LOS ANGELES — With event producer IMG out and the economy in trouble, Los Angeles Fashion Week has managed to coalesce into a 10-day series of scaled-back events beginning Friday.
This story first appeared in the March 12, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The IMG-produced Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios in Culver City, a partnership that ended last year, was seen as fashion week’s anchor. But detractors cited subpar designers, a lack of buyers and press, an abundance of D-list celebrities and an out-of-the-way location as causes of its demise. Competing show producers have sought to claim a bigger stake in fashion week, but the economy hasn’t cooperated. Sponsorship dollars are scarce and designers are short on cash.
That hasn’t stopped GenArt and BOXeight from returning, nor has it deterred producers from forming new events and designers from forging partnerships or going it alone.
The majority of this season’s shows finally seem geared toward buyers, taking place in the downtown garment district and leading into or coinciding with the Los Angeles fashion market that runs March 20 to 24.
“Absolutely, it makes more sense and makes it easier for us to get to shows,” said Satine boutique owner Jeannie Lee.
GenArt, which has staged biannual events in Los Angeles since 1997, teamed with the fashion and art organization BOXeight this year, making its group runway show on Friday the opening-night event of BOXeight Fashion Week, a term used loosely, as it takes place over three nights.
“With IMG gone, we definitely thought a better week could be created, but the timing was not right for corporate America,” said GenArt founder Ian Gerard. “Sponsorships had dropped 50 to 70 percent in the first quarter.”
With no presenting sponsors, Gerard scaled back his plans to one runway show featuring three designers. However, sharing BOXeight’s venue at downtown’s Los Angeles Theater meant that the show could handle the same size audience as GenArt’s previous events.
It’s a mutually beneficial partnership, said Peter Gurnz, BOXeight founder and chief executive officer. “We have been trying to work with GenArt forever. On one level it was good news for us that IMG had left, but on another it was a little frightening. If the big companies don’t want to do [fashion week], or can’t do it, you get concerned about the viability of your own efforts, so it’s great to have a partner who shares your vision.”
Gurnz reduced the number of nights of his event but boosted the designers to almost 20 by adding another runway that enables him to present shows every hour. BOXeight still has no corporate sponsors, but signed a three-year agreement with production company Vox Entertainment Inc., bringing them resources such as seating for up to 1,600 people, plasma screens and the extra runway.
Veteran show producer Leanna Lewis hoped the void left by IMG would enable her to introduce a multiday, invitation-only runway event called Downtown L.A. Fashion Week, capped by a charity fashion show open to the public. Instead, she is moving forward with the charity fashion show, featuring clothes from vintage retailer Decades and benefiting the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
“Designers and sponsors want to see an event happen before they make a commitment, so I am doing this to get people interested and on board,” Lewis said.
Two former BOXeight staffers and an independent show producer have formed City of Los Angeles (COLA) Fashion Week, a five-show, two-night event set in the garment district during market. They hope to brand the event and attract more designers and sponsors next season. “We want to make this a clean, professional event for buyers and editors that will get designers business and press,” said co-founder Jess Kane.
Smashbox Studios co-owner Davis Factor also plans to get back in to fashion week, although he is sitting out this season.
“It’s unrealistic to raise the money to put on the kind of event we’d like to right now,” he said. Factor said he’s not worried about new events eclipsing his plans, which include a Hollywood venue with a tie-in to the entertainment world. “There will always be room for a good event.”
Young designers such as Whitley Kros, Crispin & Basilio and Valerj Pobega are presenting intimate presentations or installations on days that didn’t overlap with other events.
“It’s always been normal for us to do things on the fly here, so we’re able to look at the calendar for the right date,” said Crispin & Basilio designer Donny Barrios, who noted that like many contemporary designers, he does business during New York market week, but chooses to hold events in his hometown. “The runway season is a long and winding road, and rather than be sad that we’re trailing behind, we’d rather celebrate that we’re still here doing what we want to be doing.”