In 1994, Fern Mallis (who was serving as the head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America) brought the city's designers to the Bryant Park tents for an organized week of shows that became an institution, elevating New York's reputation as a fashion city to the level of Paris and Milan. Over the years, the shows ballooned in significance and New York Fashion Week outgrew Bryant Park, moving to Lincoln Center in 2010. And then? Then it too got crowded.
This season, Lincoln Center is hosting 69 fashion shows and presentations: The lines are long and the entrances are crowded with guests; photographers and street style aspirants swarm in the courtyard. Complaints about the congested, commercial environment at Lincoln Center have been growing with each passing season and designers who see exclusivity as a hallmark of their label have increasingly chosen to stage their shows at off-site venues.
But the off-site show isn't just a new phenomenon, and no one knows that better than fashion's alt-venue pioneer, Skylight Group founder Jennifer Blumin. Skylight Group is a venue management company which has been providing designers with alternate show spaces for eight years. This season, eleven designer labels — Rag & Bone, Prabal Gurung, Sally LaPointe, DelPozo, EDUN, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Diesel Black Gold, MM6, Hugo Boss, Reed Krakoff and Ralph Lauren — are scheduled to show at one of Skylight's four NYFW venues, located all throughout Manhattan.
Below, Blumin describes what it's like to host a fashion show and gives us her perspective on the flight from the tents.
theFashionSpot: What was the very first fashion show you were involved with?
Jennifer Blumin: Ralph Lauren, who was one of the first brands to strike a presence outside of the tents over 8 seasons ago. I'm spoiled, since they are certainly the holy grail of fashion shows from a venue perspective.
tFS: Could you tell us about one of the most fulfilling experiences you've had, working with fashion labels and designers?
JB: My experiences are much more with the production companies than the designers themselves. The most fulfilling relationships are those that last the longest, so that you really get to know each other—talking and problem-solving and negotiating all season until you end up in this college all-nighter feeling together during Fashion Week itself. It is those post-show 5 a.m. moments where you truly become friends and get personal before you start negotiating again for next season. I love that.
tFS: Fashion shows are known to be stressful from a production standpoint. Any horror stories?
JB: Luckily the show has always gone on, but there are certainly horror stories. I learned the hard way that there is a real reason beyond agoraphobia that fashion clients hate elevators and will pay a premium for ground floor space. We were opening a new venue for Fashion Week, and while the show was on the ground floor, the models were traveling from backstage via a brand new set of elevators. Of course, the elevators were working perfectly until about an hour before the show, when they stopped completely. While our on-call elevator company worked frantically and the client worked frantically to get the show ready, I worked frantically sweeping about 40 years of dust out of the only stairway that was accessible to the runway. Once I was done, and five minutes before showtime, the elevators started working again, and everything was okay. However, I woke up the next day with my tonsil sitting on my tongue. My doctor thought I must have mono, but it turns out I just inhaled a lot of dust.
tFS: What does Skylight Group offer that other venues and management companies don't?
JB: We are the only true venue management company in New York, so we provide a level of service and production-savvy that is unprecedented. If you are playing by the rules, producing shows in raw spaces requires a tremendous amount of very unsexy paperwork with the city. We are building installations and creating temporary places of assembly. We need construction permits and occupancy permits. We have to close lanes and restrict pedestrian access on the sidewalk. There are city agencies to work with for those. Skylight Group makes this stuff seamless as opposed to deal-breaking, which has really helped our clients lead the trend towards creating an entirely unique, irreplaceable environment for a 20-minute experience.
tFS: What are you excited about this season?
JB: I'm excited to see how this flight from the tents plays out from a media perspective. It's been happening for a long time, but it seems to be hitting a tipping point this season. If I had to wear the shoes these editors do, I might be pissed to have to go outside too. Maybe we will see a revival of the "sensible shoe" as a result!
I think it will also be interesting to see how bringing back a smaller, exclusive, front row experience plays out in reality. Fashion shows shouldn't be circuses, they should be for aficionados, but how these aficionados are hand-picked will be interesting to see. I wouldn't want to be making those guest lists.
tFS: If you could choose one designer or label you're not currently working with, who you'd love to see show in one of your venues, who would it be?
JB: Rodarte. Because the Mulleavy sisters are so nice and their loveliness pollinates the venue.