Thursday, January 30, 2014

"The Fashion Fund" TV Documentary on Ovation

"The Fashion Fund" (go to official web site) is not your mother's reality show. In fact, it's a six-part documentary (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Ovation) showing the actual process through which designers try to win the coveted CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award.  Unlike Project Runway this is a real industry award whose finalists you may not only have heard of, but you may own some of their designs.  The Fund has served as a launch pad of sorts for emerging and underfunded designers with mentoring as well as funding. Examples of past finalists include Alexander Wang, Thakoon, Proenza Schouler, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Derek Lam and Creatures of the Wind.

The requirements are more stringent here than on PR.  One must have a current US business for at least two consecutive years, have orders from major retailers, have press, and have employees. This is the second televised series (2011 was shown on Hulu) however it is the tenth year that the award has been given.  Anna Wintour as the main judge explains that the idea for the award came about after 9/11 which coincided with the first day of fashion week.  She recounts how many of the less established designers had lost big deposits on a show space and didn't know where to turn after the tragedy so the monetary prize ($300,000 for the winner, $100,000 for each of the runners-up) as well as specific business mentoring would be of great help.

The judges (click on image for larger view)

The series began last week (Jan. 26 but you can catch up with the two missed episodes as they are frequently on Ovations rotation) with 150-200 submissions of portfolios.  Each of the judges received their allotted portfolios and they were to put them in yes and no piles. (Anna says "no" to crazies; a marked difference from Project Runway, right there)!  If a designer's portfolio was to be considered then the judge who viewed it would have to advocate their pick to the other judges until they could agree on just 10!  The portfolios ranged from notebooks to handmade boxes covered in lamb fur or authentic, one-of-a-kind hand marbled paper to a monstrosity that included an upholstered back board with an inset flat TV screen, antique looking chair, wine bottle, high heels, maybe even the kitchen sink!  (Spoiler Alert:  The over-the-top designers weren't selected).

The judges are all highly respected (and sometimes feared) members of the fashion elite.  Besides Anna, there's Diane Von Furstenberg (who loves to ask each designer who they'd like as a mentor), Ken Downing, Senior VP and Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus, Jenna Lyons, President and CEO of J. Crew, Steven Kolb, CEO of CFDA, Andrew Rosen, CEO of Theory, Reed Krakoff, President of Reed Krakoff and formerly of Coach, Mark Holgate, Vogue Fashion News Director, Jeffrey Kalinsky, founder of Jeffrey, now VP and Fashion Director Designer of Nordstrom and David Neville and Marcus Wainwright of Rag & Bone (they were the winners of the 2006 award).

Winner (with brass swan trophy) Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne of PUBLIC SCHOOL, Runners-up: (l-r) Juan Carlos Obando, Marc Alary of Marc Alary Jewelry

Once the ten finalists are agreed on and telephoned with the news on camera, they then have only five days to ready their presentations and sales pitches as well as actual samples of their work (the theme is "Past, Present and Future") and impress the judges with their abilities both creatively and in business.  Womenswear designer Juan Carlos Obando was on vacation in Spain when he got the call necessitating a return to NY and leaving him with about 24 hours to prepare his presentation.  One of the two brothers of Ovadia & Sons is on his honeymoon in Israel so the other, less vocal one must do the presentation (he brings along a photo of his bro for support).  Todd Snyder is literally down to the wire and receives a fur collar for one of his menswear coats from overseas about 30 seconds before the presentation.  You can feel the tension as the designers line up in the hallway before they have to face the looong table of judges "seeing them in the flesh, all lined up like Mt. Rushmore" as Shelby Drummond, Vogue Accessories Editor (check out her Google Hangout at 9:30 p.m. before the show) describes it.  Some of the designers seem outwardly calm while others (one in particular) run around like the Martin Short SNL character Ed Grimley.  (I promise you will figure out who it is).

Most of the designers express their awe, admiration and fear (sheer terror, really) of going before the esteemed panel who, starting at some ungodly pre-dawn hour, give them each exactly 15 minutes (with a ticking clock) to make their pitch as they fire questions at them.  Designers known as Public School (2nd Spoiler Alert:  if you don't know already, you will hear a lot more from them wink wink) use a catchphrase about "blending in while sticking out in NYC" which tickles the panel while others serve breakfast to try to curry some favor.  One French born designer has DVF marveling over the "articulation" in his jewelry however Jenna doesn't like that he seems to denigrate American jewelry designers.  The whiniest judge (Jeffrey) is always taking the opposing position and seems to play the role of the last holdout on the jury that you'd like to slap.

Suffice it to say, it is worth catching up on and watching the rest of the season just to have a taste of authenticity in your fashion diet.   As Robert Weiss, chief creative director of Ovation, said when he made his pitch to co-producers Conde Nast Entertainment  and as reported by Cathy Horyn of the New York Times "A consistent theme of mine is authenticity.  The last thing I'd want to do is make things up.  There's no running down the hallway with scissors here" her article quotes him as saying. I guess that's why, at least to me "The Fashion Fund" is less spellbinding entertainment than Project Runway.  Without the crazy, it's like watching the frumpier, more serious sister getting ready for bed as opposed to the unhinged, party girl getting ready to go out.

- Laurel Marcus

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