michael-costello-fashion-week-el-paseo

Art and Commerce

Michael Costello and Project Runway alumni tackle the business of fashion.

Carolyn Horwitz Fashion & Style, Fashion Week El Paseo

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Michael Costello, a one-time Palm Springs resident, will show his new 2018 collection at tonight's Fashion Week El Paseo show.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM POWERS

For its fans, Project Runway is all fun — a glimpse into eccentric, creative minds and personalities, with the added competition aspect providing narrative tension. But as was immediately clear at today’s meet and greet with Michael Costello and his friends from Project Runway, fashion is serious business.

Costello, a one-time resident of Palm Springs, is a major presence at Fashion Week El Paseo every year, hand-selecting fellow alumni of the reality show to present their collections. This year’s crop includes the latest season’s winner, Kentaro Kameyama, as well as past favorites Justin LeBlanc, Laura Kathleen Baker, Viktor Luna, Candice Cuoco, Mah-Jing Wong, and Margarita Alvarez. All will be presenting their work Tuesday, March 20, on the runway at Fashion Week El Paseo.

Costello opened the session before the other designers arrived, discussing the recent launch of his ready-to-wear collection via Revolve.com. Known for his couture creations for the likes of Beyonce, Costello said he aimed to extend his reach to “real women.” “We celebrate diversity — all shapes, sizes, and walks of life,” he told the crowd, which consisted, surprisingly, mostly of women over 50. “We were missing this huge demographic of being able to cater to you, being able to give you something you can wear on a day-to-day basis.” Pieces in the collection start at $99.

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A good crowd was on hand for Tuesday’s Meet and Greet with Michael Costello and fellow Project Runway alumni.

He was interrupted at that point by a phone call — the other designers were wandering around, unable to find the event. “You’ll see a huge white tent,” Costello said into his phone as the crowd laughed. The designers eventually made it, and each described his or her style and inspiration.

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Viktor Luna

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Justin LeBlanc

The theme of accessible fashion returned as the discussion turned to the rise of so-called “fast fashion” from the likes of Zara and H&M and its affect on business. The designers had a range of takes on the issue.

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Mah-Jing Wong

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Kentaro Kameyama

Baker (who barely made it to Fashion Week after having emergency gall-bladder surgery last week) pointed out that she is “driven by business.” “I understand Zara,” she said. “There’s a need for it.” She explained that as it’s only a “small sliver” of consumers buying fashion at the price point of high-end department stores — items in the $300 to $700 range — the idea of producing inexpensive clothing is appealing.

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Laura Kathleen Baker barely made it to Fashion Week after having emergency gall-bladder surgery last week.

“There’s something very intriguing about it,” she admitted, while noting that such low prices would require manufacturing outside of the U.S., whereas her clothing is currently domestically produced.

Cuoco took a different view, stating that she is driven more by the creative side of her work than the business. “What I do is art,” she said. “It’s hand-cut and made to fit you. It’s not something you’re going to get rid of tomorrow; it’s an investment. I’ve decided that I’m going to have a different brand that’s not mass. For the time being, I would rather have my soul filled, I guess, than my belly.”

Costello — who admitted that he was dressed entirely in H&M, which he had customized by writing “Palm Springs” across the top of his ripped jeans — said that he’s “fortunate” to have gotten to a place where his brand is recognized and his gowns are requested by celebrities. However, success can be a problem as well. “So many mass companies are looking to our brand to see what we’re doing each season,” he said. “I’m still a growing business, I still have mouths to feed, and whenever we put out a collection, it’s nice seeing it come down the runway. But at the end of the day, I’m still scared that I’m going to see it at retail in a window for $15.99.”

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“What I do is art,” says Candice Cuoco of her fashion designs.

Alvarez noted that it’s not designers but shoppers who drive the market.

“There’s this duality, where consumers are faced with ‘I want to get a good price’ but want to be responsible and get a good product.” She stated that only 3% of clothing is manufactured in the U.S. because of cheaper options elsewhere, often with unsavory conditions for workers.

“We want the cheap deal, but we forget what’s in between. It’s not up to the designers, because we’re making this by hand, we’re paying our employees full salaries and health insurance. Something’s gotta give, so it’s up to you guys to make the difference and pick the right stuff.”

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Margarita Alvarez says shoppers drive the market, not designers like herself.