This season is New York Fashion Week’s last in the iconic white tents at midtown’s Bryant Park.
But what has Fashion Week meant for Bryant Park? Nostalgic reflections from Anna Wintour, Patricia Field and many more will plaster the Bryant Park Tents for the grand farewell before next season’s move to the Lincoln Center performing arts complex.
It started as a symbiotic relationship in 1993. “Our mission was to organize, modernize and centralize,” says Fern Mallis, Fashion Week’s mastermind, of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s decision to move the catwalks. At the time, the shows were known as “Market Week.”?They were haphazard and sometimes hazardous — a piece of the ceiling fell during a Michael Kors show. Before Fashion Week, “nobody thought New York had designers that were creative,” Mallis says.
Bryant Park was undergoing its own renaissance, shedding its nickname “Needle Park” for the drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless who had taken residence there since the 1970s. “But we weren’t glamorous,” notes Bryant Park Corporation president Dan Biederman. “They brought us glamour.”
Bringing the white tents to the eight-acre green space in Midtown Manhattan provided a big boost to American designers. It gave them the creative recognition that made it possible, on a certain level, for homegrown designers like Kors and Marc Jacobs to capture the attention of major French fashion houses (Celine and Louis Vuitton respectively).
But as the park’s name became synonymous with Fashion Week, the Bryant Park Corporation began to sour on the event. And what was an important move for Fashion Week — changing its schedule to run ahead of London and Paris shows — turned out to hurt Bryant Park. Instead of running at the chillier end of autumn as they had for the first several years, the shows took prime lawn space away from lunchtime workers returning to their offices after Labor Day vacation. The February shows posed problems when the park got a skating rink.
“We won’t miss the complaints,” Biederman says. “People called us crass and commercial because it was an invitation-only event in a public park,” he adds. In fact, he says it was his organization that helped event organizers from IMG find the Lincoln Center spot.
Bryant Park will likely miss the seven figure fee Fashion Week paid to use it, but Mallis — who had searched every pier and empty lot in New York City before agreeing to Lincoln Center — believes the businesses in the area may miss the hundreds of models, stars, stylists, editors and writers who buy their lattes nearby.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Steven Kolb, executive director of the CFDA says. He adds, “Bryant Park became symbolic. If you’re a young designer and want to make it in fashion, you dream of Bryant Park. But at the same time change is good. Knowing that designers are creative people, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t tap into the arts at Lincoln Center.”