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E! Is Making Plans to Give U.S. Style the Star Treatment

February 02, 2001|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

With the announcement this week that the Los Angeles-based E! Network's two cable outlets, E! and Style, will be expanding to provide live and daily coverage of the runway fashion shows in New York's Bryant Park, American designers stand to reach audiences way beyond the usual band of retailers and editors.

From Feb. 8 to 17, the duration of Fashion Week, news crews from E! and Style will be filming runway shows and commentary from a panel of fashion experts to be featured in daily, two-hour broadcasts beginning at 5 p.m. Pacific time on the Style network, said Mindy Herman, president and chief executive of E! Networks. On Style, each day's show will be repeated nonstop throughout the week. In addition, E! will broadcast a highlights show at 7 p.m. from Feb. 12 to 17.

In another first, the $1 million production of hip-hop mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs' fall menswear show will be the first to be broadcast live from the Bryant Park tents on both E! and Style in a special two-hour program beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 10. The show will feature footage of the extensive preparations as well as the live show of his Sean John collection.

For the E! Networks, the Sean John show is a gold mine. "It is that perfect combination for us where entertainment and celebrity meet fashion and celebrity," Herman said. "I've been sworn to secrecy, but there are going to be some terrific surprises at the show."

If the past is any indication, the fashion show just might give Combs some much-needed good press. This week, he received some unwanted extra exposure as his trial on gun possession and bribery charges began in New York State Supreme Court. He's gone all-out for his fashion show--renting the largest venue at Bryant Park for the entire day, and spending more than $100,000 on invitations, according to a spokesman.

Instead of laying low during his trial, Combs is aiming to make a big impression, especially on those outside of fashion's tight circles. "This is becoming an event that people look forward to," said Jeffrey Tweedy, executive vice president for Sean John. The show budget is nearly double that of last year's, he said, and nearly double the cost of most elaborate fashion shows.

Though the Sean John company plans to spend $4.7 million on advertising this year, the exposure from the E! shows is priceless. "They have 85 million viewers," said Tweedy. "Do the math on that."

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Still, several designers such as Bill Blass, TSE, Vera Wang, and Randolph Duke are skipping the runways this season, while former big spenders Tommy Hilfiger and John Bartlett downsize their presence.

Meanwhile, fashion intrigue builds as the Bill Blass collection attempts to regain footing following the legendary designer's retirement in 1999. Blass' replacement, Steven Slowick, was fired in early January after only one season on the job. A few days later, a design assistant, Lars Nilsson, was named to the design post.

Blass executives had been on the prowl for other talent before firing Slowick and naming Nilsson to the design post, however. Weeks before the staff shuffle, Blass executives approached evening wear designer James Purcell about taking over the design job, he said this week. Previously, long before Slowick was hired, Purcell had also been in the running to replace Blass.

Purcell said he opted to forgo a show this season as he waited for news of his possible appointment (it never came), and while he negotiated other business changes.

In the aftermath, he's heading to Paris later this month to explore opportunities with fashion houses there.

Valli Herman-Cohen can be reached at valli.herman-cohen@latimes.com.

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