Cadillac is furthering its commitment to the fashion industry with its announcement that it has provided grants to seven menswear designers showing at NYFW: Men’s. The grants — an unknown sum that will go directly toward each brand’s runway show this week — are the latest in a string of moves Cadillac has made outside the fashion week sponsor norm since it hopped on board in 2015.
“Cadillac’s partnership is not traditional in that the ROI is determined by how they have helped a designer evolve their business,” said Steven Kolb, the president of the Council of Fashion Designer’s of America. “There will always be brand value [for sponsors], but the success of the designer is what drives Cadillac.”
Although the company has held shows at Cadillac House for three seasons now, this is the first time it will be picking up the tab. “We wanted to encourage designers to think outside the box, beyond the boundaries of a traditional runway show, and explore alternative ways to showcase their collection,” said Nathan Tan, the associate director of brand partnerships and experiences at Cadillac.
Crowds gather outside Cadillac House during NYFW: Men’s
Although the automotive company is not the primary sponsor of the men’s week — that title remains unfilled since Amazon opted out, amicably, in February — it has embedded itself in the event as if gunning for the role. In April of 2016, it partnered with the CFDA to launch its Retail Lab concept, a revolving incubator for young designers that allows them to custom design a retail space as they see fit. It also provides them with mentorship in business development, marketing, public relations and retail logistics. It’s become an important testing ground for upstart designers, including Timo Weiland and Public School, wanting to experiment with brick-and-mortar.
A month later, the car company debuted Cadillac House, the 12,000-square-foot ground-floor space of its Manhattan headquarters that plays host to the Retail Lab storefronts, as well as runway shows, presentations and other fashion industry events. The chameleonic location is where this season’s grant awardees, including Todd Snyder and Robert Geller, will put on their shows.
“It’s such a great space; it has all the technology you could hope for,” said Snyder, who created a special video to play pre-show across the House’s widespread video displays and staged a live performance from Lewis Del Mar throughout his show, which took place last night. Those displays include digital colonnades, or structural columns that form rows on either side of the runway and double as tall video screens. According to the Cadillac team, designers have also been given free rein in the space when designing their runway and presentation layouts, and can make use of the built-in lounge area to set up a coffee or cocktail bar as needed.
“We wanted designers to feel as though they could make the space their own and utilize the extra funding how they best saw fit,” said Tan. Although each designer shared early show concepts with Cadillac and the CFDA to demonstrate their ideas (the main criteria for their selection), those funding decisions were largely left up to designers’ discretion. Viewers can expect to see the designers on deck using the hub to explore themes ranging from government surveillance to the paranormal throughout the week, as well as hosting a musical showcase featuring the rapper Yung Jake.
Brett Johnson’s fall 2017 Show at Cadillac House
“I’ve been going to the shows for twenty-something years, back when it was Olympus Fashion Week and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. I never really understood what the value was to the actual sponsors, other than having that name impression made millions of times, but in a very small way,” said Eric Wilson, the fashion news director at InStyle. Cadillac, he said, seems to be doing something more substantial.
“What impressed me about Cadillac House is that anyone can walk into it and be a part of it,” he said. “It’s in [Tribeca], which is not hugely high-traffic, but it does draw a very stylish customer because there are some really great stores and fashion PR agencies nearby. Making them aware of what Cadillac is actually doing with these designers is really smart.”
What’s more, sponsor grants like Cadillac’s should be more of a given, he said, noting that even supposedly “bare bones” fashion shows cost around $20,000 and can reach half a million for larger brands. “That can bankrupt a designer,” he said. “They’re not going to give away their brand equity for free; they want something in return.”
Kolb certainly agrees, calling the Cadillac partnership a case study for future partners: “An investment in the designers’ mission or purpose needs to come first.”