When it comes to introducing a new collection, the clothes may come first, but designers are wise to add to the ambiance (and enhance their brand image) with a little help from set design. In a world where designers' shows and presentations make their way to social media in seconds, it's important to have an atmosphere that makes their message clear.
"Set design actually comes from the love for story," said Nian Fish, an industry guru who's produced and creatively directed fashion shows, events and films since the '70s. "It also speaks for what the brand stands for." Minimalistic fashion brands like Calvin Klein (a longtime client of Fish), Jil Sander and Céline may have pieces (custom-made benches, for example) that guests wouldn't even perceive as intentionally produced for the show. On the other hand, designers like Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel will create a world of their own for every season.
So now that we've covered the clothes, model lineups and front row rosters, here's a rundown of the most photo op-worthy set designs of New York Fashion Week, along with exclusive details on how they came together.
Fish worked with Self-Portrait designer Han Chong on his Fashion Week debut in New York, and opted for a presentation (as opposed to a runway show) so his clothes could be introduced in a more intimate setting. Chong sent Fish a photo from a fashion editorial starring model Freja Beha Erichsen in an abandoned mansion, inspiring Fish to produce their own version. "We thought it would be amazing to show the colors of the collection against this rawness from the installation," said Fish.
Fish hired prop stylist Natane Boudreau, who scoured junkyards throughout New York City for housewares like books, statues, chairs, tables and even a baby carriage. After gathering up to 120 pieces, Boudreau painted them white before passing the goods over to interiors stylist Gregory Bissonnette, who placed and piled the pieces together like a 3-D puzzle. After a 5 a.m. call time to rig the set together, the models got creative with leaning, sitting and standing throughout the fantastical backdrop.
Kate Spade New York
If you ever scroll through the "Posts I've Liked" section of your Instagram account, chances are you'll find a few floral displays. So it's no surprise that Kate Spade New York's Chief Creative Officer Deborah Lloyd tapped into a classic spring trend for both the collection and presentation. The florists at FTD provided over 30,000 fresh flowers for the event.
"We worked to highlight the crisp colors, graphic prints and playful sophistication that are hallmarks of Kate Spade New York," said Andrea Ancel, lead floral designer at FTD. "There was a variety of colors, and within each color, a diversity of gradients and textures that brought the Kate Spade color palette to life in the form of flowers." FTD sourced flowers from all over the world for the presentation, including tulips and hydrangeas from Holland, roses from South America and gerbera daisies from California. Guests were able to take home their own arrangement of blooms from the custom flower bar, while branded trucks gave out fresh bouquets throughout the city after the presentation.
Rachel Antonoff teamed with stage and film production designer Brett J. Banakis for her spring 2016 presentation set, titled The National Women’s Aviary Society's Annual Birding Overnight. Banakis used his summer camp counselor background to turn the fashion designer's birding-meets-"Troop Beverly Hills" camp site into a reality in just two weeks in the Plaza Hotel's famous Palm Court.
"I could understand Rachel's offbeat sense of humor and her stylistic approach to the whole event. She was interested in fabricating an environment that would transform the experience of seeing her designs," said Banakis. "It was such a joy for me to dig through my memory bank and research the little details that made camp memorable for me." One of those details included a Lake Antonoff board made up of cardboard tags for guests to sign and hang up, recreated from Banakis's summer camp "Buddy Board," a large plywood sign with hooks for each camper to hang a name tag while they were swimming at the lake.
Banakis also worked with artist Marte Ekhougen, who created dozens of sculptural birds out of colored paper. (You can see these in Antonoff's spring 2016 look book, too.) To complement them, Antonoff and her team (along with friends and moms) decided to make 500 origami birds to hang throughout the space. "We were folding birds day and night," said Antonoff. "It feels weird to not be doing it now."
In a departure from her typically minimal atmospheres, Ji Oh presented her collection against a makeshift city construction site, complete with scaffolding, a ladder and signage. "I love how the city matches girls who have confidence and a rebellious attitude," said Oh. "I explained my vision to my production team and they executed it very well." One of Oh's favorite touches to the presentation are the street signs customized with the brand name and funny takes on the usual phrases you see in the city.
For fashion week veteran Anna Sui, the only difference each season is the artistic backdrop at the beginning of the catwalk, which is created by Sui's longtime collaborator and artist Sarah Oliphant. "She told me this was one of her favorites to work on," said Sui. "The design [this season] was inspired by a woodcut print by Paul Gauguin, and Sarah tried to capture the feeling with her brushstrokes." The designer's spring 2016 collection took on a Polynesian theme, and to further set the mood for the show, Sui added faux palm trees along the runway.
"I wanted my trees to look ethereal and dreamy," noted Sui, so she collaborated with James Coviello, a designer she's worked with for hats and knitwear since her first fashion show. Coviello wrapped the trees' stumps in shimmer organza and created the fronds (palm tree leaves) in iridescent aqua and amber hues. Plus, the venue's air-conditioning provided an unplanned detail for the tall palms: "Each sparkly frond gently swayed in the breeze," remembered Sui. "It was pure magic."
3.1 Phillip Lim
When we found out that Phillip Lim was collaborating with environmental artist Maya Lin on a sculptural installation for his spring 2016 runway show, it was on the top of our must-see list for NYFW. With Lim's theme of "stop and smell the flowers," a simple message promoting pause for the brand's 10-year anniversary, in mind, Lin created large soil mounds throughout the show's venue.
The installation was made from 360 cubic yards of toxin-free organic soil piled so that some of them reached up to 13 feet in height. After the show, Lim and his team donated the soil to New York City's community gardens. In addition, the brand will make a donation to Lin's What Is Missing? Foundation, which encourages attention to species and habitat loss, and the Perfect Earth Project.
Tanya Taylor also partnered with an artist: she reached out to Eric Rieger, known as Hot Tea, for her spring 2016 presentation at the Swiss Institute. Taylor discovered Rieger's work through Instagram and Rieger managed to gather yarn in intense, saturated colors inspired by the current collection in five days. After two weeks of building the majority of the installation in his Minneapolis-based studio, Rieger shipped his work to New York City.
Along with creating his largest installation yet (47 feet by 47 feet), Rieger lightened up on the density of his signature yarn work — his pieces are usually so condensed that they can resemble a solid block of color. It took most of the day and night before the show for Rieger to set up the installation. "A lot of the team started to break down mentally because they've been up since 6:30 a.m.," said Rieger. "But when 4 a.m. rolled around and I started seeing what the installation was going to look like, I was so motivated and excited to get it finished." The best part was when Rieger experienced how guests were interacting and taking photos of his work.
After Tommy Hilfiger's spring 2016 runway show, we may be adding Mustique to the list of the fashion flock's favorite vacation spots. Already a go-to getaway for royals and celebrities, the West Indies island was recreated at Pier 94 complete with a boardwalk, lagoon and an adaptation of the city's famous hangout, Basil's Bar. (Legendary owner Basil Charles manned the faux bar, fully stocked with 100 customized beer bottle props.) "This season's set is one of our most impressive yet," said Hilfiger, who has a family home on the island.
Hilfiger worked with his go-to set designer Randall Peacock to bring the laid-back island lifestyle to New York City. (Peacock has been responsible for past Hilfiger show sets, including fall 2015's football field and spring 2015's homage to the Beatles.) "The set concept was five months in the making," explained Hilfiger. The set's actual installation took up to three days to prepare before the show, which makes sense: enough sand was sourced to cover 7,000 square feet; 20,000 gallons of water was used to create the lagoon; and 14 palm trees — hybrids with faux resin bases and real palm fronds — were transported all the way from Florida.
For Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel's debut Fashion Week presentation for their "It" accessories brand Mansur Gavriel, the duo wanted to create a completely immersive environment for visitors to truly experience their "signature repetition of product with an emphasis in form and color." Mansur and Gavriel, along with their own internal team and production company Dizon Inc., transformed the Swiss Institute into a retro-style, pastel pink department store. "Given pink is a color we often use, we felt this specific hue would create a playful and warm, yet sleek backdrop," they said. To add to the mod atmosphere, and because flowers and plants are always a source of inspiration for the brand, in-house florist Brittany Asch placed bouquets and plants throughout the space, such as anthurium, sumac, safflower, king protea and blushing bride protea.
The presentation took up the entire venue, and so there was barely room for a backstage hair-and-makeup area. Mansur and Gavriel improvised, using their office, a few blocks away, as the setup spot for beauty. "The models then had to walk from our office to the space completely dressed," they said. "It was really moving to walk alongside the girls and see reactions on the street. [Our photographer] Tommy Ton captured some amazing photos."
For Coach's runway debut and the launch of its new luxury label, Coach 1941, Creative Director Stuart Vevers teamed up with established set designer Stefan Beckman to create a runway show on the High Line in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood, near the Hudson Yards, where the fashion house's headquarters is located. "Stuart was inspired by the American West and beautiful images of sunlit fields," said Beckman, who referenced films like "Badlands," "The Virgin Suicides" and "Days of Heaven" for inspiration. Vevers and Beckman decided on building a glass tent on the Hudson Yards construction site several weeks in advance, and brought on John Beitel, a landscape designer, to produce a mixture of native grasses and plants inside the venue. "We had something quite architectural and modern outside, but had the opposing nature inside," explained Beckman. "It's something strange, otherworldly, but still beautiful."
After looking at dozens of types of plants and grasses to achieve the right mix of a late summer-to-early fall field, Beckman and Beital pulled the grasses in early August to start training them to grow into the just-right color palette. About 6,000 plants and grasses were placed inside and outside the show’s glass tent (along with eight tractor trailers of dirt) as the set design crew built speakers and air-conditioning ducts underneath the flora.
If you ever needed a reason for the phrase "save the best for last," then turn to Marc Jacobs, who also partnered with Beckman, his longtime collaborator, for his cinema-inspired spring 2016 show on the last night of NYFW. At the Ziegfeld Theatre, Jacobs followed the format of a glitzy, star-studded movie premiere to debut his latest collection. "Marc loved the idea of having the girls use all of the parts of the theatre, inside and out, from the red carpet moment through the concession stand and into the theatre," explained Beckman.
Having to work with such a historic city spot did have its challenges. Beckman removed 400 theater seats in order to build raised runways so the audience could have good views of the collection. For weeks, he worked on fine-tuning details for the premiere: custom tents, movie posters, stage details for the orchestra, marquee signs, popcorn-and-drink containers and T-shirts. "People are looking to be entertained, to see a spectacle and a beautiful collection, but also a true vision from a designer," said Beckman. "Marc is like a great director bringing all of the elements together to showcase the clothes. I feel like we are creating a small piece of theater every season."