In an expansive, sunlit photo studio in Manhattan’s West Village, Canadian-in-New York Tanya Taylor is unveiling her spring 2014 collection on the opening afternoon of Fashion Week.
As she sends a dress drenched in oversized paillettes and skirts featuring slashed, asymmetrical hems down the runway, everything is as it should be.
An editor from Harper’s Bazaar snaps and posts her favourite stripes-on-stripes-on-stripes look to Instagram, while a team of Neiman Marcus reps closely eyes organza pieces appliquéd with chesterfield florals.
It’s all over in a flash and, as a pack of platform-perched bloggers carefully shuffle out to the sidewalk, they agree that the leather pieces hand-painted with colourful pansies are the collection’s standout looks.
Most of Taylor’s audience is off to the rest of their week of shows: to see Alexander Wang present knife-pleated skirts and opera gloves conspicuously laser-cut with his brand’s logo, to covet Derek Lam’s oversized gingham head wraps and belted dresses and to ponder how the emerging trend of transparent skirts will be received by shoppers not used to baring their knickers so brazenly.
They’ll also be squeezing in a growing lineup of peripheral parties, launches and installations. Despite all the attention that traditional presentations garner, they are no longer enough to help a designer stand out from the hundreds of other labels competing for Fashion Week ink and tweets. In many ways, making one’s mark in the Big Apple fashion business has moved well beyond the catwalk.
Take Opening Ceremony. Even though there was plenty of hype for the Manhattan-based retailer’s first-ever New York show on Sept. 8, founders Carol Lim and Humberto Leon stole even more of the spotlight by setting up a week-long pop-up market at Pier 52. Tiny shipping-container shops were stocked with current collections from DKNY, River Island and OC’s own label.
Phillip Lim’s spring separates embroidered with geode motifs, meanwhile, were perfectly buzz-worthy on their own, but he extended his media moment by also unveiling his collaboration collection with Target on Sept. 5. Everyone from Voguettes to luxury-brand PR reps queued up to pre-shop sweaters knit with a cartoon-like “BOOM” motif and camouflage-print backpacks alongside actress Jessica Alba and singer Solange.
In addition to the latest well-received incarnation of its signature bright florals and graphic stripes, the up-and-coming London label Ostwald Helgason hammered the mix-and-match message home by debuting a line of covetable heels and handbags for Aldo’s Rise collection.
Even Chanel, which unveils its spring lineup with about as much fanfare as any brand can muster in Paris (this season on Oct. 1), capitalizes on the glut of international editors and deep-pocketed garmentos in New York by bringing its fall couture pieces in for exclusive showroom appointments.
So what’s an independent designer to do to stand out, especially if his or her marketing budget pales in comparison with Chanel’s? If you’re Edmonton-born Angélique Chmielewski, you skip the week all together.
On the afternoon of Tanya Taylor’s presentation, Chmielewski was across the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn photographing her new collection on a DUMBO rooftop. Shots of a model lounging in relaxed, pale-pink suede shorts and sheer silk coverups were compiled into a look book that she used to lure buyers to her booth at one of the city’s largest fashion trade shows, Coterie, which ran from Sept. 17 to 19, a few days after Fashion Week.
Just four seasons into building her line, press attention isn’t as important as expanding her list of stockists beyond early adopter Coup Garment Boutique back home in Edmonton.
“At this point, I’m ready to see people wearing my clothes,” she said at her Williamsburg studio a few days before kicking off sales appointments at the Javits Center.
For Toronto transplant Kaelen Haworth, deciding not to invest in a blow-your-socks-off presentation meant she could focus her efforts on building a bigger collection for her label, called Kaelen.
“With a show, the more creative you get, the more you spend,” she said one Fashion Week afternoon in her SoHo studio. “It’s really hard to engage people with a presentation any more.”
Instead, Haworth invested in cutting-edge technical fabrics like patent leather laser-etched with a houndstooth pattern and neoprene printed with a melting glen-plaid check. They’re mashed up in her spring lineup with metallic-coated linen, glacier photo prints and other contemporary textiles to create a textured, tonal and impeccably finished mix that might get lost on a catwalk.
Haworth still has a trick up her sleeve, however.
In October, she’ll be releasing a fashion film of the collection via one of the industry’s newer and so far less crowded marketing platforms, Style.com’s Video Fashion Week.