Are you a peewee fashion designer who’s dying to get plucked from obscurity? You’d better get your goods in front of Gen Art – an innovative arts and entertainment organization dedicated to supporting the best emerging talent in fashion, film, music and the visual arts.
Founded by Ian Gerard as a hobby from his law school dorm room back in ’93, Gen Art is now one of the county’s premiere arbiters of cool, known for propelling the careers of big wigs such as Zac Posen and Rebecca Taylor. Dubbed by WWD as the “fairy godmother for emerging designers,” Gen Art gives the latest rising stars a chance to compete in their high-profile fashion productions such as Styles (an international catwalk competition that awards top contenders with industry grants) and Fresh Faces In Fashion (seasonal runway shows held during New York Fashion Week), which provide unparalleled exposure to top editors and buyers. Plus, Gen Art also organizes jam-packed shopping events, which showcase the wares of up-and-coming designers at insanely discounted prices in key cities across the U.S. (you can catch yours truly at the Shop NYC event on June 19th)
Fashion Junkie recently caught up with Ian Gerard to find out the secret behind his company’s groundbreaking success.
Gen Art Founder, Ian Gerard
FJ: What made you decide to leave a corporate law career to start Gen Art?
IG: I pretty much knew from the time I started law school that I probably would not love practicing law. But I thought it was only fair to give it a chance, and after three years of practicing both corporate and real estate law, I knew that it was not for me. I always wanted to be the client who was actually creating something and not the lawyer who was creating the paper work to make someone else’s dream possible.
FJ: What is it that you like about the fashion/arts industry?
IG: I grew up in Manhattan so I was always exposed to the arts, fashion and entertainment world to some degree. I went to Vassar College which was also rather artsy and a lot of my friends were involved in the fine art program there. When I came back to New York, after a year in Washington, it was the arts and entertainment vitality of the city that spoke to me… and even though I was in law school, I was down at NYU in the Village and it was right near the SoHo arts scene.
FJ: Were there any moments when you felt like giving up and going back to law?
IG: Never. It never crossed my mind that we would fail and that I would have to put my tie and suit back on. If you focus on the downside, it will probably become a reality. We focused on succeeding.
FJ: Can you tell us more about Gen Art’s mission?
IG: We showcase emerging talent, not only in fashion, but also in film, music and the visual arts. We create over 100 events each year mainly in the top five U.S. cities where we have offices – New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago. So, we create these events that talent at this time in their career could never afford or logistically handle, we get corporate partners like Acura, American Express and Eos Airlines to financially cover the costs of the event, and then we invite the talent to participate. The only thing they are responsible for is showing up with their creations. We do everything else – for instance for a fashion show, we create the invitation, we get hair and make-up teams, we get models from the top agencies, we produce the runway show and all of the other production elements, we invite the press and industry, and its all at no cost to the participating talent. That’s why Women’s Wear Daily once called us the “fairy godmother for emerging designers.”
FJ: What kind of impact has Gen Art had on the fashion industry?
IG: We have help propel dozens of emerging designers careers by providing them with runway shows, grants and other support at a time in their career when they really needed it. Our record somewhat speaks for itself in that we debuted designers including Zac Posen, Rebecca Taylor, Chaiken, Shoshanna, Cloak, Sari Gueron, Twinkle, Milly, Louis Verdad and dozens of others who have gone on to have successful careers. And at the same time we have also helped the fashion industry and make its lives easier by showcasing a curated group of the best emerging designers under 1 roof in one sitting. Instead of trying to run all over the corners of New York to see emerging designers, we bring 3, or 8 or 25 of them together and the retailers, editors and others can see them in one short sitting. And they know that we are going to select those designers who are most deserving at this point in their career of attention.
FJ: How has Gen Art evolved since you founded it?
IG: We started with no full time employees and one part-time paid intern working out of my law school dorm and struggled to produce 3 events a year. Now we have five fully staffed offices around the country, with over 35 full time employees and about another 25 freelancers and interns. And the production quality of the events we create are on such a higher level.
FJ: How did the Gen Art Style event come about and how does it differ from previous events you’ve produced?
IG: Styles was a program I concepted back in 1998. Like any new idea it took a while to find someone else who believed in it – and that was Absolut Vodka who signed on as the title sponsor in 1999. Originally it was to be a showcase of the future of fashion and when it debuted in 1999, it was called “Styles for the New Millennium.” Well, after the success of the first year, we knew we wanted to do it again, and low and behold it was the new millennium, so we dropped the rest of the name and now we just completed our 9th year of the show.
It was very different from our other fashion program of the time, Fresh Faces in Fashion, in that it was a competition, that would be judged live and was open to anyone who could create two pieces, so one did not have to have a full collection. And it was the first program that we opened up to an international community of talent. It’s gratifying to see that the competition this year brought in submissions from 31 countries and 35 different U.S. States.
FJ: What exactly is your criteria for selecting each of the designers who will be presenting at the Styles event?
IG: A Selection Committee of fashion editors, buyers and stylists who are very familiar with the emerging designer market review the submissions and score the submissions. The five designers who score the highest in each category are invited to the show.
FJ: What are you hoping to accomplish through the Styles event?
IG: We hope that we can give a helping hand to a group of promising new fashion designers from a combination of the exposure to the industry and press as well as the $35,000 in grants that we give away at the show. Last year, Bruno Grizzo won two awards and $10,000. He took that money to create his first full collection, which he was then able to sell to Barneys. We like stories like that.
FJ: So how did it feel to be listed as one of People Magazine’s “sexiest men alive?”
IG: It was pretty funny. Someone submitted our photo and bio without letting us know because they knew it was a one in a million shot. So, when my phone rang and I was told we were going to be in the issue I was pretty dumbfounded… However, I guess there needs to be some real people (us, the fireman, the glassblower, etc) along with all of the usual beautiful celebrities. I thought that we might get some weird fan mail… perhaps from a nearby women’s prison or something. But that never panned out…
FJ: What’s your advice for someone who wants to break into the fashion business?
IG: Get experience. Get experience. Get experience. While you may know you want to launch your own fashion line, you need to learn all of the basics from working with others. That way you will not only learn the ups and downs on someone’s dime, but you will make connections which will be very helpful when you are ready to launch your own collection. The vast majority of successful emerging designers we see are those that have worked for strong design houses for several years before branching off on their own.
FJ: What’s next for Gen Art?
IG: We are looking at expanding into other markets, perhaps Toronto or London, there is so much great talent in both Canada and Europe. Also, it doesn’t hurt that they speak English in both cities. Also, we want to continue to find means to get our talent out to new consumers through more vehicles than just events. We did a short film competition on all Delta Air Lines in-flight entertainment systems earlier this year where passengers could view five short films and then vote on their favorite (and the winner was then flown to a celebration at the Sundance Film Festival). We also have a content channel on LXTV.com. And we have a television program in development for a cable network (we have been previously involved with “Project Runway” and “The Apprentice”). So we are looking for new and exciting ways to bring our content to a wider national audience who I think are hungry for the next new thing.
Learn more about Gen Art by visiting genart.org