’s standing. That’s necessary to really understand where the product
Triangle Capital’s investment banking partner Richard Kestenbaum goes to different shows each season and gets a good read on the economic mood.
“It’s always about the product, but the shows also unwittingly send messages about the environment. Is there optimism or concern in the air?” he says, adding that a show where the runway collection is safe and similar to past shows can indicate caution, while a little bit of fashion risk can be interpreted as a sign the financial backdrop is positive.