The west side of Manhattan is filled with massive warehouses, vacant remnants of New York’s more industrial past.
But with the help of Skylight Group and its founder, Jennifer Blumin, those warehouses and otherwise disused historic buildings are now serving an altogether more luxe purpose: as the backdrop for runway shows.
At Moynihan Station — formerly the James A. Farley Post Office Building, which dates back to 1912 — a bare, cavernous space that was once used as a mail-sorting room has been transformed into a high-fashion runway. It’s just one of several Skylight properties that was used (and will be used) during New York Fashion Week.
“I’ve always loved the idea of taking something that was a post office and turning it into the hottest runway in the world. We’re bringing global exposure to historic buildings, ” Blumin said to Business Insider. “We don’t have to overly fetishize the past, but it doesn’t mean we should forget it either.”
Skylight itself doesn’t own the buildings it develops. The company takes control over historic but undeveloped spaces, renovates them to perfection, and then rents them out to companies planning events. In addition to Fashion Week, some of Skylight’s recent clients have included Google, Microsoft, Nike, and Ralph Lauren.
Nike, for example, tweaked the quote found on the facade of the former post office (“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”) to be part of a global media campaign appealing to athletes.
“We’re selling them a story more than we’re selling them space,” Blumin said. “People listen when there’s something much more profound to be said.”]
Moynihan Station is a building in transition. It will eventually become an extension of Penn Station, where Amtrak trains will come and go. By bringing high-profile clients and exclusive events like Fashion Week into the space, Skylight is playing a significant role in the development of the neighborhood.
“Part of what we were brought in to do was get the Moynihan Station name on the tongues of every New Yorker before the station is even functional,” Blumin said. “Fashion Week alone brings about $180 million to the neighborhood each year.”
Part of a Skylight building’s appeal is that it can be a blank canvas for clients to design around.
“Our current model is to give the designers the time and space to do what they do best, which is to build out an entire environment that’s reflective of their vision,” Blumin said. “We discover and provide the beautiful bones. They add the layers.”
For one event at Skylight Modern, a sparse, box-like space in Chelsea, Google essentially plopped half of an airplane in the middle of the room.
But for a 2013 Kenneth Cole show, the space had an entirely different look — bare, concrete columns, and models walking down runways illuminated by white light.
New York Fashion Week taking place at Skylight’s venues — Skylight Moynihan Station and Skylight Clarkson Square, plus MADE Milk Studios — is a somewhat refreshing change after years of shows held in clusters of tents at Lincoln Center. Some designers are still bucking the trend and holding their shows in one-off locations, like on piers on the Hudson River.
Blumin said she has heard some show-goers complain about the week’s traffic and how spread-out the venues are now. She personally gets around by Citibike.
“It’s not just about what happens inside the venues — it’s also about what happens on the streets. Why can’t a sidewalk be a runway?” she said. “The people who show up to these shows are usually just as interesting as what happens on the runway. It’s a form of expression, and that’s what New York is all about.”
Right before Fashion Week kicks off, Skylight’s work kicks into gear.
“My team works really long hours, and they live off M&M’s and Red Bull, basically. It’s a hectic time for everybody,” Blumin said. “Our job is basically done once the shows start rolling, though. If I go to a show, it’s for pleasure.”
“It’s nice to see the fruits of your labor.”