NEW YORK — Elyse Kroll created Fashion Coterie in 1986 at the Plaza Hotel with roughly 30 vendors simply because she thought she could create a better women’s trade show. Nineteen years later, more than 1,000 vendors vie for a spot on Piers 90, 92, and 94 twice a year on Manhattan’s West Side to showcase their merchandise to more than 12,000 retailers from around the world.
In March, Kroll will be honored by The Laboratory Institute of Merchandising for her contributions to the fashion world and specifically for revamping the fashion trade show. The four-year private college offers students a bachelor’s degree combining liberal arts with hands-on exposure to marketing, visual merchandising, fashion merchandising, communications and retailing. Kroll sat down with WWD to dish about where Coterie began and what she has in store.
WWD: With over 1,000 vendors at Fashion Coterie, what is your strategy for placement?
Elyse Kroll: We’re trying desperately to make the shopping experience really efficient for our retailers. I usually go to our exhibitors and say, ‘Who are your retailers? Who do you feel like you should be merchandised with?’ We try to group products by what a store would like to buy. That doesn’t necessarily mean the same product categories. We try to figure out what this customer would wear on the weekend? What would she wear to work? To sleep?
WWD: It seems like Fashion Coterie is going global.
EK: The first international group [at the show] were the Brits. Then we got a group from Turkey, then Brazil and Japan. Fashion is a very fluid thing, and everyone wants to be in it. After all these years, we still see a lot of growth potential. We know the directions we have to move in. One of the biggest changes is how global fashion has become. You never used to hear about Berlin, Colombia or Russia as being contenders. I’ll never forget when Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, told me that he needed a bigger booth. He said, “You know, we have accounts from Serbia,” and “I said, ‘What? Serbia!?” The mix of stores that come to the Coterie is so broad.
WWD: This year you’re being honored by LIM.
EK: Yes, and the school is just fantastic. The very principle on which the school is founded is that women need to have more important jobs in the fashion industry than to just be secretaries. For me to be associated with that, I’m like, ‘Wow.’ I really am the epitome of what they’re talking about. I am what that school was created for.
WWD: What message do you have for retailers visiting your show?
EK: Contemporary buyers need to sniff around Pier 94. They need to understand that right next to Sole Commerce, the women’s shoes and accessories section, are the Japanese designers, and right next to them is Max Mara, and across the aisle is Isaac Mizrahi. A good retailer shouldn’t get lazy on me. Take a little stroll. There are some very cool collections going on over there.
WWD: What can we expect from Coterie in the years to come?
EK: In the beginning, one of the key features of Coterie was that I made room for young designers. I gave them a reduced participation fee, sort of on a sliding scale based on their size. It really gave young designers the opportunity to be in front of the retailers and to succeed or fail — completely on their own depending on their collection, their ability to produce and ship. That’s one of the things I’ll be returning to. I’ll give a home to young designers because, there is no place over the course of three days that you can be seen by more retailers. And for a young designer, that’s more valuable than gold.