Friday, September 5, 2008

A New York Fashion Week primer Part III

Y-3's perfect storm, new york sep 07

It doesn’t take a genius to work out why New York Fashion Week is the way it is. Paris first organised its fashion shows in 1868. New York was running loosely-structured ‘market weeks’ of shows for over 50 years before the Council of Fashion Designers of America [CFDA] finally pulled together the city’s first centralised designer collections showcase as recently as 1993, offering professional services and purpose-built venues at Bryant Park. The catalyst? A ceiling collapse at a Michael Kors’ show.

Like many other New York shows at the time, Kors' show had been staged in an 'edgy' downtown loft.

“That was the Austrian shot heard around the world” recalled Fern Mallis in an interview I did with her back in 2002.

Now the senior vice president of IMG Fashion, who moved over to IMG in 2001 when the company acquired the CFDA's "7th on Sixth" collections showcase at Bryant Park, Mallis was at the time of the Kors show disaster one month into her new job as CFDA executive director.

“The ceiling collapsed on models and in the lap of Suzy Menkes” said Mallis. “It was scandalous. The press went to town, criticising New York saying, ‘How can this industry, which is known for its glamour and style, be showing in these places where our lives are at risk? We live for fashion, we don’t want to die for it’".

She added, “The following season Mizrahi had a show in a SoHo loft and the power blew. [There were] One thousand people sitting there at night, scared to death in the dark, waiting for generators to kick in. The CFDA said, ‘This is crazy’. We organised a committee to check out spaces. Before, elevators broke down [en route into shows]. That happened more times that you can count”.

But with show numbers exploding almost 200percent over the past decade and the majority of shows now happening off-schedule and off-site, I personally can’t help wondering just how long it’s going to be before there’s another ceiling collapse - or something more serious.

There has already been one recent near-fatal incident at an off-site venue – at a show staged by Diane von Furstenberg who, as it happens, is now the CFDA president.

In 2005, in fact on the four year anniversary of 9/11, an entire section of von Furstenberg’s show light rig crashed onto her audience, injuring a number of people. The show had been staged inside von Furstenberg’s studio.

Cosmopolitan fashion editor Karen Hanes Larrain, who was reportedly knocked unconscious and required 30 stitches, sued. In February this year The New York Post reported that the suit was still pending – and that Hanes Larrain is also now suing von Furstenberg’s lighting designer Thierry Dreyfus.

Ever since, DVF’s shows have been back at Bryant Park where, in the opinion of the designer’s PR director Alexis Rodriguez, as she told events industry website BizBash:
"there's less liability; everything is properly checked and there's a whole crew working on all the other shows so everything is safe and secure….We've learned we're a much bigger company than we thought—we needed more seats than we had [on the night of the accident]. This big of an event must be done at a space that can handle this type of crowd".

running the gauntlet between Y-3 and rodarte, new york sep 07

On one stinking hot Manhattan afternoon in September last year, I spent more time thinking about the safety checks and balances at two consecutive off-site shows than I did the clothes.

The Adidas Y-3 show was on-schedule and Rodarte was off-schedule, but they were both located on the same Chelsea street.

Rodarte was after Y-3, however in order to get to Rodarte, you had to run the gauntlet through a water installation that had been erected by Y-3 over the High Line rail bridge.

At first glance, it looked like a water main had burst. But as you approached the bridge, and were greeted by a posse of brolly-laden PRs in rubber boots, you twigged what was going on. The atmosphere was one of mild pandemonium.

The show itself was staged under an adjacent section of the High Line.

It was a hugely expensive production which involved seating the audience on bleachers on either side of the bare concrete ‘runway’.

The “storm” soundtrack consisted of bursts of thunder and then the sound of torrential rain – which then quite literally started pouring behind our backs, via a system which pumped water down corrugated iron sheeting which ran the length of the seating.

The ground was wet – and by the end of it, so was a lot of the audience.

rodarte SS08 backstage, sep 07

Down the road, Rodarte was staged on the top floor of an industrial space, access to which seemed to be primarily via a couple of narrow staircases.

While waiting for the show to start, I spotted a production crew member holding a can of Evian over a large floor fan, spraying directly into its airstream.

Water dripped into the blades of the fan as she sprayed.

When I asked what she was doing the woman told me, “We don’t have any air conditioning so I thought it would cool things down” – apparently totally oblivious to the fact that she was standing with her feet entwined in the fan’s electrical cabling.

rodarte SS08 backstage, sep 07


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