In less than three weeks, New York’s men’s designers will go live with a long-elusive fashion week they hope will one day rival the European circuit.
More than 500 editors and retailers have already registered for the inaugural event, which is slated for July 13 to 16 and will feature more than 40 shows and presentations, proving to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the event’s organizer, that the interest is there.
But it took two years of negotiation and discussion with the major players and cash from several sponsors to make it a reality. Presenting sponsor Amazon and its fashion sites — Amazon Fashion, East Dane and MyHabit — along with Shinola and DreamWorks were recently joined by Cadillac and Loews Regency Hotel, providing the financial support — and hotel rooms — to pay for the European editors who are being flown in to attend.
The fact that men’s wear needs its own independent forum was never in dispute. For years, men’s designers have complained that their 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, meaning the men’s shows in September are strictly for show.
Even so, it took “hard work and persistence” for New York Fashion Week: Men’s to become reality, according to Steven Kolb, CFDA’s chief executive officer. Lining up sponsors, finding a venue and getting the big boys on board all took time.
There was some pushback in the beginning from editors and retailers who weren’t ready to give up their summer vacations after spending three weeks attending the full calendar of shows in Europe, which started this year in London on June 12 and will end in Paris on June 28. And initial complaints included the lack of participation of the U.S.’s marquee designers, including Ralph Lauren, John Varvatos and Thom Browne, who either chose to show in the showrooms (in the case of Lauren) or had decamped to Europe to present their lines to a wider audience.
The ball really started rolling when Varvatos made the decision to leave Milan after 13 seasons and bring his men’s show back to New York. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place a few weeks ago when Ralph Lauren said he would participate by showing Polo during NYFW: Men’s. That means that nearly every American men’s wear designer is now on board.
Among those who will participate through either runway shows or presentations are Calvin Klein Collection, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Rag & Bone, Public School, Billy Reid, Todd Snyder, Michael Bastian, Ovadia & Sons, Robert Geller, Duckie Brown, Timo Weiland, Nautica, Theory, Richard Chai and Perry Ellis.
Even though Calvin Klein is showing the same collection as it presented in Milan, Thom Browne is showing a different line than it will show in Paris, Kolb said. The CFDA executive also stressed that many of the U.S. retailers and editors don’t have the budget to attend all the shows in Europe, so even if the clothes are the same, the audience is new.
To launch the week, CFDA and Amazon will cohost an event at Amazon’s Imaging Studio in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn on July 13. CFDA has also embraced New York Men’s Day, the forum for emerging designers spearheaded by Erin Hawker of Agentry PR. New York Men’s Day will showcase its brands the morning and afternoon of July 13, wrapping up in time for the CFDA’s party.
“We’re overwhelmed with the response,” Kolb said in an interview at his Bleecker Street office. He said the enthusiasm of everyone involved shows “a bit of American pride” and evident of “a big moment in men’s wear.”
He said the “breadth and depth” of the participants — from Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors to Orley and Gypsy Sport — will serve to showcase the “power” of U.S. men’s wear. About half of the participants will hold runway shows and the other half presentations within the official venue, Skylight Clarkson Sq.
Thom Browne will open the shows on July 14 and Varvatos will close the four-day event with a show on July 16.
Overall, there are 28 shows at Skylight Clarkson Sq, and 13 off-site, said Mark Beckham, project director. Most of the off-site shows are opting for venues close to Skylight, which is located at 550 Washington Street between West Houston and Spring Streets, he added.
Skylight Clarkson Sq is the former terminus of the old High Line railroad, and Kolb said history will be celebrated through the design elements at the venue, which will have “a railroad theme.”
He further stressed that although the event has several sponsors, there will be no “over-communication” — meaning no overt signage for brands other than NYFW: Men’s. “We’re very sensitive to that,” he said.
Kolb said because CFDA also owns the Fashion Calendar, the shows and presentations not on the official NYFW: Men’s schedule are still on the broader calendar, meaning there will be no overlap. For instance, Ralph Lauren will show Polo at his Madison Avenue showrooms on July 16 between noon and 2 p.m., so attendees have time to get back downtown for the Parke & Ronen show at 1 p.m.
Kolb credited Amazon, which jumped on board early in the process, as key to making NYFW: Men’s a reality.
“Amazon bought into an idea and a vision,” Kolb said. “And their support enabled us to attract DreamWorks and Shinola. And now Cadillac is expanding its support of New York men’s fashion.” Cadillac, which signed on for two years, will provide cars to attendees and financial support to new and emerging talent. The carmaker also continues its support of New York Men’s Day.
Kolb said every designer participating in the event incurred some costs, although CFDA set up a fund to supplement some shows. “We have financial assistance available based on need,” he said. “But everybody is paying something. It’s based on size and scale and through our partners, we were able to provide stipends to some designers.”
CFDA was unable to find an airline partner, so the designers themselves kicked in to create a “travel fund” to help pay the transportation costs of the 15 international editors who have committed to attend the shows, including GQ France and Italy, Esquire U.K. and Le Figaro, Kolb said. This includes editors in chief, fashion directors and critics, he noted.
Retailers who will attend will be paying their own way, Kolb said.
Dockers, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary next year, also signed on to create a platform for new designers, and Axe will serve as the official grooming sponsor and help backstage. Loews Regency Hotel has agreed to provide rooms gratis to the international editors. “That was a big part of the puzzle,” Kolb said.
Fashion GPS, the software company that manages digital fashion week invites, is serving as the CFDA’s preferred technology provider.
The one thing that all the sponsors have in common, Kolb said, is that they’re American companies. “We’re not trying to be Europe, we’re trying to be New York.”
To drive that point home, CFDA has selected several “ambassadors” to attend the shows. These include Dwyane Wade, Victor Cruz, Joe Jonas, Darren Criss, Marcus Samuelsson, Andy Cohen, Casey Neistat and Tyson Beckford.
CFDA is also working closely with the trade shows that will be held the week following the fashion shows. Although there are a couple of days between the end of NYFW: Men’s and the start of the trade shows this time, the timing will be closer in the future.
In fact, Beckham revealed that round two of NYFW: Men’s will be held Jan. 28-31, 2016, dates that will “align with the trade shows. Our dates will be Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the trade shows will be the prior Sunday, Monday and Tuesday,” he said.
Kolb admitted that if there’s anything he would have done differently, he “would have more trade show participation” at the beginning of the planning process. “Other cities don’t have trade shows like we do,” he said.
Project and its president Tommy Fazio has been a highly vocal and early proponent of the NYFW: Men’s. Liberty Fairs will showcase designers showing at New York Men’s Day at its show, and Capsule has taken a slot on July 16 to spotlight emerging designers that will also show at its show.
The City of New York has also been highly supportive, Kolb said. More than 100 light posts, bus shelters and kiosks will be draped with official NYFW: Men’s promotional materials, which include models dressed in Robert Geller, Calvin Klein, Todd Snyder, Orley and John Varvatos.
“No money is being made on this,” Kolb stressed. “It’s part of our mission to support American designers. This is a very historic moment for American fashion.”