Dispatches From New York's Fashion Week

Lifestyles of the Not-Yet-Famous
The language of style.
Feb. 12 2004 8:19 PM

Dispatches From New York's Fashion Week


Click here to see a slide show from fashion week.

Arlequin at the MAO Space
Arlequin at the MAO Space
A Cat Swanson runway look
A Cat Swanson runway look

You think being a fashion designer is all glamour? In reality, it's a rough life, especially for new talent still on the fringe. Raising funding for your label—even for the big players—is next to impossible. In this business, it can take up to five years to recoup your investment, if you recoup it at all. Manufacturing clothes is a logistical nightmare—fabric deliveries are unpredictable, quality is hard to control, perfecting fit is an endless struggle. And the fashion press can be brutal. Where does the little guy go to get a break? Two blocks south of the huge white tents currently dominating Manhattan's Bryant Park, where big names like Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta show their new collections, exists a parallel universe of the struggling and unknown. There are the same leggy models and runway photographers, note-taking fashion editors and nervous designers, but here in the ragged third-floor offices of 66 West 38th, the atmosphere is one of excitement, uncertainty, and hope.


This is MAO Space, fashion's most important venue for fledgling labels. With its whitewashed plasterboard walls, acid-green couches, and bar that serves only Red Bull, MAO looks like a social-services organization for young people afflicted by a love of fashion. One imagines it to be the perfect place for a group meeting, where the addicted could stand before the crowd and come clean. "I am a fashion junkie," they might confess. "Help me."

MAO founders Mauricio and Roger Padilha
MAO founders Mauricio and Roger Padilha

What else beyond fashion addiction could explain the devotion of Mauricio Padilha, 34, and his brother Roger, 31, to the cause of fashion's underserved talent? Graduates of the Parsons School of Design fashion program, the brothers opened their fashion PR company (MAO is Mauricio's childhood nickname) in January 1999, after closing their own downtown label, Spooky, in 1998. Their intent was to do "good works" in fashion by giving a platform to fringe talent. By the end of this week, 18 designers will have debuted their new lines to journalists and buyers on MAO's runway; without the organization, these labels might not have shown at all.

MAO Magazine promotes “creativity first”
MAO Magazine promotes "creativity first"

You are not likely to know the labels showing at the MAO Space, and perhaps you never will. But the Padilha brothers have a broad eye for talent. Shopping for club clothes? Check out Heatherette. Need a swank dinner suit? Look to Michael Soliel. These young labels are often competing for business with companies whose budget for floral arrangements would keep them in fabric for a year. But whatever shot these designers have at the Big Time is largely due to the Padilhas' knack for marketing. For the second season in a row, MAO has published its eponymous magazine that promotes the company's ethos of "creativity first." Like-minded fashion luminaries such as legendary fashion editor Polly Mellon and Barneys creative director Simon Doonan have contributed to MAO Magazine for free, as have Liza Minnelli and Boy George. Not bad for two guys working on fashion's fringe.

Gary Graham’s new collection
Gary Graham's new collection

Are the Padilha brothers bringing fashion's fringe to the center with broader visibility? "I would hope so," Roger Padilha says without missing a beat. "Fringe fashion is cool because the stuff is cool, not because people don't know about it."

Josh Patner has written about fashion for Slate, the New York TimesBritish Vogue, Glamour, Elle, and Harper's Bazaar.



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?