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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
“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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