‘Downtown’ Abbey

The news on Thursday, that the upcoming shows in February for fall winter 2015 will be the last at Lincoln Center, means that the race is on to find another ‘home’ until New York Fashion Week permanently relocates to the Culture Shed at Hudson Yards in 2018. The formidable challenge will be to find something suitable on many levels; one that will satisfy and appeal to most. Yeah, good luck with that. Let’s get one thing straight. There will never be a venue that will appeal to all of the people all of the time. It ain’t gonna happen. That being said, Bryant Park came pretty close. It was hard to argue with its amazingly convenient, central location. Don’t forget, the reason why things were centralized in the first place was to make life easier and safer for show attendees who previously had to scatter around town and deal with sometimes dangerous conditions caused by overcrowding in small spaces, elevators, and seedy venues. When the ceiling collapsed at a loft space in the 20’s, that Michael Kors used for a show in 1990, and the plaster landed on Suzy Menkes’s head, Fern Mallis, who just started at the CFDA was compelled to organize Fashion Week. (Of course, a group of editors including Andre Leon Talley, got stuck in the elevator leaving Oscar’s show last September, so you can’t always prevent that sort of thing from happening).

Bryant Park was close to all forms of public transportation, hotels, restaurants, and everything else you could want or imagine. It had a bustling, vibrant, center-of-New-York-feeling. It didn’t hurt that the entire area was utilized to utmost efficiency. And. in addition to the erected tents, some designers were able to make use of the grand iconic New York Public Library’s Astor Hall, Celeste Bartos Forum, and McGraw Rotunda as their space of choice (how much more New York can you get?). Back in that day, there was a festive party feeling in and around the tents. Yes, I know fashion is big business, but it is and should also be fun. And while some key designers (Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Shouler, etc.), nonetheless opted to do their own thing and show off site, many important shows took place in the tents and there were many big fashion moments.

I can still recall Bill Blass’s final bow on September 17th, 1999 with Hurricane Floyd wreaking havoc and threatening to stop the show (and many others), because water began leaking through the ceiling. And, I will never ever forget walking over to the tents on the beautiful sunny morning of September 11, 2001. As I made my way from Lexington Avenue to 6th Avenue on 42nd Street, I witnessed first-hand, the towers going up in smoke one minute, and completely gone the next. People were in shock, fashion week was cancelled, and I, along with many others, were forced to walk home (I almost could not get dressed, let alone think about fashion for weeks after).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

But good things unfortunately have to come to an end, and we were forced to leave Bryant Park. The good news was that many were upbeat and optimistic about our next chapter and new home: Lincoln Center. The fact that it is the iconic and elegant epicenter of the arts in New York, made it seem like a step up from 42nd Street, and many were hopeful that this move would inspire and help ‘up’ the game of New York fashion (which many consider to be an art form). Well, that didn’t happen. Speaking of which, this is a season of fantasy and dreams, so pardon me if I want to indulge. As someone who loves fashion as much as art, and loves to equate the two (sometimes), my ultimate fantasy would be to have Fashion Week set up in Central Park, right next to, or behind, the glorious Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maybe Anna Wintour could use her formidable muscles and do something to make this happen (perhaps some shows could even be staged inside?)

Hudson Yards

In any event, Lincoln Center was somehow never utilized properly, and many insiders began to shun it, as it became over run with crashers, hanger- oners, wannabees. They deemed it too commercial and convention like, even though on paper, it had a lot going for it: its iconic stature and its relatively convenient, central location and proximity to hotels, restaurants, shops, services, transportation, etc. Eventually, some well respected designers had always showed there – Vera Wang, Michael Kors, Ralph Rucci, Diane von Furstenberg, abandoned ship and went south. It got to the point that if you said you did not attend one show at Lincoln Center, but rather, found yourself at the Spring and Milk Studios, the Park Avenue Armory, various galleries and spaces in west Chelsea and West Street, you probably saw everything you needed to see. And conversely, if you only went to shows at Lincoln Center, you totally missed the boat. And it went from bad to worse. While security was tightened in the past few seasons, (a good thing), they made it so dark inside, shutting out any light, it was not only disorienting, but rather depressing. Talk about being careful what you wish for: while we love to bellyache and complain and find fault, I have a feeling that wherever we go next, there will be those who will find it has bigger problems than Lincoln Center, and many will yearn for the good old days.

Chelsea Piers

What are the alternatives? We will eventually be at Hudson Yards (on the far west side of Manhattan, facing the Hudson River), and everything is happening on the far west side anyway, so how about getting used to the idea and heading back to Chelsea Piers, which is just about 10 blocks south? Fern Mallis is one person who thought that it was a good location for the shows, and she told me, several years ago, that she felt the reason so many fashionistas didn’t like it, was because they found it hard to maneuver around there in their towering stilettos. Well, now that the fashion world has ‘discovered’ sporty, athletic, footwear, that shouldn’t be a problem anymore — right? Of course, it will still be rather inconvenient in terms of public transportation, And since this February could be as cold and frigid as last year, it’s worth thinking about.

How about going even further downtown, to the tip of Manhattan (Battery Park to be exact)? Back in 1988, a large tent, the Grand Chapiteau, was erected there, to house Cirque de Soleil (isn’t Fashion always compared to one big circus?). And what could be more patriotic than having the Statue of Liberty and 1 World Trade Center in full view? (The Conde Nast editors, whose offices are now at 1 World Trade, would be able to walk to and from, as they did when their offices were in Times Square and the shows were a few blocks away at Bryant Park). It is also close to Tribeca, where many hip editors, designers, fashion insiders, and celebrities call home (it is also where the Spring Studios are, and the venues on West Street, where Ralph Lauren, among others, show). It’s also just a subway stop or two from Brooklyn, which is considered to be the hip of the hip (the Bowling Green Station, where you can get the 4 and 5 trains, and the Rector Street Station, the N and R trains, are close by). Should a designer decide to show in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, water taxis and ferries are right under your nose. There are some good restaurants nearby, and the Ritz Carlton Hotel is just across the street.

Marilyn Kirschner

Next Year at Governor’s Island?

Lincoln Center venue

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center is the Rodney Dangerfield of venues; oversized, hilarious and unable to get respect. Most fashion insiders tended to malign the place while, as we know, many of the more discerning designers had turned away from showing there, opting instead for their showrooms or other remote and “exotic” locations. As we heard in the news this week, there will soon be nothing left to disparage as NYFW must find a new home. Thanks to Heidi Klum we are all aware that “In fashion one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out” as well as the devastating effect this can have on those that are eliminated. New York Fashion Week may be left scrambling as it was quite literally “out”– ousted from its home of the past four years due to a settlement agreement regarding the private use of Damrosch Park. The result is that several park preservation groups won an appeal to have MBFW evicted and their park restored. This February marks the last of the Fashion Weeks to take place there. (background story here)

Big Apple Circus

It seems that the exclusionary element of the “by invitation only” fashion event, as the public is not allowed to attend Fashion Week, may have rankled some and spurred this action. “The groups argued the insular nature of the fashion shows that draw top designers and hundreds of buyers, editors and journalists violate laws governing public use of the land.” according to this: (see article) Perhaps having to do with the proximity of shared space with the Big Apple Circus (which is open to the ticket buying public and not impacted by this change) but mostly due to having fallen out of favor with the fashion elite, the LC Tents (or “Elsie as I’d like to call it) somehow never commanded the aura of its diminutive predecessor in Bryant Park. BP had the additional cachet of being near the garment district, adding to its allure and convenience. “I love the fact that Bryant Park was where they chose to do the shows because I love the garment center,” Designer Anna Sui said in an interview with the New York Times in February of 2010 upon the announcement that the shows were to move to the cultural hub. “And to this day, we still wheel the racks to the show ourselves.” (see NY Times article) JSYK, Ms. Sui was one of the loyalists who continued to show at the Lincoln Center tents.

NY Fashion Week at Bryant Park

As the fashion animal is relentlessly on the move, so too is IMG’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. I believe it was generally assumed that it would stay put until 2018 when the Hudson Yards, with a yet to be built Culture Shed, would assume the mantle of “permanent home” of Fashion Week. However it is not to be so smooth a transition, as Thursday’s edict decreed that Damrosch Park is to be restocked with trees and benches rather than racks and runway models. Upon first hearing of this plan, I actually felt a pang of regret. The Tents at Elsie are the site of my first fashion week and of course, good, bad, or indifferent, you always remember your “first one.” I will have had three such fashion week notches on my belt when the tents are taken down for the last time, which actually may be the perfect amount. Any more and it might start to get old, any less and I might feel a sense of disappointment. This will have given me two winters (fall collection) to stand in the beautiful yet windswept plaza admiring yet scoffing at all the “posers” while posing yet dodging fashion bloggers myself, as well as one summer (spring collection) doing the same while baking and squinting in the oppressive heat.

I have to admit that I enjoy the “ride at Disneyland” quality of entering the tent even whilst agreeing that it often has all the charm of a police station. Flashing my press badge is akin to an all access pass, and I breeze in like a VIP. By day two or three I’m at Cheers where “everyone knows my name” or at least all the security people recognize me, waving me in like royalty, somehow part of the fray yet above it–always a good feeling. If my bubble gets burst somewhat by having to herd in cattle-style to the Theater, the Pavilion or the Salon, all the while being ever vigilant lest a large video camera strike me in my frontal lobe, then so be it…you live by the sword… (or by the boom as the case may be).

As it is unclear where the immediate future of fashion week will take us, I will ruminate a bit on “where do we go from here”? Can the tent, with a few adjustments, be plopped down somewhere else like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz (“We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore Toto!”) or will Fashion Week somehow be made to adapt into an existing edifice such as the Park Avenue Armory or one of the waterfront piers? I hope we can rule out the Brooklyn Navy Yard or anyplace in LIC or Queens although there are probably some vacant warehouses which could be retrofitted in some way.  Meanwhile, September is not that far off. I cannot wait to see what IMG has up its designer sleeve. One thing’s for sure: The (fashion) show must go on. Next year at Governor’s Island?

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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