Tradeshow Season

Anyone who’s worked in the industry in the States for at least a year knows how Vegas can be in late August. It’s that wonderful time of year when Project, Magic, the Exclusive, the Accessories Show, Pool, and ASAP all collide. It’s like turning the hose onto an anthill-thousands of fashionistas and wannabes scurrying this way and that, knocked about by an inescapable, mysterious force, silently screaming “save me! save me! please! oh for the love of McQueen, save me!”

Or that could just be me.


Make no mistake-I am about the most unfashionable designer ever. If I’m clean, professionally attired and armed with symmetrical eyebrows, I’m done. Being swallowed up and elbowed by wave after wave of pretty young things dressed to the hilt, armed with The It Accessories (multiple show badges and free Project bags) is not my idea of a good time.

That said, I had a great time in Vegas this time around. I wasn’t required to work the booth, so that in and of itself was fabulous. I got a great room. Some of my closest L.A. girlfriends were also there so we got to walk the shows together, in between unhurried meals and lots of laughing. Talking shop with two of my most amazing colleagues and fellow Otis veterans really got my juices going.* Nothing else gives me quite the same zing.

So my mission was to walk Project, Magic, and the Exclusive, to see where we need to be next season, because it’s about time we moved. I took a lot of mental notes, had a chance to sit down with my VP and mull over some things. We walked the shows separately, but ended up having similar ideas on how to proceed. My sales guys are going to have a collective heart attack, because as a rule, they hate change. Whatever, boys! It’s not up to you! If you lazy asses did your jobs, we wouldn’t have to force such drastic measures on you! (Um, I don’t particularly love our sales guys.)

But enough about work. I don’t like to delve into too much work details.

Project was fascinating. Super busy. The foot traffic just absolute madness. The utter atrocities that sell just shocks me. I’m telling you, ugly crap sells. It’s all about marketing and who you know and it makes me sick to my stomach. (It also makes me kinda hopeful that even my crap may sell.) It appeared to me that Project is for not-quite-established companies. It’s pretty inexpensive. (I think about $4500 compared to Magic’s $20,000 for the same amount of space.) You don’t need to decorate your booth with much. Just a couple of mannequins and racks of clothes. There were obviously a lot of more established labels there too, and they lined the “red carpet” with their big jazzed up booths. The outer edges were very quiet. My opinion is that it’s a good show for people who rely mainly on random foot traffic for sales, as opposed to appointments like the bigger dogs.

Magic was also fascinating, but in different ways. If you ever questioned how big and at the same time how small this industry is, just walk around Magic. Something weird happened to me at Magic. I became uncontrollabe cattiness personified, constantly whispering snide commentary to my friends. I felt like a sarcastic jerk robot in some nightmarish real-life version of the worst episode of MST3K ever, in which case, I guess K does stand for Karl. It was not pretty.

All the booths at Magic are decorated. Perry Ellis had its newest comic book style ad campaign blown up to 20′ tall. Levi’s had a staircase going up to a second floor. Others had fake plants and faker leather couches. They built small worlds in their booths, some bigger than the zoloft.** Magic is more organized in terms of grouping markets (designer mens, juniors, eveningwear, etc.), but it’s still very easy to get lost. At one point, I said, “Man, everyone is just doing the same thing! Wait, I’ve been here already. No, really, I think everyone is just doing the same thing. Ah! I can’t tell anymore!”

The West Coast Exclusive, compared to the other two, was like stepping into a mausoleum. Quiet. I’d write “zen” if it wasn’t for the unsavory aroma of desperation and day-old hot dogs in the air. Definitely a place people mostly went to if they were pointedly seeking out a particular label. More appointment based than the other two. Older crowd, mostly. Lots of shoes and ties, for some reason. Heavy on the menswear, save a row of contemporary womenswear, whose fresh colors and young, bored salesgirls looked completely out of place. Oh, and a booth for borderline fetish leather, which within the context of show, almost made me laugh out loud. My sales guys consider it the place for the “right kind of appointments”.

Anyway, those are just some notes on the shows from an exhibitor’s point of view. I’m sure others see it very differently than I do, especially the buyers. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. You can read my other rambling thoughts on this and other topics at my own blog here.

*I’m not sure if it’s just Otis or all other schools, but if you made it out of there alive and functioning in the industry, there’s this bond, even if you weren’t that close at school. So many go into the fashion department at Otis and never graduate, that if you made it all the way through, there’s some serious mutual respect going on, obviously some more than others. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. And yes, I ran into a lot of Otis kids in Vegas, of different classes, including a bunch I used to tutor, and it was definitely an acid trip down memory lane.

**The zoloft is the name of my apartment, because my name is Zoë and it’s a loft and people consider coming over to be a great antidepressant. Heehee.

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13 comments

  1. Judith says:

    I was wondering if the Zoloft had anything to do with the anti-depressant. I guess in a way it does. That’s nice that peeps want to come to your house. Thanks for writing about the show. The fees can be expensive I guess. I could not afford $20,000 to go to a show.

  2. marilynn says:

    Do you think this “ugly crap” is a product of the American culture that puts marketing ahead of creativity — and then consumers buy into this? It seems that London and Belgium designers are actually creative and their market appreciates it. Comments?

  3. J C Sprowls says:

    It’s been almost 15 [?] years since I lived in Europe. Among the things immediately noticeable, at least, to me, was the lack of consumerism. For the French, at least, shopping was more of an appreciation of what was available, rather than what to purchase.

    Personally, I ascribe to the European mindset of shopping/buying. The scarcity inherent in the model generates breadth of offering/skill, promotes brand loyalty, generates interest, and conserves waste.

  4. Judith says:

    It’s been 6 yrs since I’ve lived in London and 4 yrs since I’ve been there. I miss the lifestyle over there. Thank gawd for Barns & Nobles. I dont know what I would do if I could not look at the british magazines. I lucked into 2 british fashion mags on Fri. I got them from a thrift store. I bought 3 magazines for 73 cents what a deal I thought. The british mags are from 2005 but I have not read them before so I don;t care. The other magazine is Sept 2006 so I thought whoo hoo!!!

  5. Thomas Cunningham says:

    either I got a great deal at MAGIC or a tiny booth at project, because I paid about the same for both — the big difference is spending additional at MAGIC to make the booth look pretty.

  6. Danielle says:

    I have a question about applying to juried shows. What are the screening comittees looking for? If a show says it is looking for emerging designers-does that mean established but small? I applied to a show that is specifically for emerging designers but then I saw some very big names in fashion exibiting there, like Anna Sui. If I am applying to these shows for the first time where should I begin? If I get rejected should I keep applying over and over again?

  7. Laurel Wells says:

    I’ve never done a trade show before but I am finding that many buyers prefer to spend their budgets at the shows, rather than taking time out to meet me in their boutiques. Spending $5,000+ seems pretty scary to me, but then again if it’s going to generate more orders and (ultimately) save me time then I’m all for it. I have heard from other, more established designers that you should wait to do the shows until you know that you’ll do enough business to at least make your money back, but at this point I have had enough of hoofing it and dealing with surly buyers who would rather see me drop dead than take a moment to look at my collection!!! What should I do? Do you think it’s worth it to take the plunge and just do the shows?

  8. laura says:

    I’m new to this website and have found the posts really informative and interesting. I have the same question regarding tradeshows. I have researched a few that seem to specialize in emerging designers, and yet, as part of the screening, in addition to seeing your samples, they all want to know about your major acocunts and press. Isn’t the point of the tradeshow to garner new accounts and press? It’s a little frustrating. Does anyone have experience with getting into these more selective tradeshows? Any tips?

  9. fritz says:

    Is it wise to exhibit your line in both Project and Magic only a month apart? can that hurt the future of the brand? Will that confuse my targeted market? Please someone share your thoughts on this with me.

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