Ovation is peeling back the curtains of the fashion world with The Fashion Fund, a series following the endowment that began 10 years ago supporting emerging designers.
The Fund, a joint effort by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Vogue, follows 10 designers in 2013 competing for the top award -- a $300,000 grant and a one-year mentorship with an industry heavyweight. The Fashion Fund covers the entire process, from the initial application to intense panel Q&As (in front of the likes of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and Diane Von Furstenberg) and studio visits.
People interested in following The Fashion Fund like other similarly-themed fashion competition series will be disappointed, as the winner for last year's CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund was crowned in November: menswear designer Public School (Maxwell Osbourne and Dao-Yi Chow), who have since tripled in size (from three to nine staffers).
"We were never interested in a reality show," Steven Kolb, CFDA president, told reporters Friday at the winter Television Critics Association press tour, insisting that "the real story is the process." When a reporter suggested that the first episodes felt static, Kolb countered that by remarking that the Fund itself was not "created for TV," adding later: "We didn't create anything special for the TV show."
A comparison was made to Project Runway, Lifetime's fashion competition series that crowns a winner each season from a group of designers. But Chow and fellow panelist Juan Carlos Obando, CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runner-up, says the The Fashion Fund is a completely different animal. (For starters, designers applying for the Fund must be in business for at least two years.)
"It's probably a different level. The Vogue Fashion Fund is really monumental for your success. A show like Project Runway -- we maybe have seen a handful of episodes -- that's for TV. When you speak to the established designers, this is a rite of passage for a young designer who have an intent to make a career out of fashion," Chow said.
Obando said that the Fund isn't about a designer winning over another, adding: "The Fashion Fund is capturing that specific moment in your career. ... The nurturing of the 10 people defines the rite of passage of what you will become." He cited Rag & Bone, a finalist in 2006, as a prime example. Though they didn't receive the top prize, "they're a major company now." Previous winners have included Proenza Schouler, Greg Chait, Alexander Wang and Thom Browne.
Kolb distanced The Fashion Fund from Project Runway and other shows like it. "The distinction is the word career," he said. "They're not aspiring designers. They're already in it. That's the big distinction."
To hear the Public School guys tell it, winning the Fund is a big step. "Press has been outstanding and amazing," Chow claimed. "The light that has been put on the company now has been pretty dramatic and it's pretty big."
As far as the public's perception of Wintour as an Ice Queen, the designers shrugged them off.
"She's the coolest person ever," Osbourne said, using words like "warm," "sweet" and "smiling" in describing fashion's arguably most influential personality. Chow called her "entirely committed."
Obando noted that "the perception is not the reality," sharing the best piece of advice Wintour has given him at a particularly difficult time during his process. "You can't be all things to all people. You have to do one thing well."
The Fashion Fund premieres Jan. 22 at 10 p.m. on Ovation.