Wednesday, January 30, 2019

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

American Fashion Podcast Presents A NYFW Pregame

Left to Right: Charles Beckwith, Cathy Schepis, Gary Wassner, Seth Friedermann, Lauren Sherman
All photos Laurel Marcus - click images for full size views

“They do it for football, so why not fashion?” was the question American Fashion Podcast and Mouthmedia Network were posing last night at The Cutting Room. At the juncture of Sunday’s upcoming Super Bowl and New York Fashion Week colliding #NYFWPREGAME was born, or at least printed on a white pillowcase and held up for all to see by last night’s podcast emcee Robert Di Mauro. The podcast recording and fashion business pep rally featured AFP’s hosts Charles Beckwith and Cathy Schepis speaking with Interluxe Holdings and Hilldun’s fashion financier extraordinaire Gary Wassner, fashion business consultant Seth Friedermann and Business of Fashion’s intrepid reporter (who Wassner thinks is very funny on Twitter @lapresmidi) Lauren Sherman.

Charles Beckwith & Robert Di Mauro

“Don’t forget that FIT was born out of the High School of Fashion Industries,” said Di Mauro. HSFI was the recipient of the charitable portion of last night’s ticket sales proceeds along with another fashion charity called Course of Trade (a non-profit offering free sewing instruction and job placement assistance in the garment industry) which Di Mauro randomly selected from amongst three sealed envelopes. For more on these fashion charity events go to Designflaw.wtf (yes, that’s right – the Top Level Domain is wtf, lol).

Menswear Designers

Next, a few select Menswear designers who will be showing on Monday’s New York Men’s Day introduced themselves to the audience. These included Dae Lim, who spoke of Sundae School, a cannabis-related brand sold at Barney’s. This season’s theme is “The Green Rush” – “yes, there are a lot of weed puns,” he admitted. Indie brand Descendant of Thieves, has a Bleecker Street store although they are mostly a wholesale brand using a formula of limited batch manufacturing. Their upcoming Fall ’19 show is cheekily entitled “Love Thy Neighbor, but Don’t Dress Like him.”

Cathy Schepis & Yeohlee Teng

Yeohlee Teng was briefly honored for her long tenure in Womenswear design. “I have respect for women, for empowering them and dressing them well,” said Yeohlee. She told a touching story of how a dying Susan Sontag asked photographer Annie Leibovitz to find her favorite Yeohlee coat so that she could be buried in it. Teng opened her own store after Takashimaya (the largest retailer of her clothes) went out of business. “They handed me the client list,” she said, adding that she also “went online.” At first, she opened on 38th Street thinking that “other stores would follow. Instead, hotels followed.” So now if you want coffee from Stumptown or lunch at the Ace Hotel, you can visit her nearby in her 29th Street boutique where she is busily preparing her NYFW show for next Thursday.

The Audience

At this point, the podcast began with a rousing and informative discussion of New York Fashion Week – what works in fashion these days and what doesn’t. Everyone agreed that putting on a fashion show is not economically feasible for every designer as the cost is often prohibitive with very little payback. Wassner spoke of the enormous influence of social media such as Instagram. “There are no gatekeepers anymore. Brands speak directly to their customers -- you used to need editors to review shows. Now the brands reach directly.” Speaking of editors, all agreed that magazines are mostly dead and that digital and retail are the future. “Consumers have so many options – shows are not valuable to every brand. I still think that there are too many designers showing in New York and other places,” said Sherman. Wassner agreed that doing a show is “emotionally, physically and financially very draining.  Jason Wu decided last season not to do a runway – he just wanted to concentrate on doing 18-20 looks for his customers – no crazy stuff for editors. He had a presentation without models using only mannequins hanging from the ceiling.”

A discussion of big American brands such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein resulted in a dissection of what went wrong with Raf Simons. “That was a huge failure in a great idea. Raf Simons completely failed at capturing Calvin’s DNA,” said Wassner.  “Calvin was known for simplicity, and clean lines, lots of black and you walk into the store, and it’s all kinds of crazy colors. It was a great opportunity and a great experiment. He was given full creative control over everything.” Sherman countered that Simons “shouldn’t have been given full marketing control. He was never going to meet those expectations after only being in charge of Womenswear at Dior.  An American fashion brand and a European designer house are completely different – that was never going to work.”

Schepis asked if many American designers are still looking to Europe.  “Our designers come from a different place.  Couture is fantasy, ours is street and American culture and lifestyle – no phoniness.  Our inspiration and momentum is different,” said Wassner, who recently skipped Couture week in Paris for Berlin Fashion Week which he claims is less runway and more of a trade show -- “what you’d expect of Germany.”   Sherman mentioned the John Fairchild book “Chic Savages” (I’m putting that one on my reading list) about disengaging from the copying of Paris fashion.

Friedermann added that he would put many of the higher end design ateliers here including Marchesa, Ralph Rucci, Reem Acra, Naeem Khan, Monique Lhuillier, and others on the same level as many of the Europeans. Wassner drew the line mentioning that those are independent companies rather than conglomerates. They all agreed that publicly held companies (and stockholders) considerably change the economic demands and dynamics.

The evening ended on an up note as the experiential future of fashion and retail were discussed. “There are so many changes in brick and mortar,” said Wassner.  “I just went to the American Dream Mall near Met Life Stadium.  They have an 800-foot indoor ski slope, gourmet dining plus about 45% luxury brand shopping. It’s a new formula for consumers that combines all the things that they want.”

Sherman thought that L.A. designers were onto something: “The designer ecosystem in L.A. is not as competitive as it is here. They’re kind of living the dream,” she said about some of the smaller West Coast brands. Wassner called out the “big shift in younger designers” who “forge their own identities, with their own vibe with their own consumers. They are into sustainability, zero waste, and organic design. They are doing great cotton ready-to-wear like Willi Smith was with his collection 30 years ago. It’s fashion, and it’s affordable.”

In conclusion, Sherman said “The US is a culture of self-improvement. Saying that things have to change is a good thing.  When people put terrible clothing on the runway it’s kind of wonderful,” she giggled.

To hear the podcast in its entirety, tune in to AmericanFashionPodcast.com later this week.




-Laurel Marcus

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