NEW YORK — Who needs a showroom?
An art gallery, flea market and large and small museums are among the spots where entrepreneurial designers are trying to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack and have a place to sell.
The trend is driven in part by major retailers, especially department stores, that are maintaining narrow buying spheres. In response, lesser-known labels are trying to gain exposure through other venues. There is also a move to make shopping more entertaining by moving it beyond traditional stores.
In July and August, the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market will unveil “Fashion on the Pavement,” an area for designers to sell their merchandise. Fifteen designers participated in Thursday night’s second annual “Fashion on Fulton & Friends” at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Five ready-to-wear designers turned up for a sale at the Mixed Greens art gallery here earlier this month and are already preparing for a summer one, and one-third of the designers who showed at the “What is the Perfect Little Black Dress?” design competition at Diane von Furstenberg’s studio here this month were lesser-known labels.
In addition, 15 designers have signed up for Urban Design Girls’ summer trunk show at the MicroMuseum in Brooklyn on June 5. For the summer edition of Shecky’s Girls Night Out, 25 percent of the 70 designers will show rtw at the Metropolitan Pavilion on June 30. From May 21-23, 30 Vandam, a store here that represents emerging designers, will stage “Freshly Picked,” an installation and silent auction for 90 designers graduating from the Parsons School of Design this year.
“This is definitely a trend especially for people who don’t have storefronts,’’ said Robin Goetz, who helped Mixed Greens organize its sale. “There are so many designers now. This is an opportunity to have an actual venue and to get exposure. A lot of designers are also getting together for trunk sales.”
Five of 30 Vandam’s resources, Colleen Quin, Mel En Stel, Slava, Jessica Ciarla and Mobolaji sold “thousands” of dollars worth of rtw at the Mixed Greens event at 601 West 26th Street, she said.
Karen Smythe, operations manager for 30 Vandam, said, “The whole concept was to bring art and fashion together. They almost positioned fashion as a form of art. Designers combine fabrics, colors and styles like an artist uses paints. It also brings a whole new group of people interested in art and fashion.”
Goetz said another one will be held this summer but the date has not yet been set. The group is also considering doing one in the Hamptons before Labor Day.
House parties, similar to the ones Tupperware built a business on, are gaining popularity, Goetz said. Ruby Vintage, a vintage clothing company that showed at Mixed Greens, recently held one for a group of bridesmaids, and jewelry designer Michelle Farmer, another participant, also has had private affairs, Goetz said. Mixed Greens has done well with house parties in Houston and Philadelphia, she added.
Eveningwear designer Neil Bieff is among the 45 apparel and accessories makers signed up for Fashion on the Pavement. Twenty percent of the participants are rtw designers, said Vicki Ross, who worked as a consultant on the project. Ten thousand people visit the flea market — on West 39th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues in Manhattan — on a good day, she said.
“It’s a terrific opportunity to sell samples,’’ Bieff said. “New Yorkers love these kinds of sales. We don’t really have a flea market for fashion.” She expects to sell about 50 pieces a day.
“Fashion on Fulton & Friends” celebrated Brooklyn fashion designers working primarily on Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn. For the second consecutive year, designers held a fashion show to benefit the Brooklyn Community Housing and Services. Former New York Mayor David Dinkins was among the models.
The “What is the Perfect Little Black Dress?” event has been held in Los Angeles and New York. Founder Emmy Cortes intends to introduce the event in Shanghai, Prague and Sydney in the next few years. Cortes hopes to give lesser-known designers a forum to show off their talent. The black dress competition has raised $50,000 for Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income women get into the workforce.
Fernanda Niven hosted the event here, which was won by designer Tracy Reese. One of the New York participants, Carmen Webber, co-founder of Sistahs Harlem N.Y., said she was elated to compete with top-name designers such as Catherine Malandrino, Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta, Rebecca Taylor, Luca Luca and Lela Rose.
Webber also said she was eager to pitch in. “I have no qualms saying, as a Black American designer, I want to put back into the community to help women move on — no matter what your skin color is.”
Shecky’s Girls Night Out is expected to attract 3,000 women who will check out the goods, have drinks and get free beauty treatments and pick up a $100 goody bag. The event is organized by Shecky’s, a lifestyle guide best known for its bar guides. Next month’s edition will tie into the release of New York magazine’s “Best of New York” issue.