AMERICAN DESIGNERS STILL WANT TO BE FIRST

Byline: Eric Wilson / Rosemary Feitelberg / Peter Braunstein

NEW YORK — With or without Helmut Lang, American designers are leaning toward showing first.
Two years ago, Lang’s decision to show his collection in New York ahead of the European collections created vast ripples in the international fashion calendar, ultimately resulting in the move of 7th on Sixth from the end of the season to its opener. But the news last week that Lang will likely show his spring collection in Paris, while irritating some New York designers who have shifted their design and production cycles as a result of the earlier dates, does not seem to be inspiring many fashionable lemmings.
Ralph Lauren is said to be supporting the Americans’ position at the head of the catwalk food chain, having secured a time slot to show his spring collection on Sept. 13, while Donna Karan and Calvin Klein are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Nevertheless, there remains a broad amount of debate over the dates for 7th on Sixth’s next Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which has been proposed for Sept. 6-14 — a schedule that falls even earlier than in recent years to respect the Jewish holidays.
“We are very conscious of the debates,” said Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which is in the process of selling its 7th on Sixth fashion show operations to the licensing group IMG.
“We have been polling the designers ourselves, and it would seem to me that most people are leaning toward staying first,” he said.
Several regular participants in 7th on Sixth concurred.
Cynthia Rowley pointed to the benefits of having reaction from stores as early as possible so that she can have more time to produce her collection. She also suggested that Lang’s departure may not have a serious psychological effect on the New York shows, considering how global fashion businesses have become in recent years.
“It doesn’t matter at all where you show,” she said. “It’s the same industry worldwide. Ideally, it would be great to have a standard and a more centralized location, just to make it easier for the buyers and press, because the whole process is really grueling.”
A spokeswoman for Michael Kors said the designer votes for the earlier dates as a means to reaffirm the importance of the New York shows.
“Showing last in October is like saying, ‘Who cares?’ and, you know what? We do do care,” she said.
Bud Konheim, president and chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, also emphasized the importance of timing, but suggested the entire calendar had come out of whack compared to consumer spending.
“If we keep leapfrogging to the front of the show schedule, it’s too far forward to be relevant to anyone,” he said. “I agree with what Donna Karan said, which is that the time to have the shows is when the merchandise is in stores. It doesn’t really matter whether Helmut is going back to Paris. It doesn’t really matter who’s first. We have a schedule we have to meet for manufacturers’ needs that doesn’t coincide with the shows.”
Luca Orlando, who designs Luca Luca, prefers the earlier show dates, saying, “If the shows take place once again in October or November, that just interrupts the creative process. As it is, what you see on the runway in September has already been hanging in my showroom since July. I would be happiest if the shows took place even earlier, in August, but then the European press would be inconvenienced.”
Betsey Johnson is also in favor of showing first, considering her production cycle already requires that her spring collection be completed by August. She expressed some disappointment in Lang’s decision, as well as concerns that other big-name designers might follow suit.
“Now a lot of them are thinking of going off to Paris,” she said. “If a chunk of designers move, we’re in trouble, period.”
Diane Von Furstenberg said that she has no plans to show elsewhere and likes being part of opening day.
“I hope New York continues to show first because that’s exciting, even though it’s a lot of work,” she said.
But she thinks Lang’s decision makes “perfect sense” for him, since he is widely recognized as an international or European designer. “It would be a completely different story if Calvin Klein decided to show there,” she said.
Yet not everyone is sold on the patriotic approach.
Randolph Duke, who expects to show in Milan in October, praised Lang for moving on and encouraged other designers to try new markets.
“My take on it is that we’re moving into a time where the whole show thing is being rethought. Having everyone sitting in the same cattle call, going from show to show, is boring,” he said. “It’s not so much that the clothes aren’t exciting. The problem is there’s so much.