Ahead of the (mostly virtual) September shows, IMG’s Noah Kozlowski explains.
New York Fashion Week is, indeed, somehow, happening, amid… well, everything.
One of the major players in making it a (social distance-compliant, Governor Andrew Cuomo-approved) reality this September is IMG, which manages the calendar for New York Fashion Week: The Shows and nyfw.com. Whereas in the past, crowds would gather at Spring Studios in downtown Manhattan to sit elbow-to-elbow at runway shows, stand in line to enter presentations (or ride the elevator) and partake in other activities that are hard to fathom in a time of pandemic, most new collections will be unveiled online — with the exception of a handful of live events, which will be limited in attendance and held outdoors (and, in some cases, sponsored by Lowe’s). There will also be panels, videos and other content that can be consumed digitally and that allows designers to participate in the event without having to produce a full line.
Though the status, meaning and value of fashion week has been the subject of much discussion/debate/ink-spilling over the past few years, it can be an important milestone for many brands. Beyond simply presenting a vision for a new season, it can introduce them to a global audience and establish their voice among the industry. And it can be an opportunity to partner with a big sponsor to help execute their vision.
That’s what Noah Kozlowski does as IMG’s senior manager of global designer relations: He identifies talent and figures out how to arm them with resources that can help them grow through strategic brand partnerships. (Think: The Blonds x Disney, or Rodarte x MasterCard.) And it goes beyond New York, as IMG and its parent company, Endeavor, produce fashion weeks and related events across the world — hence, the “global” in his title.
Ahead of the September debuts, we caught up with Kozlowski to talk about his job, how he’s able to support designers, what he looks for when he’s seeking out new names and more.
To start off, what does a “senior manager of global designer relations” do? How do you explain your job, in the simplest of terms?
I mostly work with designers surrounding their participation of events, such as New York Fashion Week: the Shows and Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, as well as with partnerships year-round… My job really is to have open lines of communication with designers — get to know them and understand their businesses and their goals, so that when we do have an opportunity, such as to bring a designer to Sydney for fashion week to collaborate with a brand partner, I already know who would make the most sense, and be able to help present them to the partner in the best way.
How did you get into this line of work?
I always wanted to work in fashion. I love designers, but I knew I wasn’t meant to sew. So I went to Parsons for design management. My first internship was actually at Milk Studios, and I was so inspired by the support that the team was providing to emerging designers, some of which are the top designers of New York Fashion Week — Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, Jeremy Scott.
I branched out and worked at Lanvin, Yeezy and the CFDA. Then I went into the creative agency side, helping the team pitch all of these cool designers that I was working with while at Milk. And I really understood, ‘Wow, there is a real need for support for designers because doing cool shit cost a lot of money.’ It’s really expensive. One day, I was getting drinks with a mentor — and my CFDA internship supervisor — and she was explaining to me how she just joined the designer relations team at IMG, and then mentioned that there was a coordinator opening. It just sounded like a perfect fit. So next thing I know, I’m joining IMG in December, and we’re fast and furious in planning for the February fashion week. Four years later, I’m now the senior manager.
I want to touch on something you mentioned — about how, to make cool shit, you need resources. Can you speak a little bit into how, in your role, you’re able to offer support to these designers? How are you helping sustain them in a way that really sets them up for longterm success?
For our industry, February and September really are the marketing seasons. The purpose of participating in events like New York Fashion Week are to leave with those marketing assets that you can have for the rest of the year and use for your selling, either to consumers or to wholesalers. We understand that putting on a production is such a tremendous endeavor for these designers, so our mission is to support designers with various types of resources. For example, we always offer access to a venue, to make it more efficient for them. With digital, we have a following of almost seven million followers worldwide across our social channels, so [we help] distribute the designers’ content and amplify their stories. And then, by [bringing in] sponsorship opportunities with our brand partners.
We’ve worked on some really fun partnerships and collaborations throughout the years. We brought The Blonds to do a partnership with the “Moulin Rouge” musical. We did a big collaboration with John Elliott and Lexus. We partnered Alexander Wang with ice cream. We’ve worked with Rodarte on collaborations with MasterCard. We’ve also helped bring designers to other market — like Prabal Gurung to show at the Berlin Fashion Week a couple of years ago, as well as Cynthia Rowley to Shenzhen in China. We also supported Phillip Lim surrounding his collaboration with FILA, which showed in Shanghai in December.
Your job gets heightened around fashion week, but what does your job entail when it’s not fashion week? What kind of support are you able to offer designers year-round?
In a non-Covid world, I’d probably be traveling to London, Milan and Paris, meeting new designers, seeing what’s happening there and really just keeping in touch. I mean, [nowadays] I’m on rolling calls and videos conferences with designers, both [ones with] plans for this season as well as those not showing. Because I don’t want to just have a transactional relationship with the designer — I really want to understand their business goals so that if there’s an opportunity that makes sense, I can help position them in the right way to partners.
The work for the upcoming season really starts in February. I’m already thinking about September and what that curated lineup looks like. Then, really spending the time to network with those designers — to meet them and see the collections, because ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.
Under non-Covid circumstances, what does your fashion week look like for you?
There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to get to the shows. It involves thousands of people. Typically, it’s over a hundred runway shows and presentations on our calendar, both happening at Spring Studios and produced offsite. So, during New York Fashion Week, I’m working closely with the designers during the productions to make sure they feel supported. We have amazing production and venue teams that really help make everything happen. I’m really paying close attention to the collections and thinking about the upcoming season, because New York Fashion Week is really a time to form new relationships. I spend my time thinking about who the next star is. An example of that is with Christopher John Rogers — I absolutely love Chris and his team. We began working with him for his first runway show, and that season he ended up winning the CFDA/Vogue fashion fund. Flash forward to the following season, he was among the top 10 shows of the entire circuit, along with some of the biggest names. Just being a small part of that story, after all of the work that we know went into it, keeps me going.
Clients really come to us for our expertise. They come in with a creative vision and we always have to come up with innovative solutions to help them achieve that vision. And Chris in particular has such a clear vision that when you see the show go up and see the impact and the clothes, it just gives me chills.
Obviously, putting on a fashion show takes a lot of resources and money. How do you support designers that maybe are unsure if they can afford to do a show or if it’s worth it for them?
There are so many different ways that we can work with designers. Not every designer on our calendar is even doing a show or a presentation: Some of them are participating in programming, some are creating experiences with consumers, some are releasing lookbooks that we can help amplify digitally. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for every designer. And every conversation is different. With the generous support of our event partners surrounding events like New York Fashion Week, it really enables us to support designers in various ways.
That being said, we always want to understand where the designers are in their businesses and their viability to participate in something like New York Fashion Week, because it’s such a period of heightened exposure and visibility for our industry. The worst thing is to spend all the money, put in all the time producing the samples and then, say, a buyer wants to purchase something or an editor wants to pull a piece, and they’re not able to do so. So, we really try to curate our designer lineup in a way that gives them the best exposure at the right time in their businesses.
Covid-19 has changed a lot of what the fashion week experience is like — and also the day-to-day of our jobs, especially for someone like you, who’s meeting designers constantly. How has your role changed? How are you approaching this season?
This season, we’ll see the continued evolution of fashion week with an emphasis on supporting designers, content production, consumers and digital consumption. Covid really has necessitated our support for designers and the need for designers to tell their stories in new ways and connect with consumers virtually.
While we will be working with select designers, like Jason Wu, in a runway format at our venue this season, we’re working with several other designers on content shoots and productions, as well as others, like Monse, who may not be showing this season but are participating in programming. I’m really especially excited for this season because every designer will be telling their own story in a unique way.
How do you discover new talent?
I’d say my colleagues often call me ambitious. Even if we have over a hundred shows on the calendar, I somehow manage to make it to all of them, even if I just see the final walk. I’m really paying close attention to the collections because I want to understand what this will look like, what the vibe of the show is going to be. I spend so much time on Instagram. I follow so many people — an embarrassing number, every time I discover a new brand, I’ll follow them. I’ll share it with my team. I’ll share with my friends and colleagues. And I’ll start thinking about ways that we can work with them. Typically I’m out and about taking designers, PR teams, producers and consultants out for meetings, getting to understand what they’re up to.
I’m also paying close attention to the design schools. We often work with Parsons, RISD and Academy of Art surrounding fashion week. That’s the best place for designer discovery. It’s not just about the big names — it’s really paying attention to the ones you don’t know.
What are things that typically you notice even very early on, when the idea of a brand might still be just a seed? What really stands out to you?
I spent so much time when I was younger shopping. I’m from New Jersey, but I attended school in Manhattan, and I spent so many afternoons just walking the floors of Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey and Barneys, having that mindset of: What am I looking for in clothing? What would I want to buy? What would their customer want to purchase? Taking a more commercial approach to viewing the collections and understanding what is going to be appealing to consumers.
For instance, someone like Matthew Adams Dolan — I love the modern American sportswear that he’s creating. He’s now in Italy and producing it so well, I have no doubt he’s going to be a huge star.
How can designers that are just starting out get on IMG’s radar?
Whenever I meet designers — especially now, when everything’s virtual — I always ask to see their brand books and their marketing materials. I want to understand their backgrounds, their collections and their goals. I’m always accessible via email, and I love seeing new inquiries from designers there. I’m always happy to have a conversation with a designer, even if they’re not ready to participate in an event or if perhaps they’re just starting and looking for advice.
I’d say designers really are coming to our company for our expertise, as well as our access to the various resources across the Endeavor network. So perhaps they’re not ready to show during fashion week, but maybe it makes sense for them to work with a model or an influencer on developing a strong campaign, to help build traction — and perhaps the next season will be the right time. And maybe in between, we can create some kind of programming together that really helps tell their stories to our large following worldwide.
We don’t work with just ready-to-wear designers. We work with designers who are doing “see now, buy now” and direct to consumer, with jewelry brands and accessory brands, with men’s wear collections. That’s also part of why the event is really called New York Fashion Week: the Shows September 2020, for instance, as opposed to the season, because we recognize that everyone’s doing different things.
What is your favorite part about working with designers?
Being able to support them, especially during challenging times is really especially humbling for me. I’ve always loved fashion. Seeing the clothes and helping someone elevate their career is very exciting for me.
What kind of support do you think is most crucial to designers, especially early in their career?
I think finding ways to meet the industry demands in your own unique way and having an unwavering point of view are the most important, because participating in events like New York Fashion Week: the Shows can really put you on the map, but doing so in your own authentic way is what’s going to set you apart and help you lead the pack — and what’s going to be most especially exciting for a potential partner to get onboard with.
This interview has been edited and condensed.