C'est la vie, fashion folks. The city of New York and Lincoln Center are evicting the invitation-only, twice-yearly Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in a court spat over destroyed trees and displaced park benches. A judge Friday approved a pretrial settlement in a complaint brought by community groups. They objected to the onslaught of the fashion industry at Damrosch Park, a 2.4-acre stretch on the Upper West Side that is adjacent to and managed by Lincoln Center.
The groups argued the insular nature of the fashion shows that draw top designers and hundreds of buyers, editors and journalists violate laws governing public use of the land. Each February and September, the stiletto-heeled hordes cram the Lincoln Center complex for eight days of runway shows and presentations held in a large temporary tent.
"We're going to get flowers and benches and there's going to be a park again," said Olive Freud, president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, one of the groups that filed the complaint in May 2013. "We're all very happy here."
The upcoming February Fashion Week will be held at Lincoln Center as scheduled but must find new digs after that. Andrew Serrano, a spokesman for IMG Fashion, which owns and produces Fashion Week, confirmed the settlement Thursday. The settlement does not include any admission of wrongdoing or cover other private events held on the land, including the Big Apple Circus, a ticket event that is open to the public.
Fashion Week for years had been held in Bryant Park. In search of more space, it moved to the Lincoln Center area in 2010. Freud said Damrosch had been public park since 1969. "We objected to the whole idea of demolishing a park and of throwing the public out and of making this a place for raising money," she said. "Private people aren't supposed to be making money on it."
Many designers had tired of the Lincoln Center location's box-like spaces and hurried turnaround between shows, choosing edgier, more atmospheric spaces in downtown Manhattan and even Brooklyn that allow greater creativity in how shows are presented. Of more than 300 shows, less than 100 were held at Lincoln Center in recent years, with more leaving each time Fashion Week rolled around.
Serrano said IMG had already been actively looking for a new Fashion Week home to give "designers and partners the best possible environment to share their creative visions."
Susan Scafidi, a founder and academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School, said the legal doctrine cited in the case is based on a principle about as old as fashion itself. "The lawsuit rested on the public trust doctrine, a legal principle dating back to Roman times that requires the state to protect certain areas of land against privatization and to preserve public access," she said.
"Even though Lincoln Center manages Damrosch Park on behalf of the city, it's still public land. New York Fashion Week is all about who's 'in' and who's 'out' — and when it comes to the tents, the general public is definitely 'out.'"