NY Fashion Week a high-low mix like never before

February 13, 2012 7:03:31 AM PST
Oscar de la Renta, say hello to Kohl's and QVC. Carolina Herrera, wave to Bebe and Levi's and J.Crew if you've got a second during New York Fashion Week.

Like never before, mall brands and chain stores are strutting their affordable stuff alongside far pricier glitz and sought-after hipster swank, throwing parties and setting up their own catwalks and red carpets during the frenetic, twice-yearly round of fashion shows.

That, analysts and insiders said, is due to the fashion elite's tighter embrace of top bloggers, live video streaming by a growing number of designers and the explosion of social media allowing anyone with a camera phone to tweet from the once-insular world.

"Those traditional walls have really come down," said Mike George, who heads QVC and has been hosting unofficial New York Fashion Week events for about four years. "We saw that kind of trend in its early stages, this sort of democratization of fashion."

Trend forecaster WGSN considers Levi's a sound case study as the company enters the Fashion Week fray for the first time Wednesday, presenting bits of its global line as it pushes deeper into international markets.

"Many people think of Levi's when you say `jeans.' But they're about more than a cool pair of 501s. In recent years, their design studio has been a major innovator in denim styling and this is a chance to show that off to a global audience," said Sandra Halliday, a fashion analyst for WGSN.

Len Peltier, Levi's global vice president for creative design, agreed that the New York Fashion Week moment was right.

"We're not trying to be a high fashion brand," he said, "but the lines have blurred between streetwear and fashion, and that's an exciting proposition."

The same could be said for J.Crew as it continues to roll out internationally and move from its preppy base to one that's more about trend and fashion "without losing sight of its heritage," Halliday said.

This is the company's second Fashion Week visit. "It's undeniably beneficial to be associated with other high-end aspirational brands at New York Fashion Week," Halliday said.

With 90 shows at the Lincoln Center tents, dozens more around the city and a swirl of parties in less than two weeks, Fashion Week is also something else that appeals to companies offering clothes for the rest of us: a huge opportunity to corral world media.

Following Fashion Week from afar appeals to people who perceive themselves as fashionable but aren't able or willing to shell out big money for luxury that remains dominant on runways. But they can see themselves shopping at Kohl's or picking up an outfit among more glamorous selections offered by Levi's or sold on QVC.

"Fashion evolves like anything else and maybe it isn't found in just one tiny shop in Paris anymore," said designer Isaac Mizrahi, a QVC seller who once sent dyed dogs down the runway to match his clothes.

"I love the subject of fashion and there are a lot of people like me in this country and in this world who adore it, too, because it makes them happy," he said.

Kohl's hasn't only shown up for Fashion Week but also has timed the sale of its new Rock & Republic line of premium denim and sexy shoes to coincide with the runway show.

"Key influencers from media to designers to celebrities are in New York and creating excitement and consumer interest in fashion," said Julie Gardner, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Kohl's. "This makes New York Fashion Week an ideal venue for Kohl's."

Kohl's aside, the fashion driven among us, outside of the lucky few who get to attend Fashion Week, once waited excitedly for websites to post photos, or years ago for a few black-and-white shots to show up in a newspaper the next day.

"But we shouldn't get carried away with all the talk of democracy," Halliday said. "All of this is part of the publicity machine that creates a buzz around the event, and the brands that are still out of the reach of most consumers."

Fern Mallis is the former IMG senior vice president who built the buzz to begin with when she launched Fashion Week in 1993 while executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. She stepped down from IMG in 2010 to start a consulting firm and just started selling her own travel-inspired jewelry on QVC.

"Fashion Week has become an unbelievable engine," she said at QVC's runway show the night before Fashion Week officially opened last Thursday.

"Everybody uses the platform of Fashion Week to take advantage of the media and the attention," Mallis said. "If those people can have five minutes or 30 minutes on the calendar, bless their heart. Go for it."


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