NEW YORK — Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is being “Made” over in more ways than one.
This story first appeared in the January 5, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Come September, not only will the semiannual fashion shows move from Lincoln Center to a new undisclosed “downtown” location, but the name of the entity, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, will change to New York Fashion Week, following the departure of Mercedes-Benz as the title sponsor after the upcoming February shows.
In addition, WME-IMG, which owns Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, is in final negotiations to acquire Made Fashion Week, a rival entity that is owned by partners Mazdack Rassi, cofounder and creative director of Milk Studios; Jenné Lombardo, founder of The Terminal Presents, and Keith Baptista, partner and managing director at Prodject and partner at OBO Paris. The deal is expected to be in effect for the September shows, and the partners will continue as consultants.
IMG’s exit from Lincoln Center — where shows have been held since 2010 — was a long time coming. WWD reported in December 2013 that IMG would vacate the tents there when its contract expired after the February 2015 shows. The departure was spurred by a lawsuit filed by community activists over whether the MBFW tents in Damrosch Park were a violation of the public-trust doctrine. Based on a settlement last month, the City of New York, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and Lincoln Center agreed not to renew their contract with IMG — a moot point since IMG already agreed not to stay.
Mercedes-Benz took over title sponsorship in New York from General Motors for the spring 2002 collections and held that role until February 2004, when Olympus assumed it. Mercedes-Benz resumed the role in February 2007. IMG confirmed that Mercedes-Benz would end its sponsorship after the February shows and said it doesn’t plan to work with one traditional title sponsor going forward.
A spokeswoman for Mercedes-Benz in the U.S. confirmed the company won’t be sponsoring New York Fashion Week after February.
“Our relationship with fashion is not ending, and we do support fashion globally,” she said, citing sponsorship of fashion weeks in Sydney, Istanbul and Berlin, among others. “We maintain a top-tier portfolio of events. We routinely review those events for return on investment and general engagement. In general, it’s important to note that fashion and design are key pillars for Mercedes-Benz, and we will support fashion well into the future. Globally, Mercedes-Benz supports more than 50 fashion engagements in 30 countries.” She said some are with WME-IMG, and some are with other entities.
In addition, American Express, which was a sponsor of MBFW from September 2007 to September 2014, has pulled out of the February shows. It continues to be a sponsor of Made New York.
While all the sponsors for the February shows at Lincoln Center haven’t been confirmed, they will include Mercedes, Maybelline, TRESemmé and DHL.
In past seasons, complaints mounted that a circus-like aura pervaded the shows at Lincoln Center, and designers such as Vera Wang, Michael Kors and Diane von Furstenberg moved out of the tents and opted for different locations around town. Spring Studios (at 7 Saint Johns Lane) became a popular location this past September, with designers such as Kors, von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein and Jason Wu showing there. Still, showgoers have found themselves traipsing all over town to see fashion shows, from the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side to Chelsea, TriBeCa, SoHo, the Meatpacking District, the Garment Center, Murray Hill, Wall Street and even Brooklyn.
As for the future location of New York Fashion Week, WME-IMG said it is negotiating for a new “downtown” location but said it’s too early to disclose where. Sources said the September shows could be held in several different locations to give designers various options. Ultimately, it is expected that the shows will move into the Culture Shed, the arts center at Hudson Yards, once that venue is completed in 2017. It’s still up in the air as to which entity would run the centralized shows, either the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which now owns the Fashion Calendar, or IMG, which doesn’t have a contract with the Culture Shed.
The Culture Shed, a $300 million project, will be an exhibition and event space on West 30th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues, alongside the High Line. It is being created with four runways, studios, exhibition space and a dramatic 140-foot-high canopy that slides along tracks to create indoor and outdoor spaces. The Culture Shed is being privately funded, with board members including von Furstenberg, who spearheaded the drive to raise the money to build it.
The acquisition of Made Fashion Week will give IMG several additional options for showcasing fashion.
Made, which started as an alternative venue in September 2009, has featured about 32 runway shows and presentations of emerging designers at Milk Studios, at 450 West 15th Street; the Standard Hotel, at 848 Washington Street; and Highline Stages, at 440 West 15th Street. Last September, the participating designers included Costello Tagliapietra, Jeremy Scott, Peter Som, Timo Weiland, Ohne Titel, Cushnie et Ochs, Public School, Zana Bayne, Baja East, Sophie Theallet and Tim Coppens. In previous years, participants have included Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang and Altuzarra.
The combination of IMG and Made is an interesting turn of events for the two former show rivals, which have vied for designers and sponsors in the past.
Made Fashion Week, which began as MAC & Milk, started during the recession as an alternative for designers who couldn’t afford to show at traditional venues. Made allowed them to show for free and paid all the costs of the fashion show. It also developed a digital presence at MilkMade.com. American Express is Made’s biggest sponsor, along with companies such as Maybelline, The Wall Street Journal, SmartWater, Lexus and Macy’s. Made was working with Creative Artists Agency for representation but is no longer working with the agency.
Sources said details of how the two operations will work together are still being ironed out, since IMG charges designers to show and Made doesn’t.
In an interview with Rassi, Lombardo and Baptista in 2011, Rassi told WWD, “One of the things people don’t realize is, there’s no cost for the space.” Generally, a fashion show could cost a designer anywhere from $75,000 to $500,000 and upward, Baptista said. At Made, the space, as well as the makeup, seating, lighting and sound, are provided for free. The only expenses for the designer are for a music person, models, a hair person and collection-related expenses. “Still, a lot of people don’t know that this program is an incredible launch pad to help those designers,” Rassi said. “There’s this whole idea out there that, perhaps, there’s a competition between uptown and downtown. There is none. We don’t compete with each other. We’re a completely different idea.” At the time, when asked whether Made Fashion Week makes money, Rassi said all the money from sponsorships is poured back into the designers and the program. “We’ve never been a for-profit model,” he said. IMG, on the other hand, is a money-making venture.
In a separate operation, last fall the Made partners launched MADE Music, joining forces with American Express to offer rising musicians strategic brand partners, business mentorship, studio space and a network of photographers, filmmakers and creative directors. They enlisted music industry veterans to act as advisers, including longtime label executive Lyor Cohen.