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Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 02/05/2015

It’s finally time for American men’s wear designers to get their own stage.

This story first appeared in the February 5, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

After two years of negotiations and discussions, the Council of Fashion Designers of America will this summer launch New York Fashion Week: Men’s, a standalone showcase for American men’s fashion. The first edition will be held July 13 to 16 at Skylight Clarkson Sq in SoHo. Amazon and its fashion sites — Amazon Fashion, East Dane and MyHabit — will be the presenting sponsor. DreamWorks and Shinola will provide additional support.

The dates will coincide with the Project trade show and align with New York men’s market week and will include a combination of runway shows, presentations and special events.

CFDA board member Tommy Hilfiger was an early champion of the initiative and will take part in the inaugural event in some form. Other designers who have committed to participate include Calvin Klein Collection, Michael Kors, Rag & Bone, Public School, Billy Reid, Todd Snyder, Michael Bastian, Ovadia & Sons, Robert Geller, Duckie Brown, Patrik Ervell, Timo Weiland and Kent & Curwen. But not all of these will hold runway shows. Which designers will stage shows and which ones will participate in different ways is still being hammered out, according to Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA.

What is known as the Project trade show will move its dates forward and will now be staged July 13 through July 15. The original dates were July 19 to 21. The other trade shows scheduled to be held at that time, including Liberty Fairs and Capsule, are also in discussions to align their dates with New York Fashion Week: Men’s, Kolb said.

“American men’s wear has never been stronger or more creative,” Kolb said. “There are many reasons the CFDA is launching New York Fashion Week: Men’s. It gives the designers a business platform to show during their market dates and is an opportunity to demonstrate the collective talent of an important segment of our industry. The effort to create stand-alone men’s shows is not just backed by CFDA and participating designers, but also by the American editors and retailers who have contributed as we have built this, and they will continue to be involved in our planning.”

Kolb said the creation of a separate men’s fashion week in New York is intended to give American men’s wear designers the same level of exposure and stature as those in Europe. “We’re not trying to be London, Milan or Paris,” Kolb said. “This will be New York and America. American men’s designers are equally as creative and deserve their own platform.”

Kolb said he hopes to replicate the success that London Collections: Men has had since it launched more than two years ago. The first edition was in summer 2012 and the shows have gained momentum every season, with key English brands such as Burberry and Alexander McQueen eventually jumping on board. The London show organizers, the British Fashion Council, also pulled out the big guns, with Prince Charles and then Prime Minister David Cameron hosting receptions for attendees in the first two seasons.

Although it’s unlikely President Obama will attend a meet-and-greet at the inaugural men’s event in New York, Kolb nonetheless believes the CFDA can host a strong enough showcase that it can eventually replicate London’s success.

“What the British Fashion Council has done is impressive,” he said. “There’s a lot we can learn from them.”

He continued: “We’re not naïve enough to think that we’re going to create a huge, international mega men’s fashion week immediately. We know we have to build it from the ground up. But we’re going to do a good job, and we know we’ll be able to compete on a more global basis in the future,” Kolb said.

Helping create that showcase will be the financial support the CFDA has obtained from Amazon. Although Kolb declined to provide a dollar figure, he said creating New York Fashion Week: Men’s will “cost a lot of money.” In return, Amazon will also use the showcase to promote its men’s business.

Cathy Beaudoin, president of Amazon Fashion, said how the e-commerce company will participate beyond its presenting sponsor status is still “a work in progress — we haven’t nailed down our plans yet.” But one thing is for sure, men’s wear is a big business for the online giant.

“Men’s is a meaningful part of our business,” she said. “It’s as large as our women’s business. Fashion is the fastest growing business at Amazon and men’s has grown over 80 percent a year for the last five years. It’s a booming business for us, so we’re very committed to the category, and this partnership felt right.”

She added that the “majority of participating brands are also carried across our different platforms. So it was a natural union. From our part, we are totally committed to the men’s wear business and believe men’s deserves its own platform. It solves a real problem in the industry. The designers will now be able to show when the buyers and editors are in the market. And it’s a very positive message of support to the men’s industry.”

The change in dates has been an ongoing discussion within the men’s community over the past few years. The idea of a separate men’s fashion week follows long-running complaints that the men’s shows get overshadowed by women’s in February and September. While the timing is less of a problem in February, since it is only a few weeks after the men’s runway shows in London, Milan and Paris, the September dates come some six weeks after the buying cycle for the men’s industry. Most major and independent retailers attend the trade shows and visit showrooms in July and finalize their buys at the MAGIC Marketplace in Las Vegas in August, meaning the men’s shows in September are strictly for show.

Kolb said the creation of New York Fashion Week: Men’s will also prompt a change in the February dates for men’s designers.

“February is much closer to the men’s market dates,” Kolb said, “but we’re going to move the men’s shows to the week before the women’s. Now that we’re the proud owners of the Fashion Calendar, we’re the fall scheduler and can determine where and what time people show. Having that tool will help us organize and schedule men’s shows and other markets as well.”

Kolb said the creation of New York Fashion Week: Men’s has been under discussion for more than two years, but the idea has been around for almost a decade. “A lot of people said we should do it, but no one stepped up to the plate. That’s what’s different now. We had to find partners who believe in what we do, and that’s where Amazon came in early on. Cathy and her team immediately saw the value.”

He credited Amazon with being patient through the process as the CFDA worked through “a big, complicated, jigsaw puzzle” to make it a reality.

Kolb said, “What was key was the designer participation. Early on, Tommy [Hilfiger] attached himself. He said he trusted what we were going to build and believed in it.” From there, CFDA reached out to all its members and created a blend of “new talent, and the big guys, too.”

Hilfiger was still mum on whether he will return his men’s wear to the runway in July, but he said Wednesday: “I am a huge supporter of the CFDA and am excited to participate in the Men’s Fashion Week. The city has always been a creative capital for men’s sportswear, and I love to support young designers and brands that are making their home here.”

Kolb said other large American names such as Calvin Klein and Thom Browne will continue to show in Europe, but have committed to be involved in the New York showcase in some way. “Italo [Zucchelli, men’s creative director of Calvin Klein Collection] won’t restage his show, but will do something in New York,” he said. “The same thing with Thom Browne.”

Perhaps the biggest American name — Ralph Lauren — is noticeably absent from the participation list. Lauren has taken to showing his collection at his New York City showroom off calendar.

“We reached out to every designer,” Kolb said, noting that he’s been in discussion with vice chairman David Lauren and Malcolm Carfrae, global head of communications, but “we don’t know where Ralph is going to land on this.

“We know the first season we won’t have everyone on board. They have other commitments.” He mentioned John Varvatos in particular as one of the designers who has already said he will show spring in Milan. In a meeting last week, Varvatos told WWD: “I’d love to do something, but we’ve established ourselves in Europe and have developed a following there. I won’t bring the collection back here, it doesn’t make sense for us, but maybe in 2016, I’ll put Star USA on the runway in New York.”

If Varvatos does opt to bring a runway show to New York, Kolb believes the Skylight venue will be a strong choice. “It’s a centralized venue and will be the heart of this. We’ll likely have two runways and a presentations space,” he said. “And Amazon will have a strong platform there to integrate their message.”

Shimon Ovadia of Ovadia & Sons is happy to jump on board. “We haven’t decided exactly what [we’ll do yet] but it will be a show — on a different level than we’ve been doing the last few seasons. There are a lot of exciting things happening at Ovadia & Sons, so the timing couldn’t be better with the spotlight on men’s wear moving to New York.”

Dual-gender brands, Kolb said, can decide which dates make the most sense for their business. “For the most part, most dual-gender brands show mainly women’s with a few men’s looks mixed in. That will still happen, but it’s up to each brand to decide what to do. As this evolves, we hope all men’s will move out of the women’s calendar and into our show.”

Tommy Fazio, president of Project, has been working since taking the job at the trade show two and a half years ago to make a New York men’s week a reality. He proved his support for the idea by taking the plunge and moving the dates of the show ahead a week. It will still be held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. “Even if the other shows go off on the original dates, we’ll still have a cohesive week,” he said. “We want to support and help all American designers come together as one group. It shows solidarity for men’s and says we’re big, proud and important.”

Kolb said that even if the other shows, which include MRket and Agenda as well as Liberty and Capsule, can’t move their dates this July, he expects that eventually “it will evolve into that.” The show operators have expressed support for the idea of a men’s fashion week in advance.

Erin Hawker, founder of Agentry PR and creator of New York Men’s Day, is also ready to work with the CFDA. “We’ll wait to confirm our dates based on what CFDA is planning. But we will work in tandem,” she said. Last week, Cadillac stepped up to become the presenting sponsor of New York Men’s Day, a collaboration of emerging men’s designers brought together by Agentry.

New York Fashion Week: Men’s will fall under the responsibility of Adam Roth, CFDA’s director of strategic partnerships, and Mark Beckham has joined the group in a consultant capacity as project director. The event will be produced by Inca Productions.

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