Beside the old-school Wanamaker eagle, Mayor Nutter on Thursday welcomed the first set of designers to enter Macy's Philadelphia Fashion Incubator.
Nutter was joined by Macy's Inc.'s chief executive officer Terry Lundgren and Center City District president Paul Levy to laud the incubator's inaugural class.
"This is about jobs and economic vitality," Nutter said of the first city-sponsored work space dedicated to developing up-and-coming designers. "The fashion and retail community [in Philadelphia] is bigger and better than ever, and we have design talent contributing to this."
Philadelphia is actively trying to expand its "creative-economy district," which right now is defined as a one-block corridor along 13th Street between Chestnut and Market Streets. In time, the city hopes the lower rents east of 13th will attract additional creative entrepreneurs to set up shop in the area.
The incubator is being touted as the catalyst to spur such growth.
This year, the incubator will be host to five designers-in-residence selected from a pool of 25 applicants, Nutter said. Ten of Philadelphia's fashion and retail insiders, including designer and Philadelphia University professor Danny Noble and Nicole Miller franchise owner Mary K. Dougherty, made the final selections.
"We wanted designers whose collections were salable," Dougherty explained.
Organizers hope that, by the end of the year, the selected will have solid business plans and will be closer to launching their own fashion lines.
"I want these designers to be so successful," Lundgren said, "they will one day be selling their products here at Macy's."
An alumna from each of the city's three design schools was chosen, as well as a wild-card designer (this year, one of the four chosen is actually a pair). Applicants had to be in business for at least one year, but less than three. They are: Autumn Kietponglert, a graduate of Drexel University, whose womenswear line, called Heartless Revival, features zippers as a key element; Kaitlyn Doherty, a graduate of Philadelphia University, whose womenswear line is inspired by architectural silhouettes and her travels abroad; Melissa D'Agostino, a graduate of Moore College of Art & Design, whose multiuse wrap pieces are tie-dyed; and sisters Latifat Obajinmi and Moriamo Johnson, who are using traditional African prints to make modern-day, workingwoman silhouettes.
"Yes, we are very excited," said Johnson, 30, who lives in West Philadelphia. "We are going to try to use this opportunity to build our careers as much as we can."
The Philadelphia incubator is the second of its kind in the nation and is modeled after a five-year collaboration between the City of Chicago and Macy's. Graduates of the Chicago-based incubator have opened stores in the Windy City.
Macy's third fashion laboratory is scheduled to open this year in San Francisco.
As part of the program, designers-in-residence do not receive a monetary stipend, but will get hands-on experience, a 600-square-foot work space on the third floor of Macy's, opportunities to make connections with Philadelphia's business and fashion insiders, and seminars and workshops on time and money management, including a presentation this month from the highly respected trend forecasters the Doneger Group.
There are plans for designers to feature their work in a pop-shop (location to be decided), during the annual weeklong series of fashion events called the Philadelphia Collection, and in trunk shows throughout the year.
"We want these designers," said Elissa Bloom, the incubator's executive director, "to walk away with the resources needed to know how to be successful."