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'Concept' Out to Refocus L.A.'s Fashion Week

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, March 22, 2010, at 12:10AM
Concept FW Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Brady Westwater and Mike Vensel stand inside the Spring Arts Tower space where this week they will stage the first Concept Fashion Week.

When Mike Vensel finished up production of his Kitten Fashion Week in March 2007, the designer swore he was done as an event producer. Turns out, he just couldn't stay away.

Vensel and Downtown cowboy Brady Westwater hope to put the focus back on designers with this week's Concept Fashion Week, stripping away much of the silliness that has come to define L.A. Fashion Week.

"I think one of the problems with L.A. Fashion Week is that put in the hands of the wrong people it can be mismanaged and misproduced and turned into something sort of silly and trivial," Vensel explains.

"If you're trying to do a Fashion Week in Hollywood and sell tickets on Ticketmaster to the general public, press and buyers don't want to go."

For a show to be successful, designers need to see the event translate into orders. "One of the keys to doing these shows is having buyer attendance," Vensel says. "If you don't have buyer attendance and nobody buys the line, it's not worth doing for the designer.

Concept's two nights of shows are timed to coincide with the Fall Fashion Market, and the duo believes that buyers Downtown to visit the showrooms of the Fashion District can be convinced to come up the street to see new collections. The Cooper Design Space, one of a handful of major showroom buildings clustered around 9th and Los Angeles, is one of Concept's sponsors. Westwater says that other market buildings will be in attendance for the shows.

"There's a great opportunity to showcase talent that's here," Vensel says. "It just has to be managed the right way by people that care about fashion, that really know what the designers want, what the press want, what the buyers want."

Vensel says he would rather just focus on doing his own show than producing an event, but as fashion week's traditional March dates grew closer and some scheduled runway shows fell off the calendar, Westwater's call to action was too much to resist.

With less than a month between that first call and Monday's first shows, the production schedule has been rushed. "Every day since we first met [to start planning], there's been this checklist of 'Can we do this? Can we get this?'" Vensel says. "So far, everything's come together."

Six runway shows are scheduled -- Chelsea Rebelle, B. Scott and Fremont show Monday, with Jen Awad, martinMARTIN and The Batallion slated for Tuesday -- along with seven designer installations. Westwater says that press requests have been overwhelming; his biggest worry on Sunday was how to have enough seating in place.

The show has also succeeded in getting sponsors on board, the most noticeable of which is Smashbox Studios. The firm's breakup with event producer IMG in the fall of 2008 left Los Angeles without an anchor runway event, creating the scattered environment of recent seasons. While that has fostered creativity, it has also led to instability. Shows pop up at the last second -- or sometimes cancel out of expected roles.

Vensel and Westwater plan to make Concept a stable part of future fashion weeks. Once this week's shows are over, planning will begin for the next season's event, which would take place in October.

"Obviously it's better if there's this continuation of something and there's this consistency," Vensel says. "Then you say 'Oh, I went to those shows last season and I liked them. It's going again this season, I'll go again.' It takes the guesswork out of it for the press and buyers."


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