As New York Fashion Week gets under way Thursday, the center of gravity is shifting.
Not only will most of the fashion shows move further downtown along the West Side, but the Council of Fashion Designers of America is exerting more clout – and control – than ever thanks to the purchase of the Fashion Calendar, the master schedule of all fashion-related activities. To further place its stamp on the week, the group created a new logo and marketing and branding campaign touting NYFW as it seeks to pump up visibility for all fashion activities taking place in the city, with the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The seminannual fashion weeks generate more than $900 million for New York.
The CFDA is flexing its muscle as WME/IMG, which produces one-third of the fashion shows and has historically controlled the fashion week scene (formerly known as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week), has made several major changes of its own this season, looking to create an event that is more focused on fashion and less about hype and commercial activities. Vacating the three-ring circus atmosphere of the Lincoln Center tents — the home of the shows for five years — it has moved to two new venues — Skylight at Moynihan Station at 360 West 33rd Street and Skylight Clarkson Sq at 550 Washington Street in west SoHo. This also represents the first season that Made Fashion Week, which features 25 emerging designers at Milk Studios at 450 West 15th Street, is under WME/IMG’s ownership. IMG will have a fourth location called HQ at 451 West 14th Street, where sponsors will hold activities and panels, and there will be live-streaming of the fashion shows. By moving the sponsors there (that site is open to the general public from 4 to 6 p.m.), it is expected to create much less distraction at the other venues.
IMG acquired 7th on Sixth, the show production arm of the CFDA, in 2001 for $5 million, according to sources. What they actually bought, which some sources refer to as “smoke and mirrors,” was the right to produce the shows, which were then held in the tents at Bryant Park. Even as IMG perpetuated the myth that it was the organizer of New York Fashion Week, the fact was that the majority of the city’s most important designers showed elsewhere. Some of the top designers do continue to pay an associates’ fee to IMG to be on the roster.
But with more than 300 shows and countless events all over town this season, the only thing that is certain about New York Fashion Week is that it will be a windfall for Uber and the cab and car service industry.
Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Tommy Hilfiger, Carolina Herrera, Jason Wu, Rodarte, Marchesa, Rag & Bone and Alexander Wang, for example, will show all over the city in diverse locations such as Spring Studios, Pier 94, the Ziegfeld Theatre, the St. Regis Hotel, Pier 36 and St. Ann’s Warehouse (Brooklyn). Elsewhere around town, Pier 59 is hosting 28 fashion shows and presentations including Custo Barcelona, Karen Walker, Mathieu Mirano, Michael Costello, Threeasfour and Whit, and eight collections will be shown at Kia Style360 such as The Adam Levine Collection, Kristin Cavallari by Chinese Laundry and Serena Williams Signature collection by HSN.
This season, IMG attracted several top-name designers to its 60-member roster, including Derek Lam, Public School, Prabal Gurung, and Jeremy Scott.
As reported, Mercedes-Benz, IMG’s longtime sponsor of the shows at Lincoln Center, pulled out as the sponsor after the February season. IMG’s lineup of sponsors now includes Lexus, Maybelline New York, TRESemmé, Intel, DHL and E Entertainment. Made will be presented by lead partners Accenture, American Express, Intel, Lexus, Macy’s and Maybelline New York.
Without one central location — or one title sponsor — the pressure is on IMG to stake its claim to the shows as the CFDA steps up its own game. Not to be outdone, IMG unveiled a new brand identity and digital home for its NYFW properties. A new logo, NYFW the Shows, was developed by Mother New York and will appear as street banners around the venues. Made will retain its stand-alone branding. IMG also has developed an app, which allows users to organize their schedules and receive alerts to show delays and traffic.
But with all the competing venues, distinct logos and different agendas, the question is: Who really controls New York Fashion Week?
Diane von Furstenberg, chairman of the CFDA, said its mission is clear and differs from IMG’s. “First of all, we’re non-profit and the role of the CFDA is really to protect the 500 designers. What we did was we bought the Fashion Calendar from Ruth Finley.” Historically, she explained, the CFDA would get all the blame from editors about how frenetic fashion week was. “Editors come to us and complained to us. The whole point of fashion week is to enhance American designers and to make the experience for editors, buyers and partners to be comfortable,” said von Furstenberg.
She said IMG had the tents at Lincoln Center, which weren’t going to be used this season. “We decided what was Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week was only a few shows. Fashion week is this place and that place and this other place. When we had a new mayor, we went to the mayor and said that fashion week is not just about fashion, it’s about what it does to the city, what it does to the hotels.…Together with the city, we should create a logo that everybody could be part of. It could be fashion week at Broadway…we make this this huge umbrella for New York City,” said von Furstenberg.
While to an outsider it might appear there is conflict (and at times confusion) between the two groups, von Furstenberg insisted the CFDA gets along completely fine with IMG. Then again, she would say that. “They unfortunately lost [some of the shows], and they were selling something they didn’t really own. Nobody owned fashion week. Nobody,” said the designer. (Whether IMG understood that when it paid $5 million to produce them is another issue).
She said all the CFDA did was put a big umbrella over all the fashion week activities – although that seems to imply that, by doing so, the CFDA controls the event. Eventually, when the shows move to the Culture Shed at Hudson Yards, which is several years away, von Furstenberg hopes that IMG will produce the shows there. “The whole point is to have the fashion shows there,” said the designer, who is on the board of the Culture Shed. “I am encouraging IMG to do the shows there. Why not? CFDA does not produce shows. The world is changing. Everything is changing. There is not one side versus another. At the CFDA, we protect the designers.
“Our identity is clear. With the changes, they [WME/IMG] have to clarify their identity. There is no fight. There is no competition. IMG is an agency,” she said.
Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA, contended the industry lobbied the CFDA to take control of the calendar. “That was something that was repeatedly encouraged, consistently asked from the CFDA, Diane von Furstenberg and myself. People have always said there should be a curated schedule. There are too many things happening on the schedule. We’ve begun to filter what’s on the grid and at the same time, be democratic.”
He said this season, the calendar is much cleaner and there are fewer events on it. “We pulled all the men’s shows out of there, even people who want to be on the official grid, we’ve told people ‘no,’” said Kolb. For September, there are 181 runway shows and presentations on the official NYFW: Women’s schedule, and 308 events on the inclusive Fashion Calendar. Last season there were 362 events on the Fashion Calendar. This includes runway shows, presentations, events and parties. Men’s shows were shifted to July.
Catherine Bennett, senior vice president and managing director of IMG Fashion Events and Properties, doesn’t feel the two organizations are in competition for the upper hand. “We work so closely with the CFDA. I came from there and worked there five years. I really don’t feel any sense of competition. I think everyone feels a sense of ownership in doing what it can to make the week successful for the industry. It’s a big complicated week, and they’ve done an amazing job. The Fashion Calendar is terrific.”
Bennett said there are so many venues, and having bought Made, IMG works very closely with the CFDA so the schedule can be easily navigated. Further, she said, she doesn’t see CFDA’s logo as competing with theirs. “It’s all part of one week. I think they just want to be helpful,” said Bennett. IMG will ramp up its digital presence throughout the week, working with Snapchat, Twitter, Vine and Periscope. In addition, they’re tightening up their registration list, giving out fewer media credentials, to have a more organized, less chaotic week.
“If you have two groups really trying to amp it up, it adds interest on a worldwide basis,” said fashion publicist Paul Wilmot. “Fashion is the DNA of the CFDA, but IMG has been doing it forever. You have two experts trying to make it better and attract designers. I hope they cooperate, but if they don’t, who cares? CFDA is a not-for-profit and is trying to up the ante, and IMG is trying to make money out of the thing and both want a larger presence and I say, ‘Great, great for fashion.’”
Christina Neault, fashion programming consultant to Pier 59, who worked for IMG for 12 years, said it makes sense for CFDA to exert control. “That’s the way it’s done in all the other countries, to be a governing body.” She said all the changes this year started out being confusing, but contends that now everyone has found their homes and their time slots. “Whenever we change, it’s a little nerve-wracking. Next season will be easier.”
Naeem Khan is showing this season at The Arc at Skylight at Moynihan Station, and believes that IMG has made several significant improvements. “I think the commercial aspect of this has always bothered me. Since it’s broken up [into several venues], it’s not Las Vegas anymore. The other one was a big fair of some sort that really was not chic enough. I think they’re playing their cards very carefully this time. They know the problems that they’ve had at Lincoln Center and it’s heading in the right direction,” added Khan.
Bibhu Mohapatra, a designer who will be showing at Clarkson Sq with IMG, praised the space, saying, “It’s like having a new home. We’re performing on a new stage. It’s industrial, it’s downtown and has such strong character. It has a good vibe.”
Designers say they appreciate the resources that IMG brings to the table. “Clearly having them [IMG] as this overarching parent of fashion week, it allows designers to feel they’re tapping into a much wider network of creativity,” said April Henning, president of Jonathan Simkhai, which shows at Made, which provides designers a free venue but they must incur such costs as production, lighting and models.
Fern Mallis, an industry consultant who is credited for creating 7th on Sixth in 1993 when she was executive director of the CFDA, doesn’t see the two organizations at cross purposes. “People are trying to make a competition between the two and it really shouldn’t be the case. I think it makes better press. CFDA’s mission is to help the designers get the time slots that work and cooperate with IMG on scheduling the shows that they do and everybody else’s shows. They gain nothing by trying to compete with IMG,” said Mallis.
Stan Herman, former president of the CFDA who runs his own uniform and loungewear company, feels that as long as there are venues all over the place, there’s going to be a series of competitions, and somebody has to control it. “I think the CFDA has a perfect right to work as they’re working now,” said Herman. He said that until there’s one main location, nothing will be settled as to who’s in control. The fact that the CFDA took over the Calendar, it gave them more responsibility. With that responsibility perhaps comes a little conflict,” said Herman.
Whether there is competition between the CFDA and IMG, the current state of affairs is likely to last for at least four more years. The Culture Shed, which is part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, isn’t expected to be ready as a show venue until 2019 or later. Whether IMG goes with the Culture Shed has yet to be decided, said Kolb. “That’s really a business decision that IMG and Culture Shed need to make. I know that Culture Shed is designed and looking forward to fashion being a big part of what they do throughout the year.”
Bennett said IMG has had many conversations and has done some consulting with the Culture Shed. She said it’s still several years away, and IMG would be interested in participating there.
As for the dueling logos, Kolb doesn’t feel they will be confusing to the general public. “IMG came up with NYFW the Shows, which is perfectly fine with us, and it works perfectly fine with the overall intention of what we’re doing. Ours was very much developed with the city in mind. The blue and the orange, you can say The Mets, or you can say The Knicks, but those are New York’s colors,” said Kolb.
Does it behoove the CFDA for IMG to get bigger and bigger? “What behooves the organization is an organized fashion week that represents everything happening in the city. And that all the stuff happening from NYFW the Shows to Made Fashion Week, Pier59 and Spring Studios have successful shows,” said Kolb.