Thursday, February 8, 2007

A little Ray of sunshine in the Meatpacking District

You've got to fee a teensy bit sorry for any new Australians heading over to New York right now. Once upon a time it was a big deal for an Australian to show here - back in Australia that is. With new names each season both on- and off-schedule, it is now however becoming par for the Australian fashion course. On the plus side, those who came before them paved the way. They may have garnered bigger headlines back home - but they have made Australian fashion a bigger talking point in New York. On Monday morning at 11.00am Perth's Ray Costarella became the seventh Australian to show his wares on a New York runway (after sass & bide, Willow, Josh Goot, Toni Maticevski, Lincoln Mayne and Ksubi) - and the fourth of five to show this season.

In spite of deciding to go it alone and eschew the official schedule for his first show Costarella managed to pull in an impressive 300-strong crowd that included top New York stores Kirna Zabete, Bloomingdales and media outlets including US Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, WWD/W and

Also in attendance, expat Australian Elizabeth Charles, whose Australasian-specialist boutique is just around the corner - and who is doing so well selling Oz and Kiwi labels in the American market, she is just about to open a second store in San Francisco.

It was a much bigger crowd than that garnered by Toni Maticevski for his first show, on-schedule, in September (although as I mentioned a few days ago, Maticevski packed the venue this time).

Costarella's show was staged down at the Bumble & Bumble venue in the Meatpacking District, a warehouse space with magnificent views of the Manhattan skyline. You really knew you were in New York.

Costarella played it simple - some might say, a little too straight - for his nevertheless confident Big Apple debut, showing a tightly-edited, monochromatic collection of silk voile and silk tulle cocktail dresses and evening gowns with sculpted, embellished bodices, some of them boasting delicate, distressed, degrade skirt layers, like a series of full-length ballerina tutus.

Costarella's forte is eveningwear and there's definitely a market for it here. This is a cashed-up party town. Bergdorf Goodman has an entire floor just dedicated to ballgowns.

Here's what he said right after the show:

So why did you decide to show in NY?
Ray Costarella: Just because we'd been doing a lot of work here in the market for the last 18 months.

Who are you selling to already?
Mostly on the West Coast at the moment. We're selling to American Rag, Jack Henry, We Of The Never Never. We've had a lot of interest from stores here in New York. So it was the obvious choice for us in terms of doing our first show internationally.

How much harder was it compared to staging a show in Australia?
Do you know what? It's actually easier. I've been far less stressed about doing this show than I normally am doing shows in Sydney. For some reason it's just been really effortless, I really haven't been anxious about it. The whole process has just evolved so naturally and smoothly. And I felt very confident about the collection and about staging the whole show.

Tell me about the collection.
The theme of the collection was chiaroscuro and it was inspired by the painting movement. It's all about light and shade and hence the movement through from white through the quite sort of Gothic pieces at the end. Still a lot of vintage elements, in the beading, the dress that Nicole (Trunfio) came out in had vintage a Belgian purse stitched onto the bust. I'm fortunate now that I've got a team of beaders who are recreating these things for me. They're in Manila. So they've moved from being strictly one-off pieces. I'm working with a company called When I Was Five. You may have seen them, Belinda stocks them in Australia and they sell through Barneys and Bergdorfs. They've taken on all my hand-beading for me. They've got a team of 100 beaders who work for them.

It's becoming a well-worn track from AFW to New York.
It's becoming so. And I think it's really important in terms of visibility for Australian designers on the international circuit.

Yes but Australia seems suddenly over-represented here in New York - I mean there are five Australians showing.
I guess Americans still have this affinity with Australians. They do tend to like us over here which certainly helps. But in terms of mounting a show on the international level it makes more sense to do it in an English-speaking country than say Paris for example, where I imagine it would be so much more difficult. I don't know how Collette has done it all these years. But New York just seemed to me to be the right place to be showing.

Are you planning to show again back in Australia?
Yeah, we haven't made any decisions on Sydney at this point but obviously we'll continue to show in Australia. But we've made a commitment to New York Fashion Week for at least the next three seasons. I think that's really important. You can't just do it once and then disappear.

It's obviously an expensive exercise.
(beyond sponsors and a WA grant) We've still spent in excesse of $100,000 getting here. By the time you factor in all of your flights, your accommodation, you have to come over for at least 2-3 weeks...

Tough town?
I want to say yes but I think people have warmed to us.

Good turnout.
We did, we had some pretty influential people here which was great. I was really pleased with it. First show for an unknown in a new market, I was certainly happy with the result. We'll see what the next few days bring.

Biggest surprise?
I guess how easy it turned out to be. I knew it was going to be an expensive exercise, but I just imagined it was going to be so much more difficult than it actually was.

Because it's more professional here?
I think we as a team were just so organised and so ready for it. That played a really important part. I think it was just the right time for us. The next three weeks are solid selling for us. We've got two weeks in New York and then my NY agent takes the collection to Paris and will sell it there during Paris Fashion Week. I mean the hard work has yet to come. Now we actually have to go out there and make some money.

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