Milk It! Upstart Downtown Studio Tweaks the Tents

Young designer Matthew Ames is also returning to Milk for the second season. “It actually cost less than showing in my showroom because I still had to pay for production, sound, lighting, seating and all of those things that are provided by MAC and Milk,” he said.

“It’s very considerable savings—like tens of thousands,” said Ms. Kao, who showed at Milk Studios before MAC came along, when a space there would rent out for $5,000 to $10,000 for a presentation room and closer to $20,000 for a larger studio, according to Mr. Rassi. “Forget being free, even if I was paying for the space, it has just made everything so clean and easy. I’ve worked for other people who have shown at the tents and it’s better if not comparable to how fast their team is.”

Meanwhile, according to Fern Mallis, the longtime senior vice president of IMG and organizer of the official Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, it is not yet clear whether prices at the tents will remain the same after the move to Lincoln Center. “We’re hoping to keep the prices comparable to what they were in Bryant Park,” she told The Observer. “There might be some cost of living where things go up a little bit, but we’re hoping to keep it the same.”

 

BUT IT’S NOT just price drawing designers to Milk. Ethereal Erin Fetherston, who used to show at Bryant Park, was wooed to do her runway show at MAC & Milk last September. “I wanted to go to Milk to see what a more intimate venue was like,” she said. “I like Milk because I felt like it’s Milk Studios, it’s a permanent home for the arts instead of a tent that gets thrown up.”

 

BESIDES A FREE space, lighting and makeup, hip geography, creative support, a team from the publicity and management firm KCD trouble-shooting production and proximity to the Boom Boom Room, MAC & Milk offers something else: packs of editors and buyers riding the elevators up and down between shows, lingering for nightly cocktail parties thrown by the Surf Lodge, eager for the opportunity to walk a few hundred feet—rather than cabbing it or taking a Town Car to some remote warehouse—to check out the latest young designers, and basking in the bleeding-edginess of it all.

“Because there are other shows in the space, it really helps your attendance, which is always a concern,” said designer Billy Reid, who hasn’t been able to show his self-titled men’s wear collection since his label dissolved in 2002 and was revived a few years later. “The support of their credibility as a venue and the group of people already involved is great.”

“It just connects with the downtown scene because the after-parties are always there and there’s a lot going on,” added Mr. Hamilton. “Downtown West Side has become easier and more central for editors and buyers now.”

Perhaps tellingly, when the CFDA hosted a cocktail party to celebrate the new home of fashion week at Lincoln Center a few weeks ago, they did so at Diane von Furstenberg’s store … in the meatpacking district, just one block south of Milk. Even Lincoln Center’s president, Reynold Levy, trekked downtown for the toast.

“We are here tonight to celebrate a new decade, and the new decade will officially start in September of this year when we move the fashion shows to the tents [at] Lincoln Center,” Ms. von Furstenberg told an audience of designers that included those who already show off-site (Georgina Chapman, Donna Karan, Rachel Roy) and those snatched up by Milk (Ms. Fetherston, Vena Cava, Peter Som).

When The Observer asked Ms. von Furstenberg whether she hoped these designers would come over and join her at Lincoln Center eventually, she said, “Well, I hope so. I think it is very important. People like to be all around one place, so if the tents are the heart of it, it will kind of fuse everything.”

Asked about Milk’s success, CFDA executive director Steven Kolb reaffirmed IMG (and its new home at Lincoln Center) as the establishment and Milk its illegitimate sibling. “You have New York Fashion Week, and under New York Fashion Week, you have IMG, which produces Mercedes Fashion Week, which is going to Lincoln Center. And then you have Milk, which is an independent space,” Mr. Kolb said. “Everything has to start with IMG, and then that will pump blood to the other venues.”