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BY DESIGN : New York's Runaways From the Runways

October 27, 1994|DEBRA GENDEL | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

Two giant white tents went up in Bryant Park this week in preparation for the spring '95 New York collections. And, as always, renegade designers have made it a point to stage their shows elsewhere.

Two years ago, a group called 7th on Sixth decided to spare buyers and journalists the ordeal of traipsing all over Manhattan twice a year by presenting most of the shows in a central location.

For the most part, it worked. Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Richard Tyler--along with more than 50 other designers--will show their spring collections in the tents starting Saturday and ending Nov. 4.

What about the rest? Those who cannot afford the tents (which can cost as much as $25,000 per show) have come up with ingenious alternatives: a cavernous downtown nightclub, a tiny SoHo art gallery, a Fifth Avenue beauty salon, a coffee shop.

Kitty Boots is one of seven New York designers who plan to show their spring lines during what they're calling Alternative Fashion Week--several days before 7th on Sixth.

"Anything over $300 is out of my range," says Boots, who will show her spring Teddy Girls line Friday at Webster Hall. The 40,000-square-foot space, Boots notes, "is where the first anarchist balls were held in the early 1900s."

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But the most attractive aspect of Webster Hall is the price--next to nothing. Boots' models are personal friends, as is her music engineer.

"I think the concept of having the shows all in one place is good," she says, "but if they're going to charge such a high fee, it rules out a lot of designers."

The price of showing is not outrageously expensive, says Fern Mallis, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and 7th on Sixth. "But young designers just out of the starting gate don't necessarily belong in this venue yet. Clearly, this was created as a platform for the major designers."

Boots' entire line cost less than $4,000. "I'd much rather put the money into filling orders," says the designer, whose label is sold at Red Balls of Fire on Melrose Avenue, "than on a venue."

Lola Faturoti showed her fall collection at New York's African Museum. Her spring line will be unveiled in the plush comfort of the ABC Carpet & Home store, accompanied by "live Indian music."

Christian Blanken, former designer for Zoran and Michael Kors, will make his debut at the Jonathan Morr Gallery and Coffee House in SoHo.

And at the opposite end of the trendy spectrum is the local Howard Johnson, where Basco is staging its spring show. Coffee regular, anyone?

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Not all Bryant Park expatriates are youthful rebels or struggling up-and-comers. Design icon Geoffrey Beene considers himself "a runaway from runways."

As he did last season, the designer will show his spring line--a tribute to Santa Monica--on models and dancers. While models can work a narrow catwalk, dancers need an expanse of stage. So Beene's show will be presented at a theater in the Equitable Life building.

His decision, however, is not motivated solely by practical considerations. Asked by magazine editor Grace Mirabella why he avoided the Bryant Park tents, Beene recounts: "I told her I thought animals perform best under tents.

"She added, 'Comedians do too.' "

But as the pre-show countdown continues at Bryant Park, the atmosphere seems closer to controlled chaos than comedy.

"Command Center!" snaps a woman who answers the phone at the 7th on Sixth headquarters across the street.

There, a cafe has been set up for press and buyers, catered by Mad 61, the deli at Barneys New York. More phones have been installed to accommodate the 1,140 media members who will descend on the park.

And the weather?

"There was a downpour when the tents were going up," McCarthy says, "but it's supposed to warm up over the next few days."

All the better for modeling swimwear. And schlepping to out-of-the-way fashion shows.

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