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What Fashion Week is Like for VFiles Founder Julie Anne Quay

We chatted with Quay about putting together a runway show, going straight to market with finalists and the possibility of a sophomore designer show down the road.
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Photo: Julie Anne Quay

Photo: Julie Anne Quay

In just five seasons, VFiles has become one of fashion’s buzziest runway shows, with a reliably rambunctious millennial crowd and appearances by artists like Migos, A-Trak and Korean rapper Keith Ape. Performances aside, VFiles has become a serious platform for young designers, from which similar launchpad programs like the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and Made have culled participants.

While the runway might get the most media play during New York Fashion Week, what happens immediately afterwards plays an equally important part for VFiles founder Julie Anne Quay. "The day after the show, [the runway finalists] are in the VFiles showroom being showcased to retail doors. It’s a real business," Quay told Fashionista. "This is not, 'Here's your show and see you later!' We're in this together." 

This season proves to be just as promising and entertaining as the last, with designers Anton Belinskiy, Kim Shui, Sophie Hardeman, Ottolinger and Neurocouture showing collections, an appearance by Sophie Beem and a panel of judges that includes Virgil Abloh and former The Costume Institute curator Harold Koda. Read on for our interview with Quay about the VFiles casting process, what to expect from this year's show, turning finalists into global brands and the possibility of a sophomore show down the road.

Tell us about the selection process for the runway show. How far ahead do you start?

We announce the show in November [and] allow a good month for people to enter. We allow a couple of weeks to deliberate with our mentors, announce the winners and give them a month to prepare for the show.

And how about casting for models, photographers and stylists?

It's all at the same time. We close the entries for designers a little bit earlier than we close the other categories, mainly because the designers need more prep time. For example, the notification for hair and makeup is today. The models we’re messaging today. [Ed note: The interview was conducted Feb. 3.]

Backstage at last year's VFiles spring 2016 runway show. Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images

Backstage at last year's VFiles spring 2016 runway show. Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images

When do you approach mentors?

It’s not really like approaching and asking them to be a mentor. It’s more like, "Hey, this show is going to be on this date. Are you in? Do you have time?" And it’s literally like a "yes" or "no." Most have been our mentors since the beginning. This year, [Rihanna’s stylist] Mel Ottenberg wasn’t available [so] we asked Harold Koda.

What exactly are you looking for in a collection?

Number one, we’re looking for energy that comes from really incredible design. Two, we’re obviously looking for creativity. And three, we’re looking for marketability. Do we think that this is something people will buy? [Lastly], we’re looking at: can this person execute that design to a collection that can be sold globally? Because yes, it’s very easy to make 15 outfits that are shown on the runway, but if you’re unable to make those outfits for [retailers], then it’s literally like a school collection.

Do mentors disagree about which designers should show?

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Yeah. We totally do. The mentors vote and we literally tally up the votes. We talk about what's working and what’s not. Last season, we showed five designers because we couldn’t edit somebody.

VFiles always has interesting performances. How does that come about?

VFiles is so much a family and we get lots of e-mails where [people] are like, "Hey, I’m going to be in town on the day of the show. Do you want me to do something?" And we’re like, "Of course!" Last year, [Atlanta-based hip hop group] Migos showed up. We knew they wanted to come [and] they were like, "Can we be on the runway?" And I was like, "Sure!" We want to be a part of that conversation as opposed to just saying "no" and keeping things austere and following all these rules.

At last year's VFiles spring 2016 runway show. Photo: Albert Urso/Getty Images

At last year's VFiles spring 2016 runway show. Photo: Albert Urso/Getty Images

Aside from the collections, what else can we expect this season?

We’re launching our wearable tech partnership. It’s called VFiles_XO. That’s going to put us in a whole different conversation — we think about wearable tech and technology in a different way than most wearable companies who are looking at heart rate monitors, blood pressure, etc. Sophie Beem, signed to [Beyonce’s] label Parkwood Entertainment, is going to be doing something really special at our show. We also have a top secret magazine project with Kevin Amato and Calvin Klein that we’ll be teasing out during fashion week.

Do you attend other shows during New York Fashion Week?

I like to see what’s on the runways [but] I don’t really go to a lot of shows. I’m more interested in what the kids are doing. The kids aren’t really paying attention so much to what’s on the runway; it’s more what’s off the runway and how it affects them directly.

What happens immediately after the runway show and post-fashion week in general?

We have a wholesale and PR showroom at VFiles on the third floor, [and] the day after the show, [the designers] are [there] being showcased to retail doors. We meet with Galeries Lafayette, Selfridges, Holt Renfrew, Harvey Nichols, Nordstrom, Barneys, Neiman Marcus and more. 

This is what makes the VFiles runway program so special. There’s a lot of people out there who are just like, "Here’s a young designer program. Here’s $300,000." [But] if you don’t have someone to help you develop your brand, $300,000 is gone in a second. We wholesale their collections, we do their PR, we help them with marketing, we sell their brands for them and we also sell all their brands in our store at 12 Mercer Street. We turn them into global brands. Gypsy Sport, Andrea Jiapei Li — they’re all a part of our family. We just took [Feng Cheng Wang’s] stuff to Milan and showed it there. [Some] might be showing as part of Made, which we’re really excited about, but they’re still in our showroom. 

We’re going to start doing the sophomore shows. Giving designers the opportunity to show again. And that should be interesting.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Note: The original post has been updated to include Neurocouture, winner of VFiles's new wearable-tech category.

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