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NEW YORK — In what appears to be a first for a New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio will welcome the Council of Fashion Designers of America to Gracie Mansion on Wednesday night for a cocktail party to launch fashion week.
While his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, was known to get the shows rolling by cutting the opening-day ribbon at Lincoln Center, de Blasio plans to mingle with designers in his Yorkville home. The fact that the mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray, will be trumpeting American designers in such a manner appears to reinforce his pledge earlier this year to the fashion industry.
The mayor and his wife made no reference to a dress code on the simple, but formal invitations with the city’s seal that were sent to such CFDA members as Diane von Furstenberg, Prabal Gurung and Zac Posen. Whether de Blasio plans to unveil any fashion-related initiatives next week remains to be seen.
The mayor’s office and the CFDA declined comment Wednesday.
In February, de Blasio wasted no time in indicating that he is committed to Seventh Avenue. During a February press conference at the CFDA’s Fashion Incubator, the mayor vowed to bolster local apparel manufacturing. He also spoke poignantly about how his maternal grandmother made her way in America by starting an embroidery business, and noted that scores of immigrants still consider a job in fashion to be the gateway to a better life.
The more than 180,000 people working in New York City’s fashion industry generate wages of nearly $11 billion a year. And de Blasio envisions its future beyond the Garment District and Manhattan.
“The fashion industry is not just a part of our past. It is not just iconic because [of] what it once was. It’s iconic because of what it will be. And it is part of how we will build a more unified city and a city where everyone has opportunities. It is part of how we will build one New York where everyone rises together and opportunity is something that is available to all,” de Blasio said at that time. “And that includes people who have not had as many opportunities and chances to work in this industry. We want to work closely with this industry to maximize opportunity and to make it a five-borough phenomenon.”
To that end, his deputy mayor for housing and economic development, Alicia Glen, a former Goldman Sachs executive, was named as the mayor’s liaison to the fashion industry and will lead efforts to grow fashion in all five boroughs. Contrary to a mayoral aide’s promise, Glen and McCray did not make the rounds at last season's fashion shows but Glen was in the front row at von Furstenberg's show.
McCray, too, has been a proponent of New York-based designers. At her husband’s inauguration, she made a point of saying that her ensemble was locally made by Nanette Lepore. During his campaign, the populist-minded de Blasio toured the designer’s factory and spoke of his commitment to local manufacturing. McCray is on Lepore’s guest list for her runway show on Sept. 7.
Aside from the 2003 10th anniversary party at Gracie Mansion for 7th on Sixth, Bloomberg was more inclined to attend their events than to host his own. A friend of von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta and Terry J. Lundgren, Bloomberg ingratiated himself with the fashion crowd through “Fashion NYC 2020,” an initiative launched with the city’s Economic Development Corp. The effort includes a number of separate programs, with various partners, aimed at fostering fashion talent, in both design and management, and jump-starting independent fashion firms. Well aware that fashion is a $72 billion wholesale business, Bloomberg also championed The Culture Shed, the Hudson Yards arts center project that is meant to become the new home of New York Fashion Week once it’s completed around 2017. He was also front-and-center at countless industry events over the years, launching the very first Fashion’s Night Out in a Queens mall with Michael Kors and rubbing elbows with Miley Cyrus at Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars.
Yeohlee Teng, a longtime supporter of the Garment Center, plans to take a break from her preshow blitz to join de Blasio at Gracie Mansion. So far she is encouraged by his overtures. “I hope that his support will be strong and steady, and that it will be a real commitment to the people of this city. You don’t want Manhattan to be Disney-fied,” Teng said. “The apparel industry really contributes to the quality of life in terms of the diversity of the economy, of the workforce and people from all walks of life.”