Entrepreneurs to Watch This Fashion Week
Small Businesses Stealing the ShowRetail's Power Broker: Diane von FurstenbergIn the Limelight: Tracy ReeseLuxury Logistics: Show MediaMaster of Unlikely Retail Influence: Opening CeremonySpace Man: Mazdack RassiPower Publisher: Carine RoitfeldCharming the Stars: Jennifer FisherRolling Out the Runway: Judith Rice & AssociatesDoing What Facebook Hasn't: Michael Kors Comeback Queen: Betsey JohnsonA Banner Showing: Almeter DesignBeauty's New Guard: BirchboxKeeping Track of it All: Fashion GPSNext Wave: Project Pop-Up
Fashion's biggest week of the year is big business. In New York City, which is home to the headquarters of more than 900 fashion companies, Fashion Week is in full swing. It's likely to generate more than $850 million for the city. The folks behind the seas of flashbulbs, extravagant parties, and imaginative runways shows aren't just style's avant-garde--they're entrepreneurs running fast-growing companies. Here are the breakout businesses that make Fashion Week tick--and that that we're keeping a close eye on. --Inc. staff
Along with Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg--the designer behind the iconic wrap dress and successful brand--dreamed up Fashion's Night Out, which launched in 2009. Today, the Belgian-born entrepreneur and philanthropist is the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Von Furstenberg began designing women's clothing in 1970, with just $30,000 in investment. Today, she runs one of the world's most iconic clothing brands. She's pictured at her 2012 runway show, donning Google glasses alongside Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Less than 48 hours before the first stiletto hit the runway this Fashion Week in New York, a little thing happened more than 500 miles south: First Lady Michelle Obama donned one of womenswear designer Tracy Reese's lacy frocks while delivering her speech at the Democratic National Convention. As if having a prime weekend time slot for her 2012 NYFW show wasn't enough, now Reese's label is ramping up production to meet demand. Take a bow, Tracy: 2012 is your year.
Fashion Week isn't just about expensive clothes, glitzy accessories, and feather-thin models. It's also, of course, about exclusivity and status. Show Media, a New York-based media company and multiyear Inc. 500 honoree, is teaming up with Christian Dior this year to provide a "luxury VIP experience"--free rides in Cadillac Escalades--for high-end consumers who spent $500 or more at Bergdorf Goodman during Fashion's Night Out on Thursday. Show Media was a pioneer of taxi marketing, developing the Taxi Top advertising division before selling it to Verifone Media last year. The company's CEO, Laurence Hallier, says the company's new focus is "on the digital platform within the high-end transportation industry."
The New York Times called it a "nutty idea" that became "what is probably the most influential retailer of the new millennium." Opening Ceremony, the edgy boutique stocked with indie and designer labels, is celebrating 10 years since opening the doors of its first little shop in SoHo. Age hasn't dulled the seriously sharp hipness of Opening Ceremony's founders, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, who are throwing one of NYFW's most talked-about shindigs: a dance party at Webster Hall stocked with a decade of notable DJs, including the Misshapes and Club Luxx.
Originally from Iran, Mazdack Rassi made a splash among New York City's fashion establishment by convincing the owner of a cavernous space in the meatpacking district to let him open and run a photo studio in the building. Celebrity photographer Herb Ritts was the first to shoot there; the space, Milk, was soon hosting thousands of shoots a year. So in 2009, when Rassi started holding runway shows, his venue became a welcome alternative to the (expensive, traditional) tents at Lincoln Center. This year Milk will host designers Michael Bastian, Sophie Theallet, and Mandy Coon, among others.
Arguably one of the most-watched people in fashion, the former editor of French Vogue is now taking an entrepreneurial leap. Two years after her high-profile exit from the powerhouse publication, Roitfeld is set to launch a new fashion magazine next week, called CR Fashion Book. The magazine will be published by Fashion Media Group, and reportedly won't turn a profit in its first year (despite a healthy 150 pages of advertising). To supplement her new dreams, Roitfeld has taken on a number of lucrative projects, including a collaborative line of makeup with MAC cosmetics.
After working for 10 years as a stylist in Los Angeles, Fisher was inspired to design a charm for her first born child--a dog tag with his name on it. From that one inspiration, she built a thriving business, Jennifer Fisher Jewelry. Today, her collection features more than 4,000 charms, cuffs, and necklaces in her Manhattan location, and her jewelry has been worn in TV shows, including Entourage and Gossip Girl. She was recently named a finalist for a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award.
While all eyes are on the runway, it's only fashion insiders who recognize the behind-the-scenes mavericks who get the clothes off the racks and in front of the buyers. Judith Rice's namesake company takes charge of the full coordination and production details of a fashion show; over the years the agency has worked with such style icons as Donna Karan, Cynthia Rowley, Jill Stuart, Donald Deal, and Vivienne Tam, as well as Project Runway. this year, the firm is producing shows for several designers, including Tadashi Shoji and Nanette Lepore.
IPO action isn't just for tech start-ups. Michael Kors, the Hong-Kong based luxury clothing and accessory retailer, went public in December 2011, in an offering that valued the company at more than $3.6 billion. Not bad for a company that, as recently as 2004, was losing money and had just $20 million in revenue. Kors, a high-school dropout, teamed up with a private equity firm and helped raise the company's revenue to $800 million by 2011 before going public. In March, Kors sold $3.5 million worth of stock--netting him some $116 million in cash. According to Bloomberg Markets' latest ranking of the best-performing initial public offerings, Michael Kors is No. 1.
This fashion industry veteran shows no signs of stopping. Known for her whimsical dresses and glitzy accessories, Betsey Johnson splashed into the New York fashion scene in 1964 before creating her label in 1978. While her namesake company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, the eccentric designer stitched together a new collection of dresses with outerwear manufacturer The Levy Group. Johnson will deliver a "retrospective" show during Fashion Week, featuring vintage pieces from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.
For five years, Brooklyn-based Almeter Design has been responsible for some of the biggest branding behind Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Among Almeter's many duties is developing the displays and logo-bearing banners that appear in Lincoln Center. This fall, the firm, led by Andrew Almeter, touted New York Fashion Week's status as the first event of the upcoming fashion season--in other words, "where spring begins."
Launched in September 2010 by Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox delivers monthly samples of the latest beauty products to more than 100,000 customers. This fall, the company is going behind the scenes of NYFW, having staffers cover beauty trends on the runway. Birchbox has also launched a pop-up shop, the Birchbox Sample Stop, where Fashion Week attendees can grab free beauty products and customize their own subscription boxes.
The guest lists for the hottest runway shows have gone high-tech, thanks to Fashion GPS. The New York and London start-up by entrepreneur Eddie Mullon (pictured center) created an electronic platform lets show organizers instantly check in attendees and assign seating. Off the runway, it also allows brands to manage their inventories and send out look books for each season's fashions.
New York Fashion Week is all about anticipating what's next. That's what makes it an ideal platform for Project Pop-Up, an economic development initiative designed to flaunt the next generation of fashion and tech entrepreneurs. Spearheaded by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Project Pop-Up implored would-be entrepreneurs to dream up their freshest fashion business models--then will be showing off the contest's top businesses, such as the body-scanning tech start-up Acustom, throughout Fashion Week at the innovative Story retail space in Manhattan.