New York’s fading Garment District will be seeing some fresh faces next year, with the creation of an incubator for young designers in a former showroom on West 38th Street. Kliment Halsband Architects will be renovating the third-floor space, creating studios leased at below market rates to 12 fashion designers who will be chosen via a competition next year.
The fashion business incubator will be the fourth in a series of incubators launched by the Bloomberg administration this year to encourage entrepreneurs to locate in New York, and represents a larger city initiative to nurture the city’s dwindling fashion industry. Originally conceived by Eric Gural, executive managing director for building owner Newmark Knight Frank, the project will be funded by a $200,000 grant from the New York City Economic Development Corporation over the next three years and managed by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
The roughly 10,000-square-foot space will feature an interior “boulevard” running between two banks of studios and ending in a communal kitchen. Kliment Halsband principal Frances Halsband hopes that the shared boulevard and kitchen will foster community spirit among the designers. “Part of our thinking was that they might get together to do things cooperatively, like a fashion show,” she said. The boulevard is lined with movable chairs like a runway, and the arrangement of fluorescent lighting mimics that of a fashion show. “Along the boulevard, the lighting is all diagonals shooting across the space in a random way,” Halsband said.
The layout of the studios incorporates input from designer focus groups. Originally, the plan had been to divide each studio equally into a front showroom and a private back workspace. That idea was scrapped after discovering a wide variation regarding priorities for public and private space. “Some of the designers were very protective,” Gural recalled. “They didn’t want other designers to see any of their work in progress.”
Halsband and colleague Natalie Rebuck decided to install movable partitions that can be shifted away from the studio’s “storefront” to create more showroom space, or toward the storefront to create more work space. Halsband also anticipates that designers will want maximum control over their studio’s aesthetic, so she limited her color palette to the deep red bricks and gray concrete of the preexisting showroom.
In addition to the below-market-rate studio space, the incubator will provide designers with access to a mentoring program run by the CFDA, so they will have a resource to consult for questions about anything from locating fabric to shipping goods. “It’s not just going to be, ‘Here’s the keys, knock yourself out,’” Gural said.
A version of this article appeared in AN 19_11.18.2009.