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Milk Studios Is Leaving NYC’s Meatpacking District

The creative services and production business is leaving its space, a popular spot for runway shows and other fashion events after Google bought the building last month.
Milk Studios on West 15th Street | Source: Courtesy
  • Chantal Fernandez

NEW YORK, United States — One of fashion's longtime hubs in Manhattan is packing up.

Milk Studios and its associated facilities, agency and consumer products businesses are leaving its headquarters at 450 West 15th Street, commonly known as the Milk building. Since 1998, the photography studios and special events space has since hosted runway shows, concerts, gallery shows and parties there for the fashion industry. However, in recent years, many shows have shifted to Spring Studios, about two miles south in Tribeca.

Google acquired the Milk building in May as part of its effort to find more office space near its Chelsea headquarters, just one block away. The company says it will honour existing leases and plans to occupy three floors of the building. Other tenants include Giorgio Armani and Tod's, as well as the boutique Jeffrey New York.

The sale gave Milk Co-founder and Creative Director Mazdack Rassi the opportunity to negotiate an early exit to Milk's lease, which is due to end in five years. Instead, the company will leave the building by July 1, 2020, and in the meantime find a location where it will be easier to facilitate large-scale productions.

“It’s definitely emotional,” said Rassi of Milk’s exit from the neighbourhood it helped revitalise. He was once described in the New York Times as the “mayor of the meatpacking,” and will remain a part of its Business Improvement District board. “I don’t feel that we will be severing ties with it just yet.”

Milk is negotiating a lease on a new place for the studios, likely in Brooklyn where most of the company’s employees live and where it already has a space in Williamsburg. It will make an announcement in a few months. Milk also has two locations in Hollywood in Los Angeles, the first of which opened in 2009.

“It’s time for us to go and help build a new neighbourhood,” Rassi said.

It's time for us to go and help build a new neighbourhood.

Since the early 1990s, the Meatpacking district has transformed from a gritty industrial zone with actual meatpacking businesses into an upscale retail and commercial neighbourhood with sky-high property values. Google acquired Chelsea Market, across the street from Milk, for $2.4 billion in 2018; the fancy food court and office building, once a Nabisco factory, was largely vacant when developers bought it out of foreclosure in 1993.

“Media has changed in the last ten years, and the kinds of studios that we need today to create content weren’t that easy and feasible in the places we have,” said Rassi, citing Milk’s low ceilings and many elevators.

Rassi said he tried to exit Milk’s lease early under the prior landlord, Jamestown, but was unable to reach an agreement. With Google, he was able to make a different deal about the future of Milk’s approximately 80,000 square feet across five floors.

The departure will result in cuts of about 20 staff members, mainly from Milk Events as well as others working in hospitality roles. But the company says it will try to rehire those positions after Milk Studios is set up in its new location. The company has in total about 175 employees, many part-time or seasonal.

Milk Makeup, the company's fast-growing Gen-Z makeup brand, and its creative agency, will be moved to other offices in the Meatpacking area.

While Milk’s photo studios still bring in most of the company’s revenue, Rassi said Milk Makeup will likely outpace the original business division next year and was outgrowing its office space on West 14th Street. The cosmetics line is backed by Main Post Partners and expanded to the UK this spring.

The Milk building first became a fashion industry hotspot when Calvin Klein, the designer, started presenting his runway shows there in 1998, just two years after Rassi's partners Erez Shternlicht and Moishe Mana bought the warehouse and allowed Rassi to turn part of the space into photography studios. Creative industry tenants starting filing in, including the fashion PR agency KCD, which moved to Hudson Yards in 2018.

Milk Studios gained new appeal after the recession when it became the home for Made Fashion Week, a program also co-founded by Rassi that gave free show space to promising young designers and helped launch the careers of Joseph Altuzarra, Proenza Schouler and many others. During New York Fashion Week, when the shows were still concentrated uptown at Lincoln Center, the venue was the cooler downtown alternative.

IMG, the management behind NYFW, acquired Made in 2015, after which the official show spaces fragmented when Lincoln Center stopped being the main venue. Made shows continued at Milk through 2016 but then were integrated into IMG's other venues in the city, as well as fashion shows in other cities, such as LA, Berlin and Sydney.

Rassi said the most significant memories he will hold onto from the building actually have nothing to do with fashion or design, but musical performances that took place there. Aretha Franklin performed at a gala in honour of Bill Cosby's late son in 2002; Patti Smith dedicated a set in memory of Alexander McQueen at an after-party for T-shirt brand LNA in 2010; Wu-Tang Clan performed at fashion week in 2012; Kanye West had an album listening event there for "Yeezus" in 2013.

“It goes on and on and on,” said Rassi.

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