Mercedes Threatens to Bail on New York Fashion Week

Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

The news comes as IMG plots a venue change (Goodbye, Lincoln Center!) following years of decline and bad buzz

New York Fashion Week hasn't been an elite fashionista event for a while. Ever since it departed Bryant Park in midtown, its exalted home starting in 1994, for Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side in 2010, it has become a bit of an all-access circus.

But now there's a whiff of change in the air. Sources say Mercedes-Benz, NYFW's title sponsor since 2009, is threatening to cut ties with the IMG-produced event, which would be a big blow. (Other sources say IMG and new owner WME are talking to new brands about taking over.)

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The shift would correspond with IMG's plan to move NYFW beginning in September to a new venue — thought to be in downtown Manhattan, rather than the staid Upper West Side. "The general consensus is that it's just not cool to show at Lincoln Center," says one longtime insider. Most top designers — including Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan — show downtown at an off-site location. And at the most recent NYFW, a top Hollywood publicist was overheard saying, "I would only let my actresses go to London or Paris shows. New York's just not as important or A-list."

Mercedes won't comment or reveal the value of its deal with NYFW, one of about 30 fashion weeks around the world it sponsors. And IMG, which says the NYFW events generate $865 million annually for New York and bring 110,000 media, individuals and designer contacts to the city twice a year, would only offer this statement to THR: "Mercedes-Benz is a valued global partner of ours across fashion, sports and several WME-IMG properties, including Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York, where they remain our title sponsor."

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The Mercedes friction comes at a vulnerable time for IMG. Several NYFW sponsors are said to be unhappy, and Catherine Bennett, who runs the events, is adjusting to IMG's new owners. (Silver Lake Partners, majority owner of IMG and WME, paid $2.3 billion for the company in January.) Still, some see the specter of an exit as a negotiation ploy. "Mercedes may walk," says another highly placed individual in New York fashion. "But I doubt it." This person predicts Mercedes will renegotiate its deal with a few extra sweeteners. "WME/IMG is a powerful combo. They have a lot of leverage globally together. Nobody wants to mess with them."

This story first appeared in the Nov. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.