An Up-and-Coming Designer Sets Her Sights on New York Fashion Week

Sandra Sandor has been designing for Nanushka, her Budapest-based women’s wear label, for 13 years. But this is the first time she will be showing at New York Fashion Week, which starts Monday.

It was not an inexpensive decision to make.

“We are trying to keep the budget at $100,000,” said Peter Baldaszti, Nanushka’s chief executive officer and Ms. Sandor’s boyfriend.

That amount is a small fraction of what larger brands will spend on a fashion show; Nanushka is opting for a presentation, wherein the models are static and critics and potential buyers mill about, instead of a more expensive runway show. Still, it remains a significant investment for a brand that, for 2017, took in $3.1 million in revenue.

Nanushka was established in 2005 by Ms. Sandor, a recent graduate of the London College of Fashion-, but it traces its roots to 1972, when her mother founded a children’s wear business in Budapest. (In the days of the Iron Curtain, such small private enterprises were allowed to operate selectively.)

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The 13-year-old label has become a favorite of trend-spotting boutiques like Bird Brooklyn and celebrities like Charlize Theron.CreditAkos Stiller for The New York Times

Over the years, and helped by financing from friends and family, Nanushka nurtured a large following in Hungary, where the label has a store in Budapest, and a growing global audience. It sells at influential boutiques like Bird Brooklyn and is worn by celebrities like Charlize Theron.

In 2012, Ms. Sandor took on an investor, who in turn was bought out by Mr. Baldaszti and the venture capital firm GB & Partners, which purchased a majority stake in November 2016 and injected $3 million into the business. Mr. Baldaszti orchestrated a change in Nanushka’s identity — everything from its logo to its shoe boxes — and Nanushka’s revenues have nearly tripled in the last two years.

Last year, Nanushka received its first orders from “the majors” — department stores like Browns and online retailers like Net-a-Porter. When the label noted a large uptick in orders of its pre-fall 2018 collection, the team decided the time was right for a show.

In previous seasons, Nanushka would spend $20,000 on a “look book,” a series of professional photographs of models wearing the collection. For the presentation, which will be held on Feb. 11, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Photos are still crucial, for press attention and marketing purposes, but now they need to be ready in time for the highly influential Vogue.com site to have them up by the morning after the show.

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Mr. Baldaszti and Ms. Sandor in their Budapest studio late last month, getting ready for Nanushka’s first presentation at New York Fashion Week on Feb. 11. CreditAkos Stiller for The New York Times

“The cost of retouching photos is insane,” Ms. Sandor said. “The cost of retouching our photos”— $300 per image, $10,000 in total — “is our biggest expense next to models.”

The cost of those models? $20,000. Add $40,000 for art buying costs: $10,000 for two photographers, $7,000 for video editing, $5,000 for makeup, $3,000 for a stylist, $3,000 for the casting director, $5,000 for the set designer and $7,000 for props. The venue, a well-lit penthouse in the West Village, costs $10,000. Production — everything from the lights to the transportation of the clothes — is $15,000. Finally, there is public relations to handle invitations and press requests, which means an additional $5,000.

Over the past few years, a wave of designers from former Soviet republics — led by the Georgia-born Demna Gvasalia, now the creative head of Balenciaga — have caused upheaval in the industry and have garnered huge interest in their point of view. But most of those brands show in Paris.

“We chose New York because of its openness and curiosity,” Ms. Sandor said. “Most of the influencers we work with are from America. We feel like they really feel our vibe.”

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A Nanushka employee at the Budapest studio. CreditAkos Stiller for The New York Times

And yet you won’t find Nanushka on the official calendar of New York Fashion Week, compiled and published by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the body that oversees it. With occasional exceptions, no new designer is allowed an official spot on the tightly controlled calendar its first year in New York. Instead, Nanushka will show what’s called “off-calendar.”

“Typically, if you haven’t shown before in a major market, we don’t put you on the official calendar,” said Mark Beckham, the council’s vice president of marketing. “We don’t want to get to a place where we’re rushing people to show.”

As it makes its big debut, Nanushka finds itself in an interesting place, where the traditional fashion power structures — department stores, editorial placement, New York Fashion Week — are at once both more and less important than ever.

Come presentation day, notable editors and buyers will certainly be in attendance, but the stars for Ms. Sandor are the online influencers who are occasionally given a free outfit or two. She is hoping to see Alyssa Coscarelli, the market editor of Refinery 29, whose @alyssainthecity Instagram account (and the name by which Ms. Sandor knows her) boasts 93,500 followers, and Reese Blutstein, a 21-year old Atlantan whose @double3xposure account is followed by 165,000.

Ms. Sandor is straightforward about the stakes, “It’s money,” she said. But she added that she was not too worried: “To be honest with you, I don’t think we’re risking anything. I’m quite confident it’s going to be great.”

She allowed for one exception: “If there’s a huge snowstorm, and nobody comes — that’s a risk.”

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