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Norwalk Plus magazine : Norwalk Plus Winter 2007 Published: Nov 30, 2007 - 8:29:52 AM


Fashion in Norwalk

By Deborah DiSesa Hirsch


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Fashion in Norwalk
Tie Dyed T-shirt, with treatment on the fabric to achieve additional softness; Spring 08 Anad Anen Collection by New England Fashion+Design Association emerging designer Marlena Anderson (Photographer: Larry Thompson)
Imagine this. You’re strolling down the street, thinking, hmm, Pierre Deux or Boulmiche? Maybe I’ll just duck into Christian Louboutin and check out those killer shoes. No, let’s hit Bijan and save the others for last. But uh oh, I didn’t make an appointment and they won’t even let you in the door for a peek at their $50 socks without one.

Rodeo Drive? Beverly Hills? No, Norwalk.

Norwalk? Yes, indeed, and if Marc Feldman and the World Fashion Council (WFC) have their way, this once gritty city will become the fashion destination for all of New England.

Feldman feels a confluence of factors are going to make people stop laughing, and start shopping, in Norwalk soon.

“You have four big developers working in downtown Norwalk, with 100,000 square feet of retail space. And we’re so close to New York. SoNo already draws artists and designers by the dozens. There’s a real renaissance going on in Norwalk. This is a wonderful moment in time.”

Feldman laughs when fashion is called “fluff.”

“If you can call a $16 billion industry ‘fluff,’ maybe. And that’s only New York. Add in Los Angeles and it’s an engine that drives the economy. Fashion is increasingly central to the whole global economy.”

Fashion in Norwalk
'Resort look' and 'Clubbing in the winter –dance, music and hand crafted silk in sensual colors-inky blue and deep purples'; from emerging designer represented by The New England Fashion+Design Association, Rashiya Thompson. Spring 08 Peynk Collection (Photographer: Larry Thompson)
Feldman has another reason for wanting to see Norwalk re-invent itself as a fashion destination. He’s one of the inventors. Through the WFC and its local affiliate, the New England Fashion and Design Association, he’s trying — along with his two founding partners, Ginger Puglia, a specialist in trends, and designer Irina Simeonova — to create a worldwide network of fashion and design associations in South Norwalk. The idea is to bring young designers together with top-tier fashion brands and professionals. “Buyers,” he says pointedly.

The World Fashion Council includes an actual building – the SoNo Design Co-operative – and student fashion competitions. Not just space but a platform for these future fashionistas to get started, when New York City is just too prohibitive.

The co-op, located at the South Norwalk train station, is the former police substation. A 6,000-square-foot building, “we’re the first thing someone sees when they get off the train,” says Feldman proudly.

Fashion in Norwalk
The New England Fashion+Design Association's emerging South African Designer (now living in Norwalk) Kerry Maie White. Here, she is modeling her own sweet heart leather corset with handkerchief linen. (Photographer: Larry Thompson)
The co-op is a place where young designers can do everything from actually creating their own designs, to have them sewed to use in photo shoots in the “Lipstick Room” on the second floor (with old exposed brick walls and a runway), to meeting the buyers who will make or break them.

“It’s kind of like the micro-breweries,” says Feldman. “You have five or six beer brands and no one else can get in. Then the micro-breweries came along and they allowed smaller companies to make a living. Young designers now have a way to be viable. We help them get the tools to get out in the marketplace, to source their products, tap into networks of buyers, and get traction, and get moving.”

Feldman feels his vision fits right in with Norwalk’s re-invention. Mayor Richard Moccia agrees. “Norwalk is the right place and this is the right time to move forward with the development of a fashion district,” says Moccia. “From Wall Street to SoNo, Norwalk will offer not only retail space for a fashion district, but work and living spaces for the design, marketing and event-related segments of the industry, providing a rare combination of availability and accessibility for new fashion talent stars.”

“The World Fashion Council and its activities are a perfect fit for the SoNo area and will provide that pedestrian traffic connection to the railroad station. SoNo’s art scene is so eclectic and exciting. Fashion is just another form of artistic expression and will fit perfectly there,” adds Kathryn Hebert, the city’s administrative services manager who worked closely with the WFC on turning the police substation into the co-op.

Fashion in Norwalk
Designer Rashiya Thompson. Spring 08 Peynk Collection (Photographer: Larry Thompson)
And it’s not like other elements aren’t coming together to make a fashion district possible. “It would be difficult to force this kind of vision, but it’s already here. Development is booming and we’ve created the World Fashion Council; we’re bringing young artists and developers here through our co-op and, oh, by the way, helping to drive the economy in Norwalk. It’s all coming together,” says Feldman.

Feldman believes it’s so important to bring the fashion industry to Norwalk because fashion has moved from just an extra layer of ‘fluff’ — “that word again,” he says — to “a central moment.”

“Fashion has become a code, a cultural code,” Feldman continued. “These days, where style is so omnipresent — every star has his own line of clothes, wants to express himself through fashion — we’re seeing a fashion lifestyle. It’s not just clothes anymore, but how you live your life. It’s a view into the heart, the essence of things. And it’s a code that’s malleable now, not as hard and fixed as in the past. With each reconstruction, we’re changing people’s views and attitudes – it’s a liberating moment in time,” he says.

Feldman, the father of daughters, knows the dominion of brand. “Right now designs break down into three or four brands. Technology allows for a handful of monolithic labels to dominate the fashion world. We’re trying to change that. We’d like to see Norwalk emerge as the international stage for fashion, the fashion capital of the Northeast.”

Feldman recalls that when he and his partners were first planning the idea of a fashion capital, wealthier towns wanted to know why Norwalk was chosen. “This isn’t so much our idea as it is a historic moment. Everything is already naturally aligned here,” says Feldman. “All these amazing things are coming together at once.”

Fashion in Norwalk
Brushed cotton 'resort look' from emerging designer represented by The New England Fashion+Design Association, Rashiya Thompson. From photoshoot at the SoNo Design CoOperative for Spring 08 Peynk Collection (Photographer: Larry Thompson)
His partner, Puglia, totally agrees. “If you go to SoNo, it has a feeling as hip as the meat-packing district,” she says. “It’s enticing to young designers who can no longer go to, even Brooklyn.” She’s helping to create a similar fashion city in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, as well as hoping to sell National Public Radio on a weekly hourly segment on fashion.

“There’s justification to believe that Marc’s vision will come to pass,” says Tad Diesel, Norwalk’s director of business development. “He has the experience and industry contacts to firmly implant the idea of the Norwalk Fashion District into the minds of industry leaders from New York to Boston. He’s demonstrated his ability to bring together all the necessary players to stage successful events. He understands the trendy personality of Norwalk. He has a business plan that drives the need for a close-to-New-York-fashion design and retail hub.

“All of this is happening just as Norwalk’s urban living, shopping and business neighborhoods are about to burst.” “It’s the right historical moment,” says Feldman. “We’re just tapping into it.” ■






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