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Fashion Week gets a new look

Bringing designers under one big tent

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / April 2, 2011

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Boston Fashion Week is getting a professional makeover.

In a major step forward for Boston’s fashion community, the city’s annual Fashion Week, previously a hodgepodge of shows and parties scattered across town, will be centralized in a single tent this fall.

Boston will join cities such as New York, London, and Milan, all of which host major fashion shows in opulent tents with world-class sound systems, lighting, and multiple runways.

Boston’s Fashion Week tent will not be the splashy, sponsor-rich equal of those fashion capitals — the tent here will be more modest and smaller, with just one runway — but those involved say it will create a more professional fashion experience in the city.

“I’ve always wanted this,’’ said Jay Calderin, founder and executive director of Boston Fashion Week. “But I’ve never had the money to make a tent work, so it really had to be the community that wanted this and was willing to roll up its sleeves and contribute.’’

Boston Fashion Week organizers plan to announce the changes at a reception next Friday.

Until now, Boston designers have been showcasing their clothes in locations such as hotels, malls, hair salons, restaurants, and nightclubs. Designers’ collections were often lost in the crush of partygoers who were more interested in getting to the bar than looking at clothes.

With the 3,000-square-foot tent, which will sit between Mandarin Oriental and the Shops at Prudential Center, the city’s fashion models will finally have a chance to sashay down a professional catwalk in a tent with proper lighting, seating, and sound system. The tent, which will hold 250 people, will host three shows a day over seven days.

“For Boston to formally centralize it and bring all the appropriate elements together — tent, stage light, sound, and fashion show infrastructure — only brings more awareness, as well as credibility,’’ said Tom Julian, head of the Tom Julian Group, a fashion industry analyst in New York. “There are fashion tents in other cities that are dynamic, and those are located in mall parking lots. But it still gives the essence of what one would expect to experience if they were to come to New York.’’

Several US cities host a fashion week, from Charlotte, N.C., to Los Angeles.

New York’s Fashion Week, held in tents connected to Lincoln Center, is the country’s largest and most prestigious, followed by Miami’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week for swimwear.

Boston’s Fashion Week has lacked the prestige of corporate-driven weeks in cities such as Dallas or events like those in Providence and San Francisco, that are near nationally renowned fashion colleges. But the tent is seen as an important step in creating an identity for the week.

Still, no one is suggesting that Boston will suddenly rival New York in the fashion world. New York brings in an international audience with more than 50 shows a day across the city, and the largest venue at Lincoln Center holds 2,000 spectators.

“New York may be fashion central for the major twice-yearly collections in the US,’’ said Avril Graham, Harper’s Bazaar executive fashion and beauty editor, “but it is wonderful that regional cities such as Boston are also highlighting their own fashion talent, too.’’

Boston Fashion Week typically attracts several hundred people a year, including boutique owners, private clients, design students, and socialites.

The idea of a tent has been bandied about since the showcase began in 1995; it began to take shape three years ago when representatives from Mandarin Oriental and Boston Properties, which owns the Shops at Prudential Center, started talking about hosting fashion shows.

“It was a dream that we could do this, but we had no idea where in the hotel we could make Boston Fashion Week happen,’’ said Edwina Kluender, director of public relations for the hotel.

The plan came closer to reality last fall, when Boston designer Daniela Corte staged a fashion show in a ballroom of the Mandarin. Kluender and Mark Schwindenhammer, director of catering for the hotel, were so impressed with the show for Corte’s warrior-themed collection that the idea of hosting Boston Fashion Week was revisited.

Corte’s creative director — Ricardo Rodriguez, who is also a real estate agent — began assembling the players needed to make the fashion tent happen, including representatives from the Mandarin, Boston Properties, Boston Magazine, Boston Fashion Week, event planners Party by Design, and Corte. The group began meeting weekly in January.

The tent includes a backstage area for dressing models and prepping hair and makeup. It will sit in a courtyard behind Mandarin Oriental and beside the Prudential Center.

Use of the lot, owned by Boston Properties and maintained by the Mandarin, will be donated. Access to the tent will be through the Mandarin, which is donating space in the hotel to host Fashion Week parties.

The majority of the $65,000 expense for the tent and staging will be raised from corporate sponsors, and the rest will come from designers and retailers. Mayor Thomas M. Menino will declare the week of Sept. 23-30 as Boston Fashion Week, the first time the city has officially sanctioned the event.

“Having one central location will really create an opportunity to make this a premiere event for the city,’’ Menino said. “This is going to be a truly professional event, and our talent in Boston deserves that.’’

Each daytime show will be dedicated to a retailer, who must pay $3,500 to use the space. A headlining designer will show each night. Those designers will be charged $2,000. An early-evening show will be dedicated to emerging designers, who will have free access to the tent and services such as hair, makeup, models, and a disc jockey. Organizers hope to enlist corporate sponsors, such as car companies, to help subsidize the event.

Designers are currently being invited to show in the tent, and Calderin anticipates that Fashion Week shows and parties will continue to take place in other locations across the city.

Now that the tent has been confirmed, organizers have moved on to details, such as the appearance of the tent’s interior. Andrea Simpson, director of marketing for Boston Properties, said the tent could include luxury features such as gleaming white floors and sparkling chandeliers.

Many of the city’s designers are applauding the move to a central tent but are waiting to hear details before committing to showing in the new space.

“It’s a smart idea,’’ said designer Sam Mendoza. “. . . Fashion designers have also had to double as party planners, and what was being evaluated was the lighting or the location or whether the show had an open bar. I think this will put the focus back where it belongs: on the clothes.’’

Christopher Muther can be reached at