This summer, a cadre of designer-customized lady sculptures will grace New York’s Garment District as the American fashion industry aims to create a public attraction akin to the city’s Cow Parade of 2000.
Thirty fashion designers including Donna Karan, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors and Diane von Furstenberg will participate in the Sidewalk Catwalk. They will each create a look for a specially reinforced mannequin, using industrial materials that can hold up against the elements and, it is hoped, to endure as works of art that will be auctioned later. From June 24 through Sept. 3, the sculptures will stand on the pedestrian plazas on Broadway from 34th Street to 42nd Street.
“This will certainly be a major tourist destination all summer, a runway from Times Square to Herald Square,” said Fern Mallis of IMG Fashion. “People are going to want to see it and take pictures with it. It will be great for the city, and the industry and the district.”
On Wednesday night, several participating designers attended a reception and briefing by representatives of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, which conceived of the project, and Material ConneXion, an industrial materials sourcing firm advising the designers on fabrication.
Adam Lippes, Carlos Falchi, John Bartlett and Carmen Marc Valvo were among the designers browsing the firm’s “petting zoo” of tactile material samples.
“We do evening wear, so I’m gravitating to the metallics, but it’s going to be incredibly challenging,” said Valvo. “I’ll have to contact a metalworker.”
Some of the suggested materials, recommended for outdoor durability, can be sewn or stitched, but they mainly include metals, plastics, woods, foams and glass.
“I’m floored at the fantastic range of craziness,” said Betsey Johnson, running her hand over a crystal pavé swatch. “Years ago, I made a welded dress. And once for Macy’s I did a clear plastic design that I filled with Polaroids. I like these projects. Barbarella and beyond! I’m also getting ideas for a room divider for my apartment.”
In addition to the designers, Parsons The New School for Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology will also contribute sculptures.
“We want them to express both their creativity and aesthetic, but also what this neighborhood is about,” said Barbara Randall, president of the BID.
Yeohlee Teng, whose designs are often inspired by architecture, was thinking deeply about the task.
“How do you represent the architecture of the district on the street level? I’m involved in the Design Trust for Public Space, and we’re trying to make the fashion district more transparent. To come up with something compelling — that speaks about the district and brings what’s inside the buildings outside — is at the heart of this. I think it’s an important project,” she said.
Macy’s and The New York Times are official partners of the Sidewalk Catwalk, which still needs additional sponsorship.
“Macy’s is in the heart of the city, and 70 percent of our customers in Herald Square are tourists,” said Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of Macy’s Inc. “This will create a direct link between Macy’s and the fashion center.”
The mannequins, designed by Ralph Pucci, are faceless, graceful and definitely female, although some of the participating designers come from men’s wear.
If the “ladies” need male company, they may find spiritual mates in the 31 statues that British artist Antony Gormley is placing on the city’s rooftop ledges right now.