When Alexandra Alvarez wraps her time in the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s incubator program in the spring, she’ll be tasked with evolving beyond the bodysuit she’s built a brand around.
“I know I can’t do bodysuits forever,” Alvarez, the founder of Alix, said. “I know I need to be strategic now [and ask myself] ‘What is missing or what am I going to create that’s going to make it special?’ I just want to make sure that whatever steps I take to evolve are really meaningful to my brand and it’s a meaningful way to evolve into a lifestyle.”
For Alvarez and the other participants in the incubator program, questions such as those, along with how to edit a collection or merchandise, are all aspects of their business they’re forced to take a closer look at during the course of the year-and-a-half they’re involved. Thursday evening at the W Hollywood represented the incubator’s final showcase to present spring collections.
“At CFDA, we support designers at all stages of their career, from students to emerging to the established and famous,” said CFDA chief executive officer Steven Kolb, who was in town for the showcase. “A big part of our work is that emerging step and the program has had many brands come out of it — Public School, Prabal Gurung among others — who really become part of a new generation of American talent.”
CFDA linked with W Hotels in 2012 in a partnership that allows for designers within the program to visit markets throughout the U.S. to gain inspiration or showcase their work to press or retailers.
Katie deGuzman, founder of the Brooklyn jewelry line K/ller Collection, said her collection has evolved since joining the incubator. She’s learned to edit her assortment, which is something she’ll continue to do as she ramps up her focus on direct-to-consumer once the program ends.
“What I love the most [about the program] is being able to have all the other designers around and just being able to have that kind of collaboration or see people working. You’re so insular when you’re working on a collection, especially being in jewelry, so being able to see from the ready-to-wear to men’s, it’s been great.”
The Los Angeles group of designers met with Law Roach last week, during which time the celebrity stylist — who will be dressing Demi Lovato and Diana Ross Sunday for the American Music Awards — provided them with additional guidance.
“The fact that this organization and this group of people find these emerging, American designers and they’ll nourish and encourage and give them affordable workspaces, it’s so incredible because it’s important,” Roach said. “It’s important for us to take care of our own in a way.”
Once on the West Coast, the designers took a trip Wednesday evening to The Broad museum’s “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” exhibition. The trip capped with Thursday evening’s showcase before a group of roughly 200 retailers, influencers and press.
“As a hotel that started in New York, fashion has always been a part of our DNA,” said Rob Corea, brand manager of the Americas for W Hotels Worldwide. “As we’ve grown into a global brand, I think what we’ve wanted to do is scale our growth with a partner within fashion that really made sense and I think that’s just where this kinetic energy between W Hotels and CFDA comes about.”
“When you look at what we’re doing here in Los Angeles, these are all New York-based designers, what does W offer in terms of resources?” Kolb said. “It’s a hospitality brand that has properties all around the world, so how does that help designers? The designers are looking for distribution [and] visibility, but they don’t have the resources or understanding of how maybe to bring a collection somewhere beyond New York, so you put that next to a hospitality partner like W, that’s what they do.”
The CFDA earlier this year unveiled its first physical presence on the West Coast with a shop-in-shop within Fred Segal’s Sunset Boulevard location, which Kolb reported has seen robust sell-through and noted it also serves as another way for the association’s members to gain exposure. The CFDA is expected to announce another partnership with what Kolb called a “significant retailer” for something similar to Fred Segal, but in an e-commerce format.
“The challenge in fashion right now is the challenge that a lot of the industry has: this digital disruption happening and that’s really hit brands and how they sell product,” Kolb said. “What we’ve identified as a need for designers at all points of [a brand’s life span], emerging and established, is help in selling. Fred Segal really creates a unique opportunity for us to give space and opportunity for designers to sell…. Fashion is heavily housed in New York City, although Los Angeles is quite an important fashion city. I would say 20 percent of our membership lives out here now, but as an organization we don’t have any physical presence here other than members that live and work here, so it’s a nice outpost for CFDA in California.”
Kolb, when asked if there has been consideration of opening a bureau office in California, said for the time being the association is able to function smoothly with the staff in New York. It’s also a challenge, he pointed out, finding a person who can manage all of the functions the CFDA does, ranging from sponsorships and event planning to student programming and professional development.
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