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Will There Ever Be Another Centralized New York Fashion Week?

Stan Herman and Fern Mallis were honored Tuesday for their efforts to stage “7th on Sixth” in Bryant Park, which started in 1993.

Will There Ever Be Another Centralized New York Fashion Week?

The Tents at Bryant Park.

Having literally spent years in and around Bryant Park, Stan Herman and Fern Mallis returned there Tuesday morning for the unveiling of a bench named in their honor.

In their former roles at the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Herman served as president and Mallis was executive director. Starting in 1993, they ushered in a new era for American fashion designers by staging the biannual New York fashion weeks under large white tents in Bryant Park. That consolidated what had been a citywide event and established “7th on Sixth” as a destination in and of itself. But that moment in time ended after the Tommy Hilfiger fall fashion show in 2009.

Given IMG’s recent announcement that it will pivot from producing a centralized venue for NYFW: The Shows to focusing its efforts on facilitating brand partnerships and creative collaborations between brands and designers, Tuesday’s tribute was a prime setting to discuss NYFW’s future.

Guests like Jeffrey Banks, Marylou Luther, Lisa Silhanek and Teri Agins mingled outside of the Bryant Park Grill, which is steps away from the bench. As sunny and bright as Tuesday morning was, the 95-year-old Herman chatted about some of Bryant Park’s darker days. With all of the shows’ warts, difficulties “and all of the screaming after we got it done,” Herman said, “it really centered this fashion week in New York.”

Will There Ever Be Another Centralized New York Fashion Week?

Stan Herman and Fern Mallis at Nicole Miller’s spring 2007 fashion show at The Promenade at Bryant Park.

Having had a studio overlooking Bryant Park since 1975 and having headed up of the community board’s park commission that same year, Herman said, “I’ve known Bryant Park since it was called ‘needle park,’ and ‘never-going-to-be park.’ Then it was going to be ‘the best park in the world’ and I watched when it was closed for two years and then redone.”

Anticipating that NYFW’s future will be good, Herman said, “New York is resilient. If they get their act together and there is a beacon or personality that pulls it in the right direction, New York is there forever. I’m excited by the clothes that I see. I’m one of the few people [who is.] The menswear has been extraordinary.”  

Having spent “18 glorious years” in Bryant Park, Mallis said she was proud of how they put the American fashion industry on the map. That was more poignant, in light of the recent news that IMG is no longer producing shows in an organized venue. “Fashion week, as we know it, is over. Fashion will still happen in New York, because it is such an important, stellar industry with that level of creativity.”

Will There Ever Be Another Centralized New York Fashion Week?

Tommy Hilfiger RTW Fall 2009

Recalling how Tommy Hilfiger’s runway show was the last one to be held in Bryant Park, Mallis said, “At every fashion week since then, I’m stopped constantly by people, who say, ‘Please bring back the tents.’”

Despite that, Mallis is not anticipating a return of a more unified fashion week. “No, I think everybody is more about everybody for themselves,” Mallis said. “Everybody wants to do their own things, which we respected when we did the tents. If somebody booked a venue somewhere else, we sent a bus there. We tried to make it work for the people who were attending the shows.”

With IMG out of the picture, Mallis questioned who could succeed them and raise the money that would be needed to produce a venue. “It’s an expensive proposition and we worked our butts off getting sponsorship, keeping everybody happy and keeping a balance between the designers and the creativity,” she said.

Will There Ever Be Another Centralized New York Fashion Week?

Tommy Hilfiger, Stan Herman, Fern Mallis and Dan Biederman.

Turning reflective, she said she used to always joke that she and Herman should have a bench in Bryant Park, and the late Ivan Bart, former president of IMG Models, put that plan in motion. Hilfiger underwrote the bench and unveiled it Tuesday morning.

Standing with his wife Dee, Tommy Hilfiger recalled wheeling racks of runway looks from his Midtown offices to Bryant Park. He said, “I just remember how phenomenal it was having the tents and all of the shows here.”

Mallis added, “There was so much energy. Everybody felt like they had really made it when they walked past those velvet ropes and got in.”

The more unified front that came with the move to Bryant Park was pivotal for American fashion. “That was history because every American designer showed in the tents,” Hilfiger said

Asked if there will ever be a more unified fashion week effort, Hilfiger said, “I hope so.”

Another attendee, the CFDA’s chief executive officer Steven Kolb, does not envision an anchor site for NYFW ever returning. “No, and I don’t think that we need it. The idea of a central venue was good for the time, when it happened. We’re many years past that. Even when there was a central venue, as strong as it was, people were in and out of there. They would show a season or two and then they left.”

The independence of showing off-site is what really drives NYFW, Kolb said. “I’ve always said that New York City is the official venue. Fashion week is stronger than ever. We had 70 really great shows last season. There’s an amazing roster that we’re building for September. This idea of a group thing is antiquated.”   

Will There Ever Be Another Centralized New York Fashion Week?

Willy Chavarria takes a bow at his spring 2023 ready-to-wear fashion show at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York in September 2022.

In addition, there’s not sponsorship for fashion week like there used to be “so you can’t sustain that in a business model,” Kolb said. And choosing individual locations is expressive for designers. “That’s the point, right? When you’re in a cookie cutter space that has a two-hour turnover, it’s difficult. Whether it’s an abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn, a park near Battery Park, Moynihan Station, the Empire State Building, the venue speaks as much for the collection as the collection itself.”

Yeohlee Teng said the Bryant Park shows put American fashion on the map globally, thanks to Herman’s and Mallis’ efforts. “That’s a real legacy for the two of them,” the designer said.

As for her outlook for the future, Teng said, “I think there is a lot of diversity, but new leadership has to come forth in order to grow.”

There have been “early conversations” with Vornado Realty Trust about using the space that rests on the the former site of the Hotel Pennsylvania at Seventh Avenue and East 33rd Street that could serve as a NYFW venue, according to Dan Biederman, the 34th Street Partnership’s president. Suggesting Bryant Park in late September as another option, he said, “Is there ever chance of changing the calendar — ever?”

Herman’s design associate of 26 years Michael Schwarz spoke of how Herman’s memoir “Uncross Your Legs: A Life in Fashion” and the Bryant Park bench have solidified what Herman has meant to the industry. “I’m an emotional sap. When I get the chance to step back, you can see that I start to tear up. I’ve been very fortunate to experience the bridge between old fashion and new fashion. Stan is that bridge. He has cared about the industry for so long,” Schwarz said. “Unlike a lot of people, he hasn’t stuck himself in the mud of the past. He’s enjoyed it and understood how important it is, but he’s always excited about what’s next.”