Furthering its partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), Cadillac has just announced that it will unveil a new retail initiative for emerging designers, set to debut in July.
Retail Lab will support designers by providing them with an 800-square-foot retail store located in Cadillac's SoHo headquarters for three months, a $75,000 grant, and mentorship from fashion industry experts. Timo Weiland—the New York-based men's and women's label designed by Weiland, Alan Eckstein and Donna Kang—will be first designer brand to participate in the three-year program, and will open a retail shop this summer.
Five other designers are slated to be part of the 2016/2017 term, and will be chosen through an application process that opens today and ends May 6. Eligible designers must meet a series of requirements, which includes having support from notable wholesale retailers, being able to demonstrate sales growth, and to have garnered substantial editorial coverage. An advisory board made up of fashion, retail, business, and technology experts (the roster includes Barneys' Simon Doonan, Reed Krakoff, and Alice + Olivia's Stacey Bendet Eisner) will announce the next crop of designers at the end of May.
"Retail Lab will give designers a space in the heart of Cadillac's headquarters, along with the tools, training and inspiration to take their business to the next level," says Melody Lee, director of brand strategy and planning at Cadillac.
The 114-year-old luxury automaker has been something of a springboard for New York fashion designers since its sponsorship of New York Men's Day in 2013. Last summer, Cadillac announced a multi-season partnership with the CFDA in support of the first-ever New York Fashion Week: Men, where designers like Thom Browne, John Varvatos, and Public School showcased their Spring 2016 menswear lineups. (The announcement came right before Lexus announced it would be replacing Mercedes-Benz as the official sponsor of New York Fashion Week.) But beyond fashion shows, Cadillac has had a hand in several fashion projects. Last August, the automaker launched a capsule collection with CFDA CEO Steven Kolb and street style icon Nick Wooster. Later that year, they also partnered with Condé Nast for an advertising campaign made up of a series of short films highlighting editors from various glossies. And, back in 2012, the automaker chauffeured Bergdorf Goodman's Linda Fargo to and from shows, where the SVP conducted backseat interviews with industry insiders in honor of the retailer's 111th anniversary.
At a time when a growing number of designers are adopting a see-now-buy-now strategy and more of a direct-to-consumer approach (things that the CFDA examined during their six-week case study), it's important to consider that the traditional wholesale model is shifting—for better or worse. That said, Cadillac's new retail-centric initiative is a smart move, and a good way to back young, emerging talents as they cut their teeth in the retail realm.
"The CFDA is always looking for meaningful programs that help strengthen the impact of American Fashion," said Kolb. "Every designer aspires to a freestanding retail experience that allows them to tell their brand story and connect directly with consumers. Cadillac's commitment to the industry will help the selected designers make this a reality."