The CFDA and Cadillac Are Teaming Up to Launch New 'Retail Lab' Concept in July

Participating designers — beginning with Timo Weiland — will get a mentored crash course in opening their own store.
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Timo Weiland at NYFW:M fall 2016. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Timo Weiland at NYFW:M fall 2016. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Car companies have a long history of joining forces with the fashion industry, and while Cadillac might not be the first one to come to mind, it's proven itself to be a true champion of emerging design talent in recent years. Not only did it sign on to sponsor the inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men's (which had no prior track record of success), but it's also backed the shows of individual designers like J. Mendel, Public School and Jason Wu. The latter even appeared in a Cadillac TV commercial last year. 

Now, the luxury auto brand will use its resources to give designers valuable experience in the brick-and-mortar retail business. On Tuesday evening, Cadillac and the CFDA announced that they have partnered up to launch the Retail Lab, a mentorship program that will give young labels the opportunity to run their own three month-long pop-up shop out of an 800-square foot space on the ground floor of Cadillac's headquarters in New York. Much like the CFDA Incubator, brands are put through a rigorous application process and will be handpicked by members of the Retail Lab's advisory board, which includes noteworthy names like Reed Krakoff, Simon Doonan, Julie Gilhart and Steven Alan.

This partnership will give designers who have never had their own retail stores the chance to focus on working directly with consumers, as well as telling their stories through visual merchandising and interior design. The space that Cadillac will provide is a blank "box," giving participants the chance to completely customize it, and the company will cover the hidden costs of running a store, like mannequins, display units and signage. In addition to guidance from advisers in the areas of marketing, buying, logistics and supplies, chosen labels will receive a $75,000 grant to put towards making their vision come to life. 

Because the program kicks off in July, the the first label to take up residence in the Retail Lab was pre-selected: 2014 CFDA Incubator graduates Timo Weiland. According to CFDA CEO Steven Kolb, this choice was carefully considered, but the brand's participation in NYFW:M and previous relationship with the Incubator program were big factors. (Kolb pointed out that designers Timo Weiland, Donna Kang and Alan Eckstein actually listen to critical advice, something that he learned about them during their stint in the Incubator.) On behalf of his team, Weiland said that they're most excited to use the retail space as an extension of their creative vision, and they plan to experiment with decor, show films, occasionally deejay and provide a generally friendly, playful shopping experience for their customers.

Beginning on Wednesday, designers can apply to participate in the program on the CFDA's website. The board will select five designers to follow Timo Weiland for the 2016/2017 term, which will be publicly announced at the end of May. With today's uncertain retail landscape that tends to favor e-commerce over brick-and-mortar, this new program will likely prove invaluable to designers who've dreamed of opening their own stores and want to get to know their customers on a personal level, but who may not have the means. Luckily, Cadillac has made a three-year commitment to the Lab, so quite a few up-and-comers will get the chance to move in for a while.

The CFDA, Cadillac and Timo Weiland crew. Photo: BFA

The CFDA, Cadillac and Timo Weiland crew. Photo: BFA