Changes Ahead for LA Fashion Week: New Venues, New Corporate Partners
Los Angeles fashion brands dominate casual fashion and the city's red-carpet events command the world's attention, yet the city's fashion week has struggled over the past decade, with multiple show organizers and venues. But this year might mark a new direction for the event.
Recently, two producers of independent Los Angeles fashion-week events partnered with prominent corporate sponsors. Los Angeles Fashion Council will be working with Caruso Affiliated to produce Los Angeles Fashion Week runway shows Oct. 9–10 at Caruso Affiliated's The Grove retail center.
Style Fashion Week also announced that it will partner with AEG, the sports and entertainment company that owns LA Live and is headquartered at the entertainment district in downtown Los Angeles. It will produce a fashion market and fashion shows Oct. 13–17 in the LA Live compound behind the JW Marriott Hotel.
Since 2008, when IMG Fashion shuttered its Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios, LA Fashion Week has been dominated by independent producers, including Style Fashion Week and the more recently launched Los Angeles Fashion Council. The upcoming Fashion Week in October will also include independently produced events, including veterans of the scene LA Fashion Weekend, Concept and Project Ethos, the annual Fashion Minga show and newcomer Men's Fashion Week LA, which will make its debut Oct. 14 at the California Market Center.
Industry watchers are hoping LA Fashion Week returns to its more cohesive heyday—and rises above the criticism that has dogged it for years.
It has been critiqued for not delivering retail buyers and press, for not consistently producing high-quality shows, and for its venues being too spread out. Sue Wong, designer of her self-named line of Sue Wong, has exhibited her gowns and eveningwear at almost every LA fashion week and said the event must change.
"The event continues to be a wonderful opportunity to showcase collections," Wong said. "As more and more designers explore new ways of presenting their collections—such as online or in nontraditional settings —LA Fashion Week has to step up to these rapid changes by creating equally versatile ways of remaining relevant and representational of what the West Coast has to offer."
The producers of Style Fashion Week and Los Angeles Fashion Council hope they can solve some problems endemic to Los Angeles' fashion week with their new partnerships.
One of the most common complaints is that retail buyers and out-of-town press do not attend the events. Kelsi Smith, director of the Los Angeles Fashion Council, said that one of her aims is to change the perception of LA Fashion Week.
While a party will kick off the event, Smith plans to cut the focus on celebrity and party people at the LAFC event at The Grove. She believes that retailers and out-of-town press will cover the event if LAFC offers something no one else has. For Los Angeles Fashion Council, that point of difference will be showcasing local talent. "It's about getting a reputation for quality product," Smith said. "We've turned down designers from around the world. We will have a niche that will give people hometown pride and will get people to come to the show."
Liz Jaeger, vice president of public relations for Caruso, said the company hopes to help deliver solutions for Los Angeles Fashion Week's problems. "We hope to be a major catalyst in launching and supporting LA's dynamic fashion industry," she said. "We believe there is incredible potential with the talent coming out of our city and community. The Grove is also exploring opportunities for LA Fashion Week programing tied to our premier retail tenants already carrying LA-based designers."
Veronica Welch, co-founder of Style Fashion Week, said that Los Angeles Fashion Week has had problems because it often tried to be something it was not—New York Fashion Week. "Given the right platform, Los Angeles will stand behind it," she said.
Until recently, Style Fashion Week was at Vibiana, a former Catholic cathedral turned event space in downtown Los Angeles. The new venue at LA Live will allow Style Fashion Week to stretch its legs and try new things.
The space will feature two runways under a 42,000-square-foot tent. There will be a common reception area with 20,000 square feet, which will feature a lounge with art and exhibits from foreign embassies to promote designers, travel and commerce to their respective countries. The space also will have a marketplace where retail buyers and consumers can meet the runway shows' designers and purchase their styles. Welch also is in talks with managers of the Fashion District's showroom buildings to create more connections between the Fashion District and Style Fashion Week.
Still, one main complaint about past fashion weeks persists: far-flung venues.
Barbara Kramer, co-founder of the Designers and Agents trade show and a longtime LA fashion-week observer, said a central venue would help so attendees wouldn't have to drive all over sprawling Los Angeles to attend a runway show. The central hub would leave room for indie show producers and some off-site venues, which would preserve the independent spirit of the event. She recommended that fashion week scale down expectations and return to its pre-IMG roots as a showcase for emerging talent in Los Angeles. Another recommendation: Lower prices to produce shows, so more emerging designers could participate.
The costs to produce a single fashion show can be daunting. They rarely dip below $10,000, and the most glittering events in key destinations can carry a price tag of $150,000, according to fashion-show producers.
Over the years, attempts have been made to address many of Kramer's recommendations, but the initiatives have not gone far, said Mikey Koffman, chief executive officer of The Gallery LA, which produces LA Fashion Weekend and produced runway shows at Smashbox Studios during the IMG days.
After IMG bowed out, Koffman sat at meetings convened by the city of Los Angeles to find a solution to fashion week's problems.
"It was a free-for-all," she said. "No one wanted to work together and pool their resources. People were fighting against each other for ownership of something that couldn't be owned."
Koffman said she opted to developing more events such as the consumer-driven Palm Springs Fashion Weekend, which will debut Oct. 25–27 at the Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs, Calif. In addition to runway shows and pool parties, there will be a shopping component to the event.
Palm Springs is already a destination for fashion week–minded consumers. Palm Springs Life magazine produces a Fashion Week El Paseo in nearby Palm Desert. The annual event is held in March.
Everybody's got one
Despite the challenges and cost, fashion weeks continue to be popular vehicles for entrepreneurs. Every fashion capital has one, and cities located away from the major media centers develop fashion weeks.
Allison Andrews thinks she's found the model of success for Fashion Week San Diego, the event she launched in 2010. For Andrews' event, emerging designers must go through a three-part interview process before they can be considered for the event. Once accepted, they pay $1,000 to show, which covers all production services. Fashion Week San Diego also hosts a marketplace for the designers, where attendees can purchase their designs. According to Andrews, at the 2012 Fashion Week San Diego, the designers made $50,000.
The week's sponsors include intellectual-property law firms such as Knobbe Martens and app makers such as IT Mentor Apps and W Hotel San Diego. Andrews' company, APA Business Consulting Inc., underwrites the fashion week. The consulting firm offers one-on-one business consulting for designers participating in shows and also holds Fashion Week business seminars that are open to the public.
"If we're going to put [emerging designers] on this large of a stage and get them this exposure, they must learn to sustain it," Andrews said. "They need to have the tools that will allow them to compete in the marketplace," she said. The upcoming Fashion Week San Diego is scheduled to run from Sept. 30 to Oct. 6 on Broadway Pier, a former cruise-ship terminal in San Diego.