As thousands of the world’s most stylish people flock to the city in preparation for Fashion Week, organizers of the iconic event are quietly searching for their next home, while city officials rouse support for the event.
Fashion Week, which is currently sponsored by Mercedes Benz but will lose that sponsorship by the spring shows in September, has been ousted from two public parks in the past several years. After leaving Bryant Park on the heels of neighborhood complaints about the traffic, noise and crowding, Fashion Week pitched its tents in Damrosch Park, on the campus of and operated by Lincoln Center but still a public space, in 2011. At the beginning of this year, neighborhood activists won a long battle to remove Fashion Week from Damrosch Park, reaching a settlement with Lincoln Center and the city acknowledging that the event should never have been allowed to take over park land and block public access.
Starting February 12, models will make their final walks down Lincoln Center runways, and when Fashion Week returns this fall, it will be at a yet-unknown location. Producer IMG has said that they’re searching for a space (or spaces) downtown; by 2018 the event will have a permanent home in Hudson Yards in a venue called Culture Shed.
While Fashion Week was originally contracted to remain at Lincoln Center until 2020, a spokesperson told the New York Post when the settlement was reached that “IMG has been actively looking for a new home that gives our designers and partners the best possible environment to share their creative visions.” This year, there are shows and events in the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, Soho, Wall Street, the West Village, even midtown and 5th Avenue.
While Fashion Week tries to find a more fitting and welcoming home, city leaders are touting their support for a major industry that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of jobs, to the city annually. U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who represents the Upper East Side and parts of Queens and Brooklyn, commissioned a study of the economic impact of Fashion Week and said that she was blown away when she learned that the two annual show weeks combined generate an estimated $887 million for the city. More than half of that, about $547 million, is in direct visitor spending, according to the report, on things like hotels, restaurants, nightlife and all the trappings of Fashion Week, including supporting many New York-based designers.
“You always think of Milan and Paris, but New York is leading in almost every indicator,” Maloney said. “We are the fashion capital of the world.” She pointed to the fact that there are over 900 fashion companies with headquarters in New York, and that the industry employs over 180,000 people in the city.
Maloney was joined by other elected officials last week at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) on 7th Avenue in Chelsea, including State Senator Brad Hoylman and City Councilman Dan Garodnick, whose respective districts both include the famous school that fosters young talent in the fashion industry. Garodnick, who chairs the council’s committee on economic development, said that the city needs to protect its remaining manufacturing zones that allow many New York designers to produce their clothes here. “The manufacturing sector in New York is something we really need to nurture and hold onto,” he said.
Senator Hoylman said that young fashion entrepreneurs show others in creative professions that New York is a place to come to start their careers, pointing to designer Karolina Zmarlak, a Polish-born graduate of FIT who was able to fulfill her first order with Saks Fifth Avenue after she secured a bridge loan from the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Zmarlak credits that program, earmarked for the fashion industry, with kickstarting her career.
While city agencies and electeds voice their whole-hearted support of Fashion Week, some say that they’re waiting for Mayor de Blasio to join in their enthusiasm. His predecessor Michael Bloomberg was a major champion of Fashion Week - he crucially supported the event’s placement at Lincoln Center and it was his administration that initially fought the lawsuit. De Blasio has yet to make any sweeping statements of support for Fashion Week or offer any potential venues, but the numbers, in the millions, probably speak for themselves when it comes to the city’s love for fashion.