NEW YORK — The tents, it appears, are beginning to tilt.
The 7th on Sixth-sponsored shows were dealt two major blows late Friday when both Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren pulled their impending fall collections out of the Bryant Park tents.
Karan and Lauren will opt for shows in their own spaces but cited different reasons: Karan has had it with all the hype and wants a more intimate setting; Lauren, who stressed that he still supports the tents, said his fabric deliveries are late. Karan and Lauren join a growing list of designers withdrawing from Bryant Park this season. Todd Oldham, Victor Alfaro, Randy Kemper, Joan Vass, Ghost and Badgley Mischka have pulled out for a variety of reasons. Most cited the need for more personal — and in some cases, less expensive — surroundings.
Lauren will put on two smaller shows at his offices at 650 Madison Ave. on April 3, the Wednesday after the official end of the shows, at 10 a.m. and noon. He had been scheduled to show in the tents on Saturday, March 30, at 6 p.m. That Saturday slot will be filled by Kenneth Richard.
Karan will do two shows in her showroom on Tuesday, April 2, at 6 p.m. — her old time slot for the tents — and at 8 p.m.
Karan still will have her DKNY show at Bryant Park as scheduled, however, on Wednesday, March 27, at 6 p.m.
“I’m sorry that we will not be able to have everyone at the shows and I will apologize to those who cannot be accommodated. But we will certainly try to make the collection available to everyone,” Karan told WWD.
Of the major New York designers, Karan has been perhaps the most reluctant to show under the big top. “I’ve been thinking about not showing in the tents for a while, and this season we looked at spaces,” the designer told WWD over the weekend.
“I knew the tent wasn’t where I wanted to be because I was looking for a more intimate environment. We did find a space downtown, but given the time slot I had, I didn’t want to inconvenience people, and so I settled on the tents.
“I had called Ralph and Calvin to discuss this. There are many things I don’t like about the tents. I did not want the photographers’ pit. I have a problem with how overblown runway shows have become. There’s too much media coverage,” Karan continued.
“Why are we showing the consumer fall collections when we’re still trying to sell her spring? It’s an individual thing. When I left Anne Klein, I promised myself I would never do those major shows again, and here we are all doing them.
“Then last week, I went to the Comme des Garcons show in Paris — and there were only about 250 people,” Karan said. “And that’s an international show. I knew then that I had to do a smaller show, because I think a more intimate environment is right for the clothes.”
She’s not the first American designer to take inspiration from a Rei Kawakubo happening: A few years ago, Calvin Klein went to a Comme des Garcons show and was inspired to banish supermodels from his own runway that season. Karan, who was in Paris last week for Premiere Vision, made Kawakubo’s her “first European ready-to-wear collection” ever. “I wanted to go where my heart is,” she said.
Her heart obviously was never under the tents, but would she consider going back? Karan left the possibility open: “Nothing is forever,” she said.
Ralph Lauren told WWD the delay in fabric deliveries for his fall collection — his first done totally on his own since buying back his women’s license from Bidermann Industries last October — was the primary reason for the switch back to the showroom. But he conceded that a more intimate setting was appealing, as well.
“Due to fabric delays, the Saturday night time slot could not work,” Lauren said. “In order to accommodate the schedule, and not conflict with other shows, Wednesday morning [April 3] was the only alternative.” (The New York shows run from March 26 to April 2.)
It’s a crucial time for Lauren. He has been steadily building business momentum that many observers see as a prelude to a public offering. Karan is likely to beat him to the public arena, however, as Wall Street is eyeing an IPO from her, possibly before summer. Any public move by Lauren is likely to be further down the road.
Recent developments at Lauren since he bought back his women’s business include the Polo Sport for Women fragrance, a new better line — Lauren by Ralph Lauren, licensed to Jones Apparel Group — and a new jeans collection, with Sun Apparel.
But when it comes to fashion shows, Lauren, like Karan, has for years been more comfortable in his own space. Of the major New York designers, Calvin Klein has been more openly supportive of the tent shows than either Lauren or Karan.
“We’ve historically done intimate presentations in our showrooms for my collections, where editors and retailers can really see the clothes in an inspirational setting,” said Lauren. “I’ve always loved the intimacy of showing in my own space and my corporate office is perfect for this collection.”
He made a point that this is “purely a creative decision,” and said it does not mean he’s through with the 7th on Sixth tents.
“I think the tents are important and have elevated the level and exposure of American fashion, but they are not for everyone every season,” he said.
Despite all the withdrawals, the tents won’t be empty this season. Other designers, like Isaac Mizrahi and Betsey Johnson, have returned after trying other venues. There are also a number of first-timers in the tents, including Gianfranco FerrA showing his Gieffeffe lower-priced line, and contemporary resources Bisou Bisou and Parallel.
But how will these latest developments jeopardize the future of centralized shows in New York?
“We’re here to stay,” said a spokesman for 7th on Sixth and the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Several sites around the city have been considered for future shows, in addition to Bryant Park, including the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the New York Coliseum, Central Park and an open space along the Hudson River near 42nd Street.
“We’ll miss them, but what can we do?” the spokesman said of Karan and Lauren. “They didn’t say they didn’t want to do the shows ever again.”
“Donna has always had a problem with large shows. It didn’t come as a complete surprise, but it was a surprise at such a late date. It’s always been a touch-and-go situation. Ralph has always had a problem doing a big show. Many years ago, he decided he didn’t like doing large shows, because he felt his clothes never showed well on a runway.”
Asked if he expects other designers to pull out, the spokesman replied, “There’s something going on out there…people want their own exclusivity for the moment. But we’re bigger than one or two designers pulling out.
The spokesman did note, though, that financing a big show could be a problem for some fashion houses: “Business is in a strange state right now. It’s tough. Maybe it’s a money-saving effort on the part of some designers.”

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