clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Garment District Panel Part II: Coolness, Porn, Proactivity

From Left: Simon Collins, Andrew Oshrin, Deborah Marton; Image by Giles Ashford, courtesy of The Municipal Art Society of New York
From Left: Simon Collins, Andrew Oshrin, Deborah Marton; Image by Giles Ashford, courtesy of The Municipal Art Society of New York

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Last night the Municipal Art Society of New York hosted a second panel discussion on the future of New York's Garment District at the School of Visual Arts Theater. Moderated by the Deborah Marton (whose turbo-fierce Lucite disco pumps just barely made up for Tim Gunn's absence) of the Design Trust for Public Space and based around findings from the organization's Made in Midtown study for the CFDA, the talk focused on Creative Districts. More specifically, how these creative communities come to fruition, how they become "cool," and—most importantly—how to make the Garment District cool enough to raise awareness, attract designers, and increase orders without raising rents, attracting yuppies, and increasing real estate pressures. Quite a conundrum, indeed.

The panel included Sarah Williams, a co-director of Columbia University's Spatial Information Design Lab and Made in Midtown Project Fellow; Simon Collins of Parsons School of Fashion; Fred Dust of IDEO (whose Los Angeles-centric ramblings each started and ended with an "I don't know"); Harvey Molotch, a sociology and metropolitan studies expert at NYU; and Andrew Oshrin, president and CEO of Milly (Milly designer Michelle Smith was in the audience, as was Yoehlee Teng who absolutely delighted us at last week's panel).

Williams opened the talk by discussing urban creative clusters—neighborhoods defined by the fashion designers, artists, musicians, and architects who live and work there; who require similar spaces and services; who ultimately create buzzing, social communities. She also noted that fashion designers are the creative group most likely to band together geographically because they require more out-of-studio services than a musician or graphic designer might need. The Garment District still offers these services; add the area's accessibility to media and retail centers, and you have the perfect fashion designer niche (the word niche was used nearly as often as the word cool; and was pronounced differently each time).

Oshrin didn't have much to add: He rejected the necessity of a buzzing, social community but agreed that accessibility to support staff, suppliers, and manufacturers was "essential and necessary" because few labels have the capital to put those skilled tradespeople under one roof. Collins—whose similarity to American Idol's Simon Cowell ran deeper than just his first name—proclaimed the district as "absolutely bloody vital" and fine as is. His Garment District is the perfect unofficial post-graduate environment for Parsons students. He noted the Proenza Schouler boys who simply went back to the tradespeople they came in contact with as interns to have their lauded initial collections produced.

Collins shut down suggestions stating the key to area's survival is making the area "cool." Cool creates foot traffic, higher rents, unnecessary retail and espresso bars and sidewalk beautification. Too much cool and the Garment District becomes Soho—an area so removed from it's artistic past it's almost comical. That said, he supports another kind of "cool." The kind of cool created by a buzzy upstart like Jason Wu basing himself in the area and paving the way for additional buzzy upstarts. And perhaps more importantly, the kind of cool that—through marketing or branding or special tags or tax incentives—makes producing in the District cool. Using Ralph Lauren as his example, he commented that even if the designer decided to produce even a tiny percentage in New York ("maybe that tee shirt they make with the stars and stripes on it") and publicize it, and make it cool, other labels would follow suit. Tradespeople don't need espresso bars, they don't need studies (how do you really feel, Simon?), "they need orders."

Molotch—perhaps feeling overshadowed or unfunny—really went for it towards the end. His early remarks were scholarly; his closing remarks hinged on the absurd. How should we keep condominium conversions out of the Garment District? "Embrace porn," keep those Greyhound buses coming, avoid infrastructure improvements, stay seedy. No problem! Seedy is something fashion is, like, really good at.

As part of the Municipal Art Society's ongoing study of the Garment District, a Friday morning walking tour is taking place on June 25th. Get additional information and tickets via their events calendar.

· A Website and Another Panel on Saving the Garment District [Racked NY]
· Garment District Panel Warns of a City of Only Bankers and Brokers [Racked NY]
· Made in Midtown [Official Site]

Proenza Schouler

822 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10065 212-585-3200 Visit Website

School of Visual Arts Theater

333 W. 23rd Street, New York, NY