An Inside Look at Fashion Week Venues … and the History Behind Them

By  September 04, 2013

Photo by Allan Zepeda

In a city of a million buildings such as New York, it can be impossible for designers to choose a location that speaks to the collection without detracting from the designs. Jennifer Blumin, President and Founder of Skylight Group solved that problem with her venues, which include Skylight at Moynihan Station and Skylight Modern. From the historical aspect to the aesthetic touches, her locations provide not only a home for designers to showcase their latest creations but a backdrop that involves without overwhelming. This year, Blumin is working with designers including Rag & Bone, Edun, Phillip Lim 3.1, Prabal Gurung, Y3, and MM6. Glam caught up with the influential player on the scene as the stylish set heads into Fashion Week.

How did you get your start? 

My background definitely did not drive me to this. It was following opportunities that sounded good [that would lead] to the right place. I have liberal arts background but I was hating my corporate job out of college. I met this crazy Israeli billionarie through a friend who was doing a profile on him for the New York Observer offered me the job to turn his amazing penthouse into an event space so i jumped ship from my corporate hellhole and started this business for him. That was in 2000. I learned enough doing that about how to manage a venue. I learned what clients want and how this business could work. I opened my own space with a partner, Skylight Soho, in 2004 and that quickly became the home of Ralph Lauren for 14 seasons. That whole block got bought by Related Companies last year so we lost the space and it’s about to be knocked down but we had an amazing run where we had Jason Wu‘s Target launch, the first annual CFDA where Proenza Schouler won the award, and the CFDA Awards for years after. We were the exclusive space for Ralph Lauren. Beyond that, we had a big event for Chanel, Burberry, Zegna’s mens fashion show, Monique L’huillier; it really ran the gamut – not just fashion shows but fashion industry parties too. The Cartier after party was great because it was the first debut of Beyonce and Jay Z in public after Blue Ivy was born.  

What attracts you to a venue?

I’m attracted to these venues is because of their history. As much as fashion is forward thinking, I think it’s important to tether things to the past. Skylight Soho was a former longshoreman’s meeting hall because that area on Hudson Street was at one point in time filled with dock workers. It was this big open space where they could meet and go for drinks around the corner. To have this later incarnation of these buildings is really what I’ve hung my hat on and it’s finding the beautiful parts of a building with an industrial past but playing on those features to still create a black canvas. Not a glass box blank canvas, something that still speaks to New York’s history. I do think that when New York is so forward thinking and it’s onto the next, it seems too fleeting too ephemeral but when you’re in something that speaks to a history and you have a sense of the building’s history, it gives the product you’re showing more staying power. That seems to be part of what attracts many of these brands to our spaces.

Why do designers love to work with your spaces?

We have a one show per day policy so the designer can really build out the space to suit their brand. It’s not like the tents where you just change the lighting on the runway and change the music. While I understand the collections are about the clothes, it’s also about the environment.

Photo by Allan Zepeda

Do you have instances of designers choosing a location based on the history of the location?

For example when we did Olivier Theyskens‘ Theory, he set it at Skylight at Moynihan Station. His collection was very white. What attracted him to the space was the lustrous black quality of the floors so his models were literally reflected in the black tiles of the floors. The reason the floors were black tiles is because it was a former mail sorting room and the best way to see mail, which is mostly white, was against a black background so the floors were this amazing black color that you cannot find today for that reason. It’s ironic and amazing that a quality that would be used for such an industrial and menial job of sitting there and sorting mail, that same feature can be used to showcase an iconic fashion brand.

Tommy Hilfiger hosted his show last September on the Highline. (See top photo) It was a beach resort look. In doing that you’re still marching down a former railroad track and you can’t lose that idea because everyone is very well aware of what the Highline is. It’s a different take on it now. it’s the views of the city, the river, the buildings behind you. Many of the views in the areas where they have shows are still from 100 years ago, it’s not in the areas where the condos that are going up on the North side of the Highline. You’re showcasing something so based on the future, but it’s all linked to the past. Calvin Klein interned and was one of those people rolling carts through the garment district and was a tailor. Fashion is a glamours business only up to a point but the people who become the top designers had to use a needle and thread to get to where they are now. The industrial functionality ties very well with fashion for that reason.

Skylight at Moynihan Station was the former place where the trucks came in to deliver the mail which then got sorted, it has a beautiful skylight, to for any architectural purpose but it was because it was the most functional way to light the space. everyone gravitated towards haven their show under the light to have the natural light come through. Rag & Bone last year wet the runway so they made it a slick garage-y surface to play off that fact.

Pretty much any time we talk anyone in, we talk to them about the history. Designers and creative people usually are interested. Theyskens was very into it.

KC Room Shot[1]

Looking to this season, what can we expect?

Prabal Gurung was obsessed with the floors but also the catwalk that goes through the space. There’s spectator observations tunnels. Before they invented the camera, the only way to supervise the people sorting the mail was through lookout galleries. You didn’t know when you were being watched so people would walk through these tunnels and never see the light of day. But they would be looking at the people sorting the mail. If you uplight it and play off it the right way, it’s amazing. the ceilings are 47 feet.

Ralph Lauren really wanted a home and the exclusive was very important to them. They take the space for three weeks and build to fit the collection. they’ll use some of our existing building but they’ll build walls, ceilings, flooring. They build the business upon and are the most extreme example.

If there’s one building you’d love to take over, what would it be? 

Where the Highline terminated, which is where Ralph Lauren is showing at 550 Washington Street. I love the idea of events on the Highline but [especially where it] finishes because it’s where the trains stopped and unloaded or got distributed to go to other places.