Wednesday, March 21, 2007

LA Times On DLANC's Downtown LA Fashion Week vs. Mercedes-Benz's Culver City Smashbox Fashion Week!

When I challenged fellow Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Board members Gary Warfel, Michael Delinjani and Peter Gurnz to think out of the box... so to speak... and to join up to move Fashion Week back to Downtown Los Angeles, little did I know that within six weeks we would change the future of Fashion Week in Los Angeles.

It's a clear case of diminishing returns
Fledgling rivals steal buzz while some notable designers bypass Smashbox.
By Adam Tschorn
Times Staff Writer

March 21, 2007

Alber Elbaz, Zac Posen and Phillip Lim in town. Glittering designer dinners in Hollywood and trunk shows in Beverly Hills. There has never been so much fashion in Los Angeles as there is this week. And yet, the event that anchors it all, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios, has never been more diminished.

With only 23 shows on the roster, this is its thinnest designer lineup in years. A pared-down seating chart — an effort to curb the party scene at the event — also means that there are fewer people attending the shows. Two rival "fashion weeks" have sprung up in downtown L.A. — fledgling though they might be, they were enough to have the fashion world buzzing about the threat to the main event. Before the first heel hit the catwalk, insiders were speculating that this might be the make-or-break season for the partnership behind the event — Smashbox Studios and the event production firm IMG.

Davis Factor, co-owner of Smashbox, said he didn't consider the season currently under way more or less crucial than any other. "Every single season we say the same thing: 'Is this going to be a make-or-break year?' But personally I don't look at each season, I look at the big picture. Would I be happy if there were another 10 great designers showing? I would be happier but I'm happy with what we have this season." To that end, he plans to hire someone full time to help network with the Los Angeles fashion community year-round.

Likewise, Fern Mallis, vice president of IMG Fashion, said her group was here to stay. "I think they are doing some terrific things downtown," Mallis said. "And I think what it shows is that Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week L.A. is clearly the anchor and the focus of what's happening in L.A."

Nevertheless, the schedule for Fashion Week, an event that includes The Times among 15 corporate sponsors, is filled with empty slots and some lesser-known designers, including the men's underwear line 2(x)ist, eveningwear designer Joseph Domingo and Tart, maker of jersey separates.

While some of the best in L.A. continue to show here, they are increasingly choosing to do so far from Smashbox. Rozae Nichols, who was named 2006 Designer of the Year at the L.A. Fashion Awards, presented her collection at her home in the Hollywood Hills on Sunday night. Corey Lynn Calter drew an A-list crowd including Christina Ricci to her Thursday-night presentation downtown.


The most visible competition this season, though, is the pair of upstart fashion weeks held downtown in the days before the official event. Kitten Fashion Week, sponsored by Kitten magazine, showcased a dozen designers at the Standard Hotel over three days, and BOXeight, produced by an art collective, held two shows at the Los Angeles Theatre, including one by Eduardo Lucero, a veteran of the L.A. fashion scene.

"I've shown at Smashbox quite a few times," Lucero said, "and this time it was just more convenient for me to show at the theater — it really fit in with the clothes I was showing." BOXeight's sponsorship of his show also meant he didn't need to shell out money for a venue. (Renting a runway at Smashbox ranges from $1,500 to $7,500 this season — still a bargain compared with New York.)

"It wasn't like I was choosing one over the other," Lucero said. "It's all part of Fashion Week in L.A. When you go to New York and show in a different venue apart from Bryant Park it does not mean you aren't showing during Fashion Week."

And....more on the decline of the Smashbox Fashion Week:

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week's 23 shows are fewer than either Smashbox or IMG had on their own, separate calendars before they joined forces. A review of previous seasons' schedules shows that the number of designers showing in Culver City has decreased steadily each season since the spring 2005 collections in October 2004, the partnership's second season.

Mallis blames L.A.: "Nobody wants to come in the morning. In New York the shows start 9 o'clock in the morning, but it's different here, so we've made a concerted effort to bring them in a little later and out a little earlier."

But there are plenty of open slots during the afternoon too.

In addition to fewer shows, there are also fewer seats — one venue was downsized by 90 seats and another by 150. Factor said that was part of the effort to limit the numbers of hangers-on and create a more intimate space.

Both Mallis and Factor say focusing purely on the numbers doesn't tell the whole story, that it's a matter of "quality over quantity." Still, a show featuring men's underpants, entertaining as it was, is hard to take seriously.

Publicist Henri Meyers, owner of EM Productions, has worked on several L.A. Fashion Week shows in the past. He said that while he appreciated organizers' efforts to curtail the party scene, it may be too late to recover credibility. "It should have been done last season," he said.

Calter said she opted out of Smashbox because of her collection, not the venue. At Smashbox, "there's a lack of intimacy," she said. "This season my girl is little bit darker…. I wanted something more intimate and more special. It was more of an aesthetic decision."

Factor acknowledged the demand for alternative venues. "In the future I'd like to have a traditional runway venue as well as one or two venues that can change to reflect what the designer wants to do." He's considering the Convention Center in downtown L.A. or the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.

"Either of those would make sense," he said. "Downtown would certainly make sense…. This season doesn't even matter on its own. As long as we give them fashion, the media will come whether we do 10 shows or 50 shows."

And this fall we will be showing in far more Downtown venues during this October's Fashion Week and, after what we accomplished in six weeks, imagine what we'll do this October with over six months to prepare.

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