NEW YORK — Seventh on Sixth is ready for its close-up.

This story first appeared in the November 18, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The fashion show production company confirmed on Monday that Olympus, the camera company, will take over as the title sponsor for its biannual collections held in New York’s Bryant Park, replacing Mercedes-Benz, which had been the title sponsor since 2001. This means that the 7th on Sixth shows will be called Olympus Fashion Week beginning with the fall 2004 collections, scheduled for Feb. 6-13. This confirms a WWD report from August.

Olympus is the third company to hold the title sponsor position since the shows formed in 1993, first as an off-shoot of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. General Motors had been the title sponsor of the shows for three years beginning in 1998.

The intention of such sponsorships is to connect those brands to the high-energy, celebrity-infused fashion world within the minds of consumers, retailers and the press. IMG, which acquired 7th on Sixth in 2001, has augmented the event’s sponsorship roster in an effort to capitalize on the value of the 7th on Sixth brand, as its most recent edition in September featured 17 sponsors, including a mobile phone company, a water brand, an airline, a sunglasses firm and the maker of a birth control patch.

IMG also produces fashion weeks around the world under different title sponsors, including Mercedes-Benz Shows LA, Mercedes Asia Fashion Weeks in Singapore and Lakme Fashion Week in India.

Rebranding the New York event will be another challenge for the organization, which has been facing its first competition from alternate fashion show venues in recent seasons, both in New York and Los Angeles. The combination of other venues and designers who show off-site on their own tends to complicate the distinction of an Olympus Fashion Week from a New York fashion week, from 7th on Sixth or even the CFDA, which many guests mistakenly believe is still involved in the production.

However, Fern Mallis, executive director of 7th on Sixth and a vice president at IMG, said the connection of the camera company to the event was a natural because of the number of professional photographers — about 600 to 800 — who register to cover the event each season. Also, Olympus plans to be more aggressive in its external promotion of its relationship to 7th on Sixth, incorporating the runway shows into its consumer advertising campaigns and marketing program, as well as a new charity initiative being developed for 2004. That’s something that Mercedes tended to avoid, although the company recently signed Giorgio Armani to design a car.

Also, whereas Mercedes’ introduction of new cars at the tent each season drew only passing interest from the majority of the fashion press who probably couldn’t afford even an introductory coupe, the changing nature of fashion photography with the introduction of digital imaging is something that is being widely studied by industry publications, a process in which Olympus, as a camera maker, is directly involved.

When Olympus joined the roster of fashion week sponsors in September, the company made its presence widely known with on-site marketing executives and a publicist highlighting its various activities, including unusual treats for the generally maligned photo crews, such as shuttle buses to off-site shows, lockers, snacks, cocktails and back rubs. The company also used the event to showcase a new product launch, the Olympus E-1, a digital camera with interchangeable lenses.

“Olympus is a sponsorship that is so appropriate and fitting,” Mallis said. “They did such a nice job in their inaugural season in pampering and spoiling the photographers, who are a critical part of the success of these weeks.”

Olympus signed a three-and-a-half-year deal as title sponsor. Olympus officials would not disclose their investment, although Martin Lee, vice president of marketing for the consumer products group of Olympus America, said the company’s marketing budget was increased this year by 70 percent to $50 million to primarily cover two new sponsorship opportunities —?the fashion shows and the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

“We’re a company that firmly stands behind the design of our product,” Lee said.

Mallis portrayed the change from Mercedes to Olympus, and General Motors prior to that, as reflective of the nature of corporate sponsorship.

“Companies don’t make those decisions for 10 or 15 years out,” she said. “The climate is changing landscape, reflective of the economic environment and how things change in the industry.”

Seventh on Sixth also announced its venue lineup for the February shows on Monday, including four spaces designed to be constructed within Bryant Park.

The largest, the Tent, is an all-black space with a capacity for 1,250 people, renting for $42,000. The Promenade is an all-white space seating more than 800 and costing $36,000. A new Studio Noir will be introduced as a black space with a raised central runway and seating for 476, costing $26,000. The smallest space will again be the Atelier, an all-white venue seating 260 people and renting for $16,500.

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