End of the catwalk: New York Fashion Week changes venue

New York Fashion Week is flouncing out of Bryant Park, its home for 15 years. David Usborne reports on the show that went a frock too far
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Neighbours of Bryant Park have been tut-tutting this week as workmen and small cranes have once more invaded the usually tranquil handkerchief of green – or snow-covered white right now – behind the New York Public Library in advance of the latest installment of New York Fashion Week.

The eruptions in February and September on its main lawn of the big white tents that hold the three catwalks, countless changing rooms for the models and space to seat thousands on little white chairs, is part of what has given Bryant Park, until the late 1980s a dusty hang-out for dope-dealers and the homeless, some of its cachet. That and its parades of 200 plane trees and well-tended gravel paths.

But the park, it turns out, is over Armani and Hilfiger. In fact, though we only learnt it this week, its managers have been pressing for years for the eviction of the fashion festivities from its manicured boundaries. While there was resistance from some, including from the indomitable Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue whose offices overlook the park, a below-the-radar search was soon on to find a new place to accommodate the tents.

It fell to the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, to break the news. Fashion Week, which first settled at Bryant Park in 1993, will be moving itself lock, stock and camera-lens barrel to a somewhat unloved space behind Lincoln Centre, the hub of Manhattan's most prestigious cultural institutions, including the opera and the ballet. The plaza in question is called Damrosch Park. Not heard of it? Nor had most Manhattanites before now.

Reaction has ranged from horror to ho-hum, with some expressions of delight in between. Certainly, the Bryant Park Corporation is voicing satisfaction, noting that it could no longer allow the shows "because they were interfering with plans to operate a skating rink in the winter and public use of the main lawn in the late summer". Though the shows last barely seven days, the whole business of building and dismantling the tents lasts three weeks.

The move up to Lincoln Centre will not happen until September 2010, meaning that there will be three more Fashion Weeks at Bryant Park, including this month's, which begins at the end of next week.

Most urgent for Mr Bloomberg was stopping Fashion Week, which is run by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and IMG Fashion, leaving town altogether. Last year, the two events drew 232,000 attendees and generated $466m (£323m) in spending. "We worked hard to find a new location because there had been increasing pressure for the events to move to Los Angeles. That would be a real hit to our economy," he said.

"It has not been easy to find a place for us, a place that was big enough, that was centralised enough, that was right enough," added the designer and CFDA president, Diane von Furstenberg, confirming the choice of Damrosch Park. "Since we're starting afresh we will try to make them better than the previous one."

There are some good things about the new location at Lincoln Centre, including a promise of 25 per cent more space. Bryant Park, which is flanked on one side by 42nd Street, has, for years, really been too tight a venue, which explains why increasing numbers of designers, including Tommy Hilfiger and Donna Karan, have, in recent years, eschewed the tents altogether and shown elsewhere in the city. Whereas there used to be 35 shows in the park during each Fashion Week, these days the number has risen to almost 70.

The advantage of the park, however, is its proximity to the Garment District along 7th and 8th avenues below 42nd Street. As anyone based in the area with tell you, the streets leading from the district to the gleaming tents dissolve into mild and colourful chaos during Fashion Week as harried assistants rush about with their rolling racks of safety-pinned clothes. There are about 800 fashion companies based in New York, many concentrated in the same few blocks.

"There are pros and cons," Victorya Hong, a rising New York designer recently showcased in the reality television show Project Runway, said of the move. "The garment district is so congested and hard to move around, but on the other hand everyone is down there. But I think Lincoln Centre will have a more luxurious vibe."

Most importantly, approval has been expressed by Ms Wintour. "We had obviously worn out our welcome at Bryant Park, so it's very exciting to be going to someplace where they want us," she told Women's Wear Daily magazine. But the switch from Bryant to Damrosch is not sitting well with all the designers.

"I hate the idea," said Anna Sui. "One of the things that works with Bryant Park is that we can walk the clothes over there, and finish the clothes as we're setting up. That's the only way you can have everything finished. All of a sudden, a zipper broke, a button didn't come in, and all the last-minute details are still do-able. Somebody can walk in with the last dress before the first exit. I don't think we will have that luxury at Lincoln Centre."