Fashion: Exit Strategy

What does a designer do when she loses the funding for her collection? Hijack Ralph Lauren’s audience after his show.Showing your own collection on the street outside Ralph Lauren’s show, as Lola Faturoti did last Wednesday, would be a great stunt for any struggling designer determined to get her share of Fashion Week attention. But for Faturoti (pictured), dressed appropriately for her guerrilla action in camouflage and a black hooded sweatshirt, it was also an act of desperation.

Just last April, the 34-year-old Nigerian designer’s dreams were coming true. After a small show that earned raves in the press, one of her dresses landed in a Barneys window and then in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. Vogue soothsayer André Leon Talley visited Faturoti’s grimy West 29th Street studio and introduced her to advertising guru Peter Arnell. The Arnell Group gave Faturoti $10,000 for her next show in September and also arranged the location – Nobu – and the invitations. Swarovski Crystal co-sponsored the show, giving Faturoti $25,000 as well as $10,000 worth of material.

When Faturoti went to Arnell’s office to look at the invitation, she recalls, “I asked why Peter Arnell’s name wasn’t on it. The art designer said, ‘Mr. Arnell doesn’t lend his name to all of the small projects he sponsors.’ ” But after the invitations went out, Faturoti says, “André phoned to say I was in trouble. I felt awful. But the only mistake I made was not calling Peter Arnell to say, ‘Are you sure you don’t want your name on this?’ ” Faturoti thought the faux pas wasn’t fatal – until she came out after her show to take her bows. “I saw that André and Peter weren’t there,” she says, “and I burst into tears.” Though Faturoti is certain their absence was due to the invitation oversight, Arnell laughs at the notion, explaining, “I don’t generally go to fashion shows. I was probably very busy that day.” As for Talley, Arnell jests, “I imagine André was just sleeping late.” (Talley couldn’t be reached for comment, but his assistant insists that “André loves Lola.”) The invitation gaffe, Arnell says, “was a miscommunication between her and the art director.” He adds, “I’m very happy André and I were able to kick off things for her. She deserves it.”

Sure that Arnell was angry, Faturoti counted on Swarovski to fund her next show. “But then there was all this hoopla with Alexander McQueen and Randolph Duke,” she sighs. Swarovski co-sponsored or gave materials to all three designers last fall, but Faturoti was the only one who credited the company. Swarovski decided to put its sponsorship program on hold. “We love Lola,” says communications manager Nadja Swarovski, “but we certainly didn’t commit to her for a second show.”

Faturoti heard the news in early January. With three weeks and no money to prepare for her next collection, she decided to take to the streets. “I thought, everyone is coming to Ralph Lauren’s show. The least he could do – without knowing he’s doing it – is let me be a parasite on his back.” She raised $4,000, bought material instead of paying rent, and created the thirteen “Medieval princess” dresses her models wore on West Broadway. And she was right about Ralph Lauren. According to his press representative, “Mr. Lauren was not aware of Ms. Faturoti’s show and so is unable to comment on it.” He’d done enough for her already.

Fashion: Exit Strategy