NEW YORK, United States — Lincoln Center, the Upper West Side performing arts space that has served as the main hub of New York Fashion Week for the past seven seasons, has attracted constant critique from editors, buyers and other industry insiders. Complaints include its inconvenient uptown location; the logistical challenges of entering and navigating the venue; its generic and inflexible showspaces; and its marketing-saturated, corporate ambiance. Indeed, many a show-goer has remarked that the venue feels more like a badly designed airport than a showcase for fashion.
This season, IMG Fashion, the company that runs New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, took these criticisms on board and tasked global creative director Jarrad Clark with overhauling the experience. So, how do the improvements measure up?
Entry, flow and logistics
Much has been made of the circus of New York Fashion Week, the crowds of rubberneckers who make their way into the tents, the hangers-on who fail to leave, and the consequent overcrowding and inefficiency involved with getting in and out of the venue. In response, IMG promised “a more carefully curated press and industry [guest] list, with increased requirements for official accreditation, representative of this industry-driven event” and “redesigned flow and security protocols.”
A visit to Lincoln Center confirms that security has, indeed, been tightened. Walking into a show, each guest must pass a series of checkpoints. But depending on the size of the show, this can be a slow and cumbersome process.
“I’m not a big fan of the whole bottleneck thing going on with the multiple security checks. It’s great that they’re checking our passes, but at the end of the day, all it takes is one big show before the undesirables just stay indoors and hang out,” said Bryan Grey Yambao, the blogger known as Bryanboy.
“It’s more complicated to get past security at the front entrance and the lines getting into the shows are much slower due to the backlog of scanning bar codes,” added Eric Jennings, vice president of men’s, home and gifts at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Too much corporate branding and sponsorship
New York Fashion Week is a private enterprise and IMG Fashion is in the business of turning a profit by signing up corporate sponsors like Mercedes-Benz and Samsung. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the entrance hall at Lincoln Center has long been filled with marketing for the likes of mobile telephones and automobiles. But in response to widespread criticism that the venue felt more like a shopping mall than a fashion week, this season, IMG has made several changes to clean up the clutter, make the lobby less sponsor-heavy and deliver on its goals to make fashion week a more “gracious experience.”
“There is a much more sedate and professional feeling in the lobby” where journalists can type up stories between shows, said Fern Mallis, the woman widely credited with creating New York Fashion Week in 1993. “I like the cafe and the work areas that were created — and the sponsor wattage has been greatly reduced,” she noted. “But I just wish it all wasn’t so black and dark in many areas.” Indeed, with its black-on-black décor and shiny cars, the space can feel more like a nightclub, or an overly slick auto show, than a showcase for fashion.
“The crass commercialism of it all still remains,” said Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director of The New York Times T magazine. “We don’t have that in any other city. It doesn’t exist in Paris or London or Milan, but we walk into [Lincoln Center] and it’s a mini-mall. Darkening it by putting black wrap on it didn’t help. That said, I do love those fabulous Richard Haines illustrations in the hallways.”
Generic, inflexible show spaces
Previously, Lincoln Center offered four relatively similar and inflexible show spaces: three differently sized, but otherwise virtually identical runway locations and one smaller room for presentations. The result was shows that often felt generic.
This season, IMG created two new show spaces. The first is The Pavilion, which costs $34,000 to rent and houses between 200 and 500 guests, offering concrete flooring, black laminate sidewalls and benches you can move into multiple configurations. The second is a new offsite show space geared towards emerging designers, which costs $15,000, and is located four blocks south of Lincoln Center at the Hudson Hotel.
“It’s about critical mass here in New York, making sure we have the right facilities for our established designers right down the spectrum to the emerging talent,” said Clark. “I don’t think we had that of late. And that’s because the industry has changed and what designers have been looking for is different from what our offering was.”
The Pavilion is edgier and more industrial than what you’d expect from a traditional IMG runway and its five unique seating configurations have all but eliminated the generic nature of a straight up and down white catwalk. It’s a welcome departure for emerging brands eager to leverage the production expertise of IMG, but looking for a space with a bit more aesthetic punch.
“We give designers the lights, the sound, the venue, the facilities and the backstage support. All you need to do is bring in your models, bring in your hair, bring in your makeup and provide the content. It’s the economy of scale that gives designers the ability to do more with their marketing dollars. We want them to have the chance to have that moment in time.”
Lincoln Center’s location, way uptown, is entirely inconvenient. “And it’s not just about the Lincoln Center, it’s the fact that we spend more time on the West Side Highway than anywhere else in this great city,” said Suzy Menkes, style editor of The International New York Times, referring to the stretch of road that connects Lincoln Center, all the way uptown, to Milk Studios and other downtown venues in the Meatpacking district and SoHo. “I haven’t been into a shop! I haven’t been into a museum! The distances are so great, that all my time is spent in a car, which is a shame.”
Ultimately, this is a hard problem to solve within the parameters of the current venue and, despite the improvements on other fronts, it appears that Lincoln Center’s moment might be up. IMG has two seasons left on the venue contract and it will most likely not be renewed. “We’re looking at multiple spaces around the city,” said Clark. “A change in the industry is a good thing. We’ve been here four years, we were at Bryant Park for a very, very long time. If you look at our events internationally, we move locations after two to three years sometimes.”