New York Fashion Week is hitting the reset button to cope with economic reality.
The most important designer marketing event in the U.S. will feature pared down presentations, fewer parties and a lower key celebrity focus to match a national mood in which ostentatious consumerism is translating into a flawed business strategy.
Among others, Vera Wang, Carmen Marc Valvo, Reem Acra, Betsey Johnson and even Marc Jacobs, whose elaborate runway shows at the 69th Regiment Armory in recent years set the standard for lavishness, are toning down.
With costs of the most expensive runway events estimated to be as high as $500,000, the luxury sector weakening and inventories being cut to the bone, the 200 or so labels showing during the week have had to weigh questions of costs, efficiency and tone during a damaging recession against the payoff of international publicity to sell their brands.
Beyond the flashbulbs, the air kisses and all the other attendant hoopla, return on investment has never been more important.
“I think the industry is getting back to being what it used to be all about — which was selling clothes,” said Steven Kolb, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Change is the order of the day.
“We’re in a transitional stage now,” Kolb said. “With the [economic] collapse in September after our last New York Fashion Week, any designer in the industry would be remiss not to approach things differently.”
From Beyoncé Knowles at Oscar de la Renta to Renée Zellwegger at Carolina Herrera, celebrities have been as much a part of fashion week in New York as the tumult and limos. But they are not immune from outside forces.
Major buyers will now get as much attention, Kolb said, adding that as business gets tougher, parties have been scaled back and designers will focus on smaller gatherings with retailers, their staffs and friends.
Marc Jacobs, the hottest fashion week ticket in town, is downsizing to 700 guests from 2,000 and will forgo a post-show party.
“This isn’t the time to spend money to entertain the entire world,” Robert Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs International, told WWD this month.
At Calvin Klein Inc., celebrities who support the house add glamour and excitement, “as long as they make sense for the designer and don’t detract from the clothes themselves,” said Malcolm Carfrae, executive vice president, global communications.
In general, designers need to be creative in ensuring events are appropriate to their needs during the financial crisis, said Fern Mallis, senior vice president, IMG Fashion, which produces Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Bryant Park. IMG will move to larger space — 87,000 square feet compared with the current 70,000 square feet — in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park in September 2010.
“Maybe they can just use less costly paper for invitations, or e-mail instead of mailing them, but it’s time for them to reinvent, change and refocus,” she said.
Companies can reduce expenditures for shows by trimming the number of lines they display and eliminating excess, she said. “If instead of 50 looks they can do 30, and that saves on fabric, accessories, zippers, models, labor — everything.
“We’ve been living in the days of the Roman Empire too long,” Mallis said. “Now it’s time to do things a little smarter.”
That’s what Vera Wang, who had shown in Bryant Park tents since 2004, is trying to do by moving her runway event to her new boutique in SoHo.
Wang said the decision “just makes sense. I didn’t abandon the tents. I have always been a supporter of CFDA and IMG because I believe in American fashion. But when 1,300 people come to a show, they can’t see beautiful stitching. Entertaining at a tent is like entertaining at the Super Bowl.”
Her setting needs to be intimate, with no “bells and whistles,” and should emphasize “details, not the awe of a massive runway show,” the designer said. “I’ve always worked ‘micro’ on my clothes, but had to work ‘macro’ for shows. Now I’m doing 10 percent macro and 90 percent micro.”
Kolb said Wang’s decision is astute.
“Vera just opened a beautiful new store in SoHo, so why wouldn’t she make it the centerpiece of her collection when she worked so hard to get it up and open?” he said. “It’s a creative way to bring attention to the business growth she’s had, and is a positive, not negative thing.”
In another sign of the times, designers are cooperating in an effort to maximize marketing benefits and lower costs, even sharing venues when needed, said Kolb, noting Michael Bastion was invited to show at Charles Nolan’s downtown studio. “That’s a case of a designer helping another designer, and I think there’s more of that happening in a creative way,” he said.
Three newer brands will join in one presentation: Nicholas K, Sergio Tavila and Mara Hoffman will show at the tents on Feb. 15 in a show created by publicist Kelly Cutrone, ceo of People’s Revolution, who cited the need for brands to cooperate to save on expenses.
“Even an off-site show ‘for nothing’ means paying $10,000 for a location, $7,000 to $10,000 for lighting, $7,000-$10,000 for hair and a generator for 20 blow driers; you need to pay for a permit — and all of a sudden the show you planned for nothing has cost $35,000,” Cutrone said.
“The marketing mentality today has gone from the ‘Me Generation’ to the ‘We Generation,’” she said.
Combining forces means the charges to each designer will be one-third the overall costs for models, invitations and seating charts, postage, a DJ and miscellaneous expenses. And Cutrone will direct the show for free.
Citing a decline in attendance among buyers and editors at his show last September, Valvo is among the designers who are shifting from the runway to a showroom presentation at Citrine in the FlatIron District. The aim, after more than 10 years of runway events, is to give buyers a quicker, simpler way to see offerings and allow them to “inspect, touch and feel” whatever they choose, said Frank Pulce, the brand’s vice president of public relations.
“Runway shows are no longer an efficient method to build attention and business considering the economic climate today,” he said. “It will be easier for them to come for 10 minutes than to sit through a three-hour show. The whole runway concept now is almost passé.”
Reem Acra echoed the focus on buyers. She will offer a presentation in her 10,000-square-foot showroom instead of the runway and believes it will play into strengthening connections with merchants whose budgets have been slashed in the downturn.
“Relationships today mean everything,” Acra said. “It will be nice for the press to see my work in my own house, and for me to mingle and meet with them so they can get to know me as well.”
Her presentation at 730 Fifth Ave. for at least 400 people is more cost effective than showing in the tents, she said.
Timing and positioning are key in designers’ decision-making regarding how they market their brands during fashion week.
Tommy Hilfiger is returning to Bryant Park from Lincoln Center for the first time since 2005 after recent seasons in which the company has been in turnaround mode.
For Hilfiger, who will be able to seat as many as 1,000 people in the main tent, the venue offers economic and logistical benefits, said Avery Baker, executive vice president of global marketing and communications.
Although costs of the show vary depending on creative direction and production, Hilfiger limited some areas of the presentation, including stage design, in light of the economy, and will offer a show that is “simple, yet elegant,” Baker said.
“Creativity must continue as we look forward to better times,” he said. “If you have a show for a show’s sake, instead of imparting a strong brand message, it may not be as impactful.”
Like Hilfiger, J.Mendel has strategic motives for showing in Byrant Park. The label, known for its dresses and furs, is trying to boost its ready-to-wear and sportswear components.
“Presenting our runway collection is a more important tool than ever as we look to expand our reach,” said Susan Sokol, president and chief operating officer. “Maximizing the opportunity for retailers and press to view the collection as it is covered in print media, broadcast, and the Internet makes the return on the investment massive.”
J.Mendel will present a show to 300 key buyers and editors at Bryant Park and its small size will better highlight the workmanship and details of the collection, a spokesman said.
Calvin Klein Inc.’s women’s runway event will be the same size and format as last season in its space at 205 West 39th Street. But the brand’s men’s show, previously held at Klein’s European headquarters in Milan, will be brought to New York, spotlighting the line to retailers and editors who do not attend Milan’s men’s fashion week, Carfrae said.
The company does not disclose the cost of its shows, but presenting them in its own space saves rental fees, Carfrae said.
Despite the current economic difficulties and related pressures, a presence at fashion week is a necessity, said Patti Cohen, executive vice president of global marketing and communications at Donna Karan International.
“Some people have tried shows on the Internet, they’ve sent look books, but I don’t feel we’ve come up with any better way at this point,” she said.