Mazdack Rassi is standing in a gutted area on the second story of Milk Studios. The floor is covered with a dusty tarp, the air-conditioner unit was just installed, and the only decoration in the room is a gray rolling trash bin and a yellow ladder along the wall. "This will be ready for Fashion Week," Rassi asserts, looking up at the exposed ceiling. In just a few days, fashion designers like Peter Som and Vena Cava will show their collections in this space, along with nearly 30 other runway shows and presentations throughout the venue, which is almost double the amount Milk hosted last season. With its hip group of designers, this season Milk represents a real downtown alternative to the Bryant Park tents. "There was nothing above the first floor that could hold up to 300 people. Now there will be," Rassi says, while pushing away paper scraps with his feet. "The difference between Milk and the tents is that we don't set up our tents twice out of the year. We're here 365 days out of the year. And we do thousands of photo shoots. We are not a pop-up. What we do is real."
As the creative director of Milk Studios, Rassi, 39, is the man who orchestrates almost everything, including renovations, within the 80,000-square-foot space he co-founded twelve years ago. His penthouse office looks purposefully busy, just like him. Stacks of magazines and books by Jeff Koons and Bob Colacello are piled high along the borders, while framed photographs like a nude Kate Moss by Rankin and a signed print of Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry line the walls. Rassi calls Milk a "hub of creativity." This is where Vogue shoots its covers. ("They are always very special. If Anna approves them, we feel very humble," Rassi says.) Eva Mendes is swinging by next week for a campaign, and H&M booked the top floor for a spring shoot. Terry Richardson, David Sims, Greg Kadel, and Craig McDean — "not the Cipriani crew," as Rassi explains — shoot here regularly. In just a few hours, he'll fly to Los Angeles and set up another situation room just like this, after he puts his stamp of approval on Milk's new $16 million West Coast complement studio — a huge launch he's sandwiching in right before Fashion Week.
This season's Fashion Week strategy unfolded quickly. Rassi was on his honeymoon in Tuscany in June with his bride, Zanna Roberts, senior fashion editor at Marie Claire, when he confirmed plans with M.A.C. to provide services free of charge for the first M.A.C. & Milk Fashion Week. "It literally took, and I mean this, fifteen minutes to put our lineup together. I said to designers, 'Listen, this year, you're not going to have to pay. Just come and do your thing,'" he says. "We're not trying to be a charity. It's a real business. But for some people, they know this gives them another six months." Alexander Wang, ADAM, Costello Tagliapietra, and Preen all moved to Milk. And old friends Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler and Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders loved the new plan right away. "They're like Milk family," Rassi says.
Rassi heads to the second floor, where his Emmy-nominated film team, Legs, is busy brainstorming new multimedia methods for fashion designers to present their collections. Good news, they tell him: Temperley London's project is near completion — but Shipley & Halmos want to forgo their original idea and start again. Rassi's face shifts. "Does the budget still work?" he asks. "We're going to make the budget work," one answers. He smiles, seemingly pleased.
Then Rassi heads down the hall to House, the in-house casting company, which is handling the shows for Christian Cota, Marchesa, and several others. On the way, he passes six tall, pretty boys and girls sitting on the hall bench waiting for their moment to impress Edward Kim, director of print casting. Rassi stops just long enough to see Jeneil Williams posing for her Polaroid. "I step away from this process mostly," he says, looking to Kim. "But we'll usually get these shots to the designer tonight." Kim nods.
Back in his office, he plops down on his black chair. He puts three staffers on a conference call to check on the status of Sam Haskins. The famed photographer will set up an exhibition — his first in years — on the main gallery floor, mere hours after Proenza Schouler finishes their show, and it's time for finishing touches. Proenza triggers something in Rassi, and he's back in Fashion Week mode. "I'm not trying to be an alternative show space. I'm in the service industry. I'm in the creative industry. And if we stay true to those things, it's going to be a great week," he tells his team. "When people say we're stealing people away from the tents, I just say, most of our group were never the tent type anyway."
His BlackBerry pings mid-meeting, and he checks the time.
"Okay, what's next?" he asks them. But before anyone answers, he answers himself. "Los Angeles. Let's go."