The Tents documentary takes a backstage look at how Bryant Park changed the fashion industry
“An incredibly sexy trade show.” “Star Wars for women.” “A utopian village where everyone has cute shoes.”
For the denizens of New York Fashion Week, The Tents can mean a lot of different things, but for independent filmmaker James Belzer, the phrase signifies nothing less than the birth of a global fashion capital.
As a magazine ad salesman, Belzer was well entrenched in the industry back in 1994, when Bryant Park first became the nexus of what is now called Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Formerly a scattered series of presentations located in theaters, nightclubs and showrooms around Manhattan, Fashion Week was frenetic, disorganized and — in the case of falling plaster or overcrowded elevators — even potentially dangerous.
For director James Belzer, shooting the film also highlighted the city's need for a strong domestic manufacturing industry.
“I think you have to be an insider to know the truth,” Belzer says. “The purpose of this film is to explain the business behind the scenes and tell a story so that the outsider can be invited in.”
Belzer began filming in September 2009, just a season before the shows were moved from the park to their new location at Lincoln Center. Drawing on a cast of heavy hitters, including Betsey Johnson, Carolina Herrera, Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi, Nina Garcia and Tommy Hilfiger (among others), The Tents is a verbal history told by a multitude of personalities.
“I was business development director at Harper’s Bazaar at the time, and I realized Bryant Park was coming to an end. [CFDA executive director] Fern Mallis was my point person, and I pitched to Harper’s internally when I realized I had to leave my job to do this movie full time. To tell the story, I talked to a lot of behind-the-scenes people, the PR people, the show producers, the models, the editors.”
The final film is a light and lively glimpse at a world always on the cusp of the new, next thing. Although it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the faces on the screen, even a neophyte can walk away educated and intrigued by the ever-changing world of fashion.
For Belzer, shooting the film at the time when the shows left the center of the Garment District for new uptown digs also highlighted the city's need for a strong domestic manufacturing industry. This quest is the subject of his next film, Make It In Manhattan & the USA.
To help spread the message, Belzer is taking The Tents on the road to smaller markets where a boost in local manufacturing could really make an economic difference. The Dallas screening is 7 pm, January 31, at Magnolia Theater in the West Village, and features a Q&A with the director afterward.
“I’m not coming [to Dallas] just to do a screener,” he explains. “I want to use these screenings as an opportunity to engage people to get into manufacturing. Right in the suburbs of Dallas, there could be a factory space that needs to be put to work. The whole goal is to make manufacturing sexy, and do it in a positive, affirmative way.”
Tickets for The Tents are available through EventBrite. For those that can’t make the screening, the film can also be viewed streaming through Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and other outlets.