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Barbara Kramer & Ed Mandelbaum

September 01 2011


We met the founders of the Designers & Agents tradeshow, which is being held in New York, at the opening of the tradeshow in Paris.

Where do you come from professionally and how was your trade show born?

Barbara Kramer: For many years I was a sales agent for European brands like Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood or John Richmond but we handled the US press as well. It was quite an important agency in New York and my partner still has a strong agency there. Ed Mandelbaum and I met in Los Angeles and we both had showrooms in New York and in Los Angeles. So we opened a bigger sales agency in New York together but we realized that there was still a need for business in California. So we went there with a couple of showrooms first, and finally we put together a real show. So it grew very organically – out of the need. Now our show exists for 13 years in the US, both in New York and in LA, where we represent 1000 members.

Ed Mandelbaum: I started as a sales agent as well. I had an office in New York and other one in LA, but 15 years ago LA was going through a terrible period. After the Rodney King events the city was burning and I closed the LA office. Later I opened a new space there, but it was far to big for me so I invited friends to join me and that’s how the trade fair Designers & Agents (d&a) started in 1997.

How do you select your brands?

B.K.: Designers & Agents is a juried show, so we have a viewing committee. If you are new and you want to apply, you have to send a presentation and we select. You need to have to present at least six pieces, a website, a look book and a list of stores if you sell. We decide then if the label brings something to D&A. Is it unique, is it something our buyers want to find, is the price in reality with the line of the product?

What is your guideline if you represent a thousand brands?

B.K.: Every week we get applications and then we meet in order to decide. For 13 years we grew and for the moment we have accepted a thousand members to be in our database. That means they can participate on our New York or LA shows. Our biggest show was last September in New York. We had 500 brands in three buildings but it never feels like a fair because it all has a certain mix and a flow. We create each space like it’s own gallery.
We find the right balance, so 30% of our brands are accessory, the rest are clothes. When there are too many accessory brands from the same category we have to set limits. Our buyers know that we are really selecting the brands, that we had to say no a lot of times. So if you enter our show, you are sure that you’ll do business! I think we are so and recognized because of our selection and because of the way we treat people.

Why did you expand your trade show to Paris now?

B.K.: After the crisis of the 11th September, we did a small fare in Japan as well. So we’re not afraid to go somewhere new. If you’re able to do a show in Japan you can do it everywhere!

E.M.: Paris is number one for the international buyers…and we tried to come here for a couple of years but we couldn’t find the right space in this busy fashion week. A year ago we decided to start in Paris with a smaller selection of brands, just to get started. And then we found this beautiful Gallery Nikki Marquardt, with natural light, situated near Place des Vosges in the Marais.

Zac Posen and Thakoon did show in Paris for the first time and you selected 30 American brands for your Paris show. Is Paris becoming more important for American clients?

B.K.: For us it’s less a focus about Paris and more about the actual relevance of American brands right now. Paris is the international center where all the buyers have to go. We are not denying New York but we expand it to Paris, that’s our next phase. And taking only 30 American brands (for example Lutz & Patmos, Mary Ping, Rozae Nichols, Selima Optique, Underligne by Doo-Ri Ching and VPL by Victoria Bartlett) was our way to make a statement.

E.M.: It’s the right time because the world doesn’t look at Americans anymore as if we were a bunch of farmers! Our fashion wasn’t respected for years. But after Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren there are a million interesting young American designers upcoming! The world is ready to see their talent.

B.K.: The designers we chose for Paris are not all American born but American based. We came with Danish, Austrian, Korean, Japanese, Polish designers: a unique melting pot of talent and the diversity is very strong... Most of them have never showed their collection in Europe. So we’re not taking anything from other fairs but we’re here to bring something.

What market trends you observe?

E.M.: We focused on one segment of the market: the “advanced contemporary designers”. And they are opening more and more stores. This has been the most successful type of clothing, with jewelry and accessories. Because of the crisis all the high-end-store who carry brands like Stella McCartney, Dries van Noten, Prada and Gucci are looking for less expansive fashionable merchandise in order to mix in. A part from of our traditional market this trend is opening an additional market for us: Our designer brands are in the segment of begging price in a store with the most expensive labels. The customer doesn’t want to dress from the head to the toe in high-end fashion any more.

Designers & Agents NY
Du 16 septembre au 18 septembre 2011
Starrett-Lehigh Center
601 West 26th Street
10001 New York
The Chelsea Art Museum
556 West 22nd Street
New York

Marcus Rothe for
Photo: Marcus Rothe