Jackie Fraser-Swan: The Girl with the Chanel Tattoo
Fraser-Swan continues to adore Chanel, but the truth is the fashion world that made that designer a star is long gone. In photographs from Parisian shows of a bygone era, you can see elegant attendees busily taking notes on every garment, presumably to place orders on the spot. But these days, business rarely happens under the tents. “That’s just not how it works anymore,” says the Tobe Report’s Moellering. Instead, fashion shows have increasingly become marketing and branding tools to generate buzz among the press and the armchair critics and bloggers following the runway live streams and photos from afar.
Of course, that exposure comes at a cost—Lincoln Center’s $18,000 to $60,000 venue fee. That price is prohibitive for many aspiring designers. Though 90 shows were on the official Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week roster last February, roughly 250 more ran off-site at rented bars and lofts and at the contemporaneous Made show in the Meatpacking District, which didn’t charge a fee to those invited. “If you have skill, passion, and ideas, you don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a particular venue with a particular type of invite,” says Kyle Anderson, accessories director at Marie Claire.
Regardless of where designers show, their job is to convince stores to carry their lines. “When the lights go down and the runway is dismantled…it’s about really getting to customers, getting to the client, and selling,” says Sondra Grace, head of MassArt’s fashion design department. “No matter how much publicity you get, you need to then turn around and move the goods.”
Of course, once the orders do come, production woes can easily sideline a fledgling designer who doesn’t have the experience or staff to manage logistics. “I would say that many, many young designers that we all hear about are operating in the red,” Moellering says, citing a recent Women’s Wear Daily article suggesting that $25 million in sales is the “magic number” a designer needs to go corporate.
Even more-established brands have to watch the bottom line, which is why many seek out lucrative licensing deals with low-end retailers. In recent years, top-notch designers like Jason Wu, Missoni, and Zac Posen have created collections for Target; Stella McCartney and Versace have collaborated with H?&?M; and Karl Lagerfeld has lent his talents to Macy’s. “Now I think many designers are just hoping they’ll get a phone call from someone like JCPenney or Kohl’s or Target,” Moellering says, “because it can really provide them with great recognition and distribution in a way that they can’t achieve on their own.”