STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
THE EVENTS OF SEPT 11. ARE PROVING TO BE A UNIFYING FORCE FOR L.A.’S FASHION COMMUNITY.
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
This was supposed to be a market week like no other. For months, several industry leaders convened in a room at the Otis School of Design, deliberating over ideas to create a formal Los Angeles Fashion Week.
The building housing the fashion college, the California Mart, was undergoing its own historical changes. Owner Judah Hertz hoped to resolve occupancy issues with the signing of a 45-year lease with British conglomerate DMG World Media to convert the building’s unused space into a home accessories and gift venue. In turn, DMG outsourced daily management to the Dallas Market Center. A new logo was even adopted, reflecting the new era at the CalMart, featuring a palm tree in the final “i” of California.
And throughout Los Angeles, as in the rest of the country, the threat of recession was readying retailers to come to the November spring 2002 market more informed than ever.
Then, the world as we knew it changed on Sept. 11.
Barely midway through New York Fashion Week, the day no longer was about business. It became about getting news. For the WWD bureau in Los Angeles, which went immediately to work that morning to support New York’s coverage on the tragedy, the news gathering was also personal. We knew dozens of industry friends and associates who had flown east for the shows.
In our New York bureau, fashion editor Kim Friday and senior entertainment editor Merle Ginsberg reported well into the night that week, alongside a skeleton staff. Trish Moreno, executive director of creative marketing and public relations at the CalMart, and Designer’s & Agents’ Barbara Kramer were in town. We all knew someone — sales reps, company owners, designers, publicists, models, stylists and photographers — who’d gone east for the shows.
There was also a contingent of five local and leading designers in New York to stage their own shows over five evenings under the sponsorship banner “Audi Presents Designer Collections of Los Angeles Fashion Week.” But only Jared Gold and Alicia Lawhon would get the chance to unveil their work to the international sales and press corps. Michelle Mason, Magda Berliner and Grey Ant by Grant Krajecki did not.
Some, like Berliner and Lawhon, rented cars and drove the 3,000-some miles home in order to make shipping deadlines of their fall lines.
Of course, once home, it was no longer business as usual. After days of being shuttered, the West Coast industry returned to work, ready to help the victims in New York. Cash and clothing were immediately donated. Flag-brandishing T-shirts were produced to raise funds for relief efforts. Retailers, already strapped, donated the proceeds from their sales during the month of October.
And several enterprising, fledgling brands banded together in parking lots and nightclubs to do their part, however small. Specialty store retailers Blonde, Smashing Grandpa, Estavan Ramos and several others invaded a Hollywood parking lot on a sunny Oct. 6 afternoon for the Retail Therapy sale. Proceeds from the sample sale and bazaar and a commemorative tank top printed with the old New York skyline benefited the Red Cross WTC Relief Fund.
And the good will goes on. Sales rep Tracie May of Ben-Amun’s Fabulous showroom is among those behind the “The Fierce and the Fabulous…” fashion event on Monday, Nov. 5, at Hollywood’s Key Club. Benefiting the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, a silent auction includes participating brands Heatherette, SOB by Susan Bessire, Hand Maid by Michelle Frantz, Segal-Martin, Jeannie Lottie and many others.
Business is anything but usual, certainly, as the crisis continues. With sales likely to slow, superlative customer service, effective visual merchandising and crowd-pleasing special events (such as trunk shows, a subject contributor Lizzy Epstein surveys in this issue on page 34) are vital.
Summon your inner Simon Doonan and reinvigorate your store windows and floors. The small investment in time and money could make the difference this holiday season between those who do swimmingly and those who struggle to stay afloat.
Hopefully, also, the unifying spirit that has brought retailers together to raise funds for those whose lives have been affected by the attacks will spread to other arenas. It’s too easy to pull back and become insulated in times like these.
Some vendors are reviving old relationships with local contractors, according to a report from WWD manufacturing editor Katherine Bowers, who found that while times have been tough for many shops, the rediscovery of sources that can provide fast turnaround gives them hope. In a separate feature in this issue, Bowers also discovered the ways showroom reps and marts are meeting the challenges ahead.
Community also exists in the various industry organizations based here, from the 25-member young Coalition of Los Angeles Designers to the 250-member-strong California Fashion Association. CFA founder and head Ilse Metchek, who was honored in October at a hot salsa gala and is profiled on page 8, said it succinctly and simply in two words: “We’re here.”
Indeed. While efforts to establish a Los Angeles Fashion Week have fallen short of the optimistic goals of many — at least, for now — there’s evidence during this spring 2002 market week that the show will go on.
Members of the nonprofit organization Gen Art kick off the week on Thursday, Nov. 1, with its downtown installation of “Fresh Faces in Fashion 2001.” Friday afternoon’s six-hour marathon of six back-to-back shows, including collections by David Cardona, Eduardo Lucero and Tree, brings the Fashion Week concept closer to fruition (see story on page 16), thanks to sponsor Audi staying on board following the New York installment.
Art installations, live music and seminars have infused the CalMart halls with a new energy. Changes include combining the long-running Look Show and Contemporary Design Collections into Fashion Fusion, running Nov. 2-4 and featuring junior, contemporary and young men’s resources. The renaissance at the marts, along with the rest of downtown (see the Chinatown Scene, page 8), reminds us all to keep pushing Los Angeles ahead.
Change, it’s often said, is good. Certainly, the changes imposed on this country, and the international community, on Sept 11. involved horrific circumstances. It’s our ongoing response, both in charity and business, that will ultimately bring us through this.