Fashion drawing is created by Leonid Gurevich for Anya Caliendo.
My Grandfather, who served as a member of diplomatic mission from USSR in China used to say : "Information is key to power". The more you know, the more you will advance, the more chances you will have to make correct, loss free decisions. This series of articles on The business Of Millinery (with Part 1 right HERE) is designed to give you a valuable insights into what otherwise known as "the best kept secrets". Well, no longer...I hope my experience to a degree will help you in advancement of your own Millinery brand and as a result, will contribute to the powerful presence of modern day American Millinery Art as a strong, flourishing, exquisite and unique industry with in its own right. I believe with all my heart that together we can make it happen.
# 1 thing to always keep in mind is the fact that the creation of Couture Millinery Collection is just one of the steps in complex process of presenting it to the world. It is not an easy task, as I usually say: there is no easy steps in Millinery. You either live and fly with it, either sink. We, as Milliners, all have to pay so-called "business tuition" which often comes at a very expensive price tag. "Business tuition" is what you end up loosing before learning how to gain. I had my share of losses and for the most part I had to find my way via trial and error because, as I mentioned in my previous post, information on certain aspects of Millinery business is nowhere to be found. No one is generous enough to sit you down and explain how any of this works. At this point, I am not sure that any of the American Milliners working in Couture really know the ins and outs of the industry.
One of my favorite quotes is: "If the opportunity doesn't knock, start creating a door." I think it is safe to say - building doors should be as important to you as creating new fabulous designs. Let's leave the subject of exposing your work via well known social platforms outside of this post for just a little bit. Social networks are extraordinarily important and often present the only gateway for the Milliner to position his/her work to the unlimited audience on more manageable budget. This subject deserves a separate post which I am working on right now and will post shortly.
Today the subject of the conversation is "The Art Of Millinery Presentation". How does it really happen? What are the options? How much does it cost with in the main stream Fashion Industry? And, finally, is it really necessary? Several years ago, when I just opened my Millinery Atelier I had very little or close to non idea about the culture and ethics of presenting solo Millinery Collection. I thought that the process stops as soon as you design the Collection: beautiful hats are all it takes. I was armed with tones of enthusiasm and strong vision of what I wanted my brand to become. I conducted very serious research on how, when and where to present my Collections. I was absolutely dumbfounded with realization that in the US the culture of Millinery Presentations (and I mean high quality, industry standard presentations) is absent from the scene. Two or three presentations popped up here and there, but all were done outside of the official New York Fashion Week and had very little or close to non press coverage. And so, along the way, as a new Milliner, I ended up presenting in Paris. The first Presentation happened for me in THE BOX venue, in the very heart of Paris Fashion District on legendary Rue Cambon under the umbrella of Paris Fashion Week.
The second was at the "Premiere Classe" in Paris the following year after THE BOX. And all though both showings went better than I could possibly imagine, generously sprinkled with new contacts and countless glasses of champagne, the strenuous work that went into preparations leading to the shows drained almost all joy out of it. Just to give you an idea of the cost and effort that goes into presenting in the venues like this: you have to create an adequate, fresh, relevant Collection, get approval for participation in the venue, pay for the space which is usually 5,500 Euro per four days of showing (this is a minimum price for the 4' X 4' standard booth, the price increases according to the size of the space you choose), book a round trip airfare, hotel, pay fees to the Customs for transporting collection so that the Collection doesn't get confiscated by the Customs on the way back to New York. Customs is a very difficult story and they usually require 50% of the cost of the Collection as refundable deposit, along with tones of paperwork. Don't forget, you also have to transport mannequins and displays to make sure your booth presentation is immaculate. Of course, there are rental options in Paris, but the price is usually so high that it ends up being cheaper to bring everything with you. As a reward you get to meet buyers from all over the globe who place their orders for the hat styles of their choosing right there and than. You are able to process all transactions right there and than and do business for the entire duration of the exhibits. Overall, the risk to be left in the red is very high. Mainly due to so many other expenses along the way like, for example, paying for your assistant. It is physically impossible to do all of the above by yourself and so assistant is a must. At the end of the day, you need to sit down and while carefully considering all expenses, decide if your Collection is strong enough to produce the kind of sales able to cover all of it + bring profit.
I felt Paris was a great place for me to start and I do not regret doing it, but at the end of the day - Paris is an Ocean away and since my Atelier is based in New York, naturally, I wanted to build solid base for business here.
Participation is MBFW has been a life long dream for me and one of my greatest accomplishments so far not only as an American Milliner, but a Milliner who is striving for personal professional advancement and,above all, advancement of modern day Art of Couture Millinery. I was naive in thinking that presenting on professional level here, in New York, will be less costly than in Paris...So what does it take to present on the highest level ? It takes A LOT! Not only in terms of strong, versatile, well thought through collection (which is a huge part of it too) but in terms of approval and capability to sustain costs too. First step is to be approved by IMG and since solo Millinery Presentations are so few and far in between, this along can be a challenge with in its own right.
The quality of the designs, craftsmanship, your vision in general, the values you stand for as a professional take center stage. Be prepared to go through countless meetings and be the greatest advocate for your art. Once you have passed this stage, endless row of technical moments kick in. For example: physically preparing for Presentation. Every step of it has to be properly coordinated with the industry representatives to make sure that your Presentation is up to the industry standard. This is where PR representation becomes very valuable. Your PR will handle all ins and outs of organizational moments, as a middle man between you and the Industry. You will be asked to produce Presentation lay outs via special computer programs, you will be asked to submit for approval every single prop you would want to bring to the set of the Presentation, every single display style, your Invitation images, your press release text, your preliminary Look Book appearance and even models - all subject for approval. Your PR will be responsible for getting sponsor participation of make up/ hair/ nail teams sent by the best brands in the Industry. All of it with a single idea in mind - to make sure that your Presentation is done in the most professional way. The price tag will reflect all of it. After all, Fashion Week as a premier event, everyone makes money on it ! And this means, everyone will make money on your participation too. You will end up paying premier prices for every single service required.
With in the past 10-15 years, the prices of shows, presentations and supportive services costs increased dramatically. Just to give you an example: the first ever Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show had a tiny budget compared to today’s fashion extravaganzas. The 1995 show (which was not televised) had a budget of $120,000. The show of 2012 had a budget of $12 million. I know this is a large scale but even for much smaller shows and presentation modern budgets are catastrophically overpriced. In my opinion, this fact makes it almost impossible for new brands to sustain regular presence with in the context of main stream Fashion Industry. Even more so in Millinery - where the scale of Presentation is usually very compact due to the nature of the hats.
Once again, let's look at the menu, shall we? Show production for a single show by professional PR firm will run you somewhere between 25,000$ to 35.000$ - and I am not talking about catwalk shows. I am talking strictly Presentation style. The prices for the venue which are limited by the Industry will also leave you, how should I put it mildly, in the state of quite frustration. Keep in mind that venues are limited not because there are no alternative spaces for Presentations, but because it is extraordinarily important that the venue you present in is located with in the so-called "fashion path" - close proximity to Lincoln Center so that editors and stylists can easily make it from one show to another without wasting too much time on travelling back and forth. Mind you, as a new designer on the scene, you are encouraged to go for Presentation at Lincoln Center because you will have more success attracting more audience by simply being with in the Lincoln Center. Makes all the sense in the world: for many your name is still too unfamiliar to travel somewhere else to see what you have to offer.
Lincoln Center is a subject I would like to touch on separately. It is a great venue for presenting Apparel Collection. If you are a designer of clothes this is, indeed, the place to present in. Fabulous catwalk spaces, generous backstage areas. Unfortunately, it is not geared up toward housing Accessory Presentations. This is due to the enormous spaces with high ceilings and all black backdrops which creates tremendous amount of negative space. It looks too industrial, too commercial and lacks that sense of chic Paris is so famous for.
Negative space is your greatest enemy. With negative space all around, you would have to put triple effort into making sure it is visually filled. There is nothing worse that Presentation with the effect of "lost in space" when due to a negative space all your displays become small and insignificant in proportion to the surroundings. Not even most beautiful, editorial hats will be able to save the day. Negative space has to be filled and that's where props nightmare usually kicks in. "Props" is perhaps the scariest, most overwhelming word to the ear of any designer. Props are capable of quadrupling the price tag of your Presentation in a heart beat. "Props" are additional to displays objects used on stage or on set during Presentation. They have to be eye catching, theatrical, visually irresistible because remember - it is all about how your Presentation will photograph by the press. If it photographs well - you will get an enormous press coverage, if not - it is your loss. Plain and simple.
Besides it, props have to highlight your Presentation in a way that compliments your designs. A single prop depending on the design can cost you anywhere from 1,500$ to tens of thousands depending on the size and complexity. One of the designers I know had a beautiful idea of creating large over sized jewelry box as a prop for her Presentation. Nothing too dramatic 3' X 2.5' with white finish. The price quote provided for this job by a prop company - 9,000$. You will end up having an additional bill for transporting it to the venue of Presentation. Add to it a separate bill for assembling props and presentation set because it is a venue policy that you or anyone on your team is prohibited to handle set assembly. It is all done by the staff of the venue who are paid much more for their labor because these people are union workers. The same goes for dismantling and loading everything back to the truck once Presentation is over. You do the math.
Additional mandatory items on the menu are: 1. Music. You are required to pay for every single song to make sure there is no breach of copyright law and you will be requested to provide proof of purchase - this will run you several hundred dollars. And this is the least expensive of two options with the second one being a DJ. Not just any DJ, but a celebrity DJ. The cost - 5,000$ 2. Catering for the entire crew which includes your team, beauty team, models, workers on the set - starting from 1,500$ . 3. Once again, venue provided crew of workers who are responsible for assembling and dismantling the set of your Presentation. - 1,500$ 4. Dressers, people who are responsible for dressing models - depending on the number of the models participating in the show you would need one dresser per model - $2,000 for all dressers on the set. 5. Insurance purchase - 750$. 6.Venue cost - Presentation venue at Lincoln Center - 18,000$ for the smaller venue . 6 Steamers, communicational radio sets 25$ a piece with minimum of 5.
Venue at 18,000$ will buy you 4 hours only. It means that with in this time frame the previous Presentation has to be dismantled, venue cleaned out, your Presentation has to be assembled, models have to be dressed, styled and prepped, hats placed on displays and the show must go on. 4 hours include 3 hours of prep time and 1 hour for the show itself. The rhythm of the entire experience is stressful and overwhelming. Your only way to preserve your sanity is to have couple of drinks and a very strong, capable team of people who know exactly what to do, how to do and do it efficiently without asking you gazillion questions here and there. It would be unfair for me to tell you that this enormous effort doesn't pay off, because the truth is it does. Providing that your Collection is strong and everything is done correctly and in accordance with Industry standard, the returns are wonderful. You will end up with tremendously increased sales, you will be invited to work with the best names in the industry. The quality of editorial work will increase and your name will be forever written into the book of Fashion Industry contributors.
And so here you have it. Of course, alternative Millinery Presentation always remain an open option. By "alternative" I mean those Presentation that run outside of the main stream Fashion events. They are more cost manageable with every single decision under your full control. It doesn't mean that decision making process becomes any easier or that the number of decisions to be made goes dramatically down. Remember, that the goal, whether you choose to go via mains stream fashion Presentation or independent one, always remain the same: maximum exposure for your Millinery brand, maximum press coverage, maximum result. Otherwise you just invested in a really expensive party that a week from now will be just that - expensive party.
The images of the Collection would still have to be superb prior to the release (known better as Look Book images), editorial images (the expression of more artistic side of your Collection) as well as the images done during the Presentation. The way you present the Collection, style it would still play a huge role. The location would still matter a great deal, the guest list would still have to be constructed with very careful thought with the main emphasis on guests who represent key fashion publications, influential figures of the industry, press and so on. And this is where you will feel the need for PR reps more than anywhere else. Coveted lists of press are usually priced at several thousands dollars and do not guarantee that the information is accurately updated. The rotation of staff in the magazines is usually very high, which means that the e-mail address of the accessorily editor, for example, may no longer be valid since it is a usual practice to "close" the e-mail address assigned to the staff member once the staff member is promoted or no longer with publication. If you decided to go with PR representation you will end up paying thousands of dollars and the lists of the key people in the industry with all contact info in tact will remain the property of PR. You will not see a glimpse of it. It is in a way a great money maker for PR firms because in order to obtain industry contacts you will have no other choice but to enlist PR services season after season to stay current.
In my opinion and from what I have observed so far, majority of alternative Millinery Presentations helplessly sink. It is especially painful to see when you realize the amount of effort that goes into putting them together. There are several reasons for disappointing outcome: 1. Poorly thought through budget. 2. Inadequate location 3. Bad lighting and as a result bad quality of the images. 4. Unprofessional photographers on the set. I insist that photographer must be a fashion photographer. Not a wedding photographer, not the guy who specializes in architectural photography or occasionally does family photography on the weekends to supplement his income. The photographer must be familiar with the certain rules of photographing models in motion, angels as well as static displays. 5. Bad model casting. Don't kid yourself thinking that your pretty next door neighbor will do. Or, perhaps, your good looking family member. Not a chance. And, by the way, let's leave that "real women" wearing hats BS aside too. If you want to run Presentation which has nothing to do with presenting it in accordance with industry standard than don't be surprised when you see very little returns. Yes, the standard is high. Yes, it is difficult. Deal with it. Instead ask yourself this: does the Art of Couture Millinery deserve to be presented to the highest standard, with the best effort, with the same very effort you put into designing every single piece of your Collection? If your answer is "no", well, than you don't deserve to be called a "milliner". As I say once and again - real women do not buy hats to look like everyday women, they buy a dream, a fantasy 6. Untested beauty teams (make up, hair) and finally 7. Weak guest list. Any of this points can bring the quality of your Presentation down.
The sad part is the majority of Millinery Presentations always incorporate some of this points and more often almost all of this points at once. The immediate damage to you, as a milliner, will be apparent without a doubt. But above that, the damage on how modern Couture Millinery is viewed is often beyond repair. Poorly presented Millinery Collections contribute to the cliché view of the industry in general as the bunch of dusty "Mad Hatters" (hate this expression, by the way!), who somehow got lost in time. No edge, no vision, no very knowledge of how to present their own creations in a way that is relevant to today.
Here are my key recommendations:
- Meticulously budget your presentation. Make sure to create an "expense sheet" with every single expense, no matter how small or large" carefully listed.
- Location. Very important to consider the benefits of all options and select option that will benefit your goal best. Remember to address negative spaces vs. constricted spaces. Neither one of them is a good option for you. I wrote about negative spaces above. Constrictive spaces (low ceilings, bright coloring of the walls) - will produce suffocating effect, it will show in the images and it will not look good.
- The best type of Millinery presentation is so-called mixed presentation. Millinery Collections presented exclusively on models run high risk of underdeliverining. Yes, this is correct - underdelivering. It is extremely difficult to style a model with a a hat as focal point. You must be very couscous of styling models in such a way that nothing takes attention away from the hat. Did you know that many of the apparel designers who present during MBFW in New York hire or have stylists on staff who are responsible for styling their Collection? Another words, putting pieces of the produced clothing together? It seems that apparel designer should know better than anyone how to present his/her own Collection and yet the help of the third party is enlisted... Styling catwalk where hats are the center of attention is even more difficult, not to mention costly. In addition, putting smaller designs on models almost guarantees you that no one will notice detailing of the hat or even its general design. Presenting Millinery Collection exclusively on static mannequins is also a very poor choice. Images of hats on mannequins are always least desirable by press. A lot of the times quality of displays is a huge issue (especially in the US). Invest in good quality head displays - they will serve you well for years to come. You want to make sure that you have the best of both options to offer. Part of the hats of your Millinery Presentation should be displayed on live models. Choose the hats for the models wisely. Make sure that they wear "loud" (in a good way) hats. Hats that are editorial, colorful, large, unique, show stoppers - this will bring attention of press and photographers. Place smaller designs on mannequins. This way your guests will have an option of a closer look to appreciate detailed work, quality of the materials and overall craftsmanship.
- Make sure to have professional models. Did you know that not every model is considered to be an industry standard model? Many editors and stylists respond better to a certain type of models. Always tall, size 0 or 2. All you have to do is to look at the models who are presenting during big fashion events. Cast them very carefully, make sure that their facial features and condition of the skin is impeccable. By the way, this is probably the only reason why younger models are more preferable. Remember that hat is always about the face of the lady who wears it. Keep in mind that make up, no matter how professional it is, will magnify all imperfections and since Presentation is always a "close encounter" it makes sense to be very picky and choosy about your models. Make sure girls move freely and are not afraid of camera. Presentations are very different from catwalk shows and often even more experienced on the catwalk models "freeze" in Presentation setting.
- Professional lighting. I can not stress enough how important it is to any Presentation. Many of the times, professional lighting is not considered at all and I think it is a huge mistake. The difference between the images produced with professional lighting vs. natural lighting is enormous. Bad quality images will bring your press exposure to a dangerous minimum.
- Make sure to test make up well before the Presentation. Running test make up on models prior to the event is a must. This will ensure the quality and will help you to determine if what you had in mind for the make up options does indeed work in reality.
- Have professional photographer work on the set. Good quality images will go a long way for you not only in the immediate aftermath of the Presentation, but long after. Start building photo library for your own brand. This will come handy when dealing with the press inquiries and creating powerful presence via social network platforms like Official Face Book page of your Millinery, Instagram account.
- Be consistent. Make sure to have Presentation, even if they are on the smaller scale, with every release of your new Collection. This will ensure the currency of your operation and will help to staple your name in the minds of large audience. Another words, be present.
-Work on you verbal presentation. Many times correctly written press releases are overlooked by Milliners. You need to make sure that you present very clear description of not every single hat name by name, but also materials used and, of course, inspiration behind your Collection. This is your chance to control how press will view your Collection and how they will describe the Presentation.
- Make sure that supportive elements are carefully thought through. Your signature colors, your packaging, you logo, your tags - everything has to be put together in cohesive manner.
Finally, it is my personal belief that hard work always pays off. Whether you choose to be an independent Milliner working in Couture or a be a part of the group, make sure to maintain your own identity. For me, being an independent Milliner works better. I believe that there is absolutely nothing you can't not achieve standing on your own, providing you have a good head on your shoulders. You and only you can influence the prosperity of your own brand. So, be informed, keep creating beautifully made hats, believe in yourself and I can guarantee you will have no limits to what you can achieve. :-)