Since 1995, there has been one Boston Fashion Week . It serves as an umbrella for fashion events around the city. During a week in late September, Boston is overtaken by showy fashion cocktail parties, student competitions, and, naturally, elegant runway shows at the tent behind the Mandarin Oriental. Hundreds turn out for these events, and the tent shows are the marquee attraction of the week.
But Boston Fashion Week’s hold on the city’s style scene is about to get some company — and competition. On Thursday night StyleWeek NorthEast will debut at the W Hotel, and if the reaction from the local fashion community is an indication, anything new that helps establish Boston as a fashion force is welcome.
“I think it’s needed,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, creative director of the local label Daniela Corte. “It helps expand and enhance the fashion cycle in Boston.”
“If it finds a following, StyleWeek has the potential to be a big deal in Boston,” added Avni Trivedi, a local designer and boutique owner who has shown at both Boston Fashion Week and StyleWeek NorthEast. “I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little healthy competition.”
For the past three years, StyleWeek has built a steady following in its Providence home. It’s now a seven-night powerhouse in the vibrant Rhode Island arts scene which is fueled by graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design. Members of the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America attend the event, along with celebrities such as Paula Abdul.
“You don’t think of Rhode Island as the fashion capital of anything, but look what they’ve done,” Boston designer Mark Miller said. “I’ve been impressed and enthusiastic by what I’ve seen. Could this be something that might change the fashion landscape in Boston? Speaking as an outside observer, I think it could.”
For this weekend’s Boston introduction — billed as StyleWeek Interim — the Providence team is hosting three shows a night. Organizers say there is no animosity between the two fashion factions. But Boston’s small, tightly-knit fashion community is watching closely with tactfully buttoned lips to see what kind of inroads StyleWeek NorthEast can make here.
“For anyone who might be upset with us being here, I think they should keep in mind that I’m not here to step on any toes,” StyleWeek NorthEast president and founder Rosanna Ortiz Sinel said. “It’s all about getting these designers more exposure.”
Jay Calderin, Boston Fashion Week’s founder, says he has no objection to the arrival of StyleWeek NorthEast because it fits with his mission of creating more opportunities.
“We don’t have just one fashion week that takes place during the fall,” Calderin said. “We have things happening throughout the year, so I think StyleWeek only adds to what we can offer.”
Much like the Boston Fashion Week tent, which is an elegant, all-white event space rather than a basic tent, the mission of StyleWeek NorthEast is to provide a single, professional space to produce New York-quality fashion shows. Before the arrival of Boston’s tent in 2011, most of the city’s designers presented their collections in a haphazard schedule all over the city, awkwardly carving out runways in restaurants and nightclubs. Because the tent only hosts 12 shows in its three-day run, there are still dozens of these fashion shows that take place under less-than-professional settings.
Sinel is waiting to see how this weekend’s fashion shows perform. But if response is good, StyleWeek NorthEast could provide a new venue for local designers, most likely taking place in an intricately staged ballroom of a luxury hotel.
StyleWeek NorthEast may have started in Providence, but the idea was born in Boston, when Sinel was writing about a runway show that was taking place in a small club. She was seated in the second row at the show, and noticed a kerfuffle taking place in front of her. The club’s owner wanted to put his friends in the front row. To accommodate them, he moved a reporter out of the front row and placed him several rows back. Sinel then noticed the disgruntled reporter leave before the show started.
“I thought, ‘This has no business portion to it. There’s no organization.’ The designers suffer and this is why things aren’t taken seriously,” she said. “I think that if you don’t have an organized event space, if you don’t have the buyers, the press, or VIPs, you’re not going to be taken seriously in the industry.”
Sinel, who has a background in public relations working with companies such as Estee Lauder and Monster.com, has put a heavy emphasis on bringing in boutique buyers to StyleWeek NorthEast. Boston Fashion Week has left that aspect of the shows to individual designers. Unlike Boston Fashion Week, which takes place once a year, StyleWeek NorthEast happens twice annually and runs seven nights on a professional runway at the Providence Biltmore.
“We really wanted to make it a showcase for these designers,” Sinel says. “I really didn’t want to make it a glorified cocktail hour, which I felt happens to a lot of the fashion events in this region. I decided to bring it to Boston for a three-day event. I adore Boston, and we already showcase a lot of Boston-based designers in Providence. I really wanted to have the Boston fashion community see what we can do.”
In Boston, Sinel says that, with few exceptions, boutiques do not carry clothes made by Boston designers. She said she and other representatives from StyleWeek have been visiting boutiques in Boston to find out why.
“I think it can only be a good thing,” says Boston designer Denise Hajjar. “Whether it’s seen as competition or not, it’s nice to see more opportunities for young designers. These kinds of opportunities didn’t exist when I was first starting out.”
“It’s always nice to have another needle in Boston’s fashion haystack,” agreed Boston style doyenne Marilyn Riseman.
If this weekend’s shows are a success, Sinel said there is a good chance she will return. She has not determined if the shows will happen biannually, or if she’ll stick to a winter show.
“At this point, anything’s a possibility,” she said. “Few things in life are certain — especially in fashion.”
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story, which was printed in advance, gave the wrong starting date for StyleWeek NorthEast Interim. The fashion shows begin Thursday night.