FWO Influencers Presents: David Manning, owner of KIA STYLE360
By Chris Collie
How did David Manning transform a PR company into one of NYFW’s most high-profile showcases? One thing’s certain: As a platform for some of today’s top designers — and now thanks to a new sponsorship with KIA — Style360 is driving New York Fashion Week like never before.
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As the latest installment in Chris Collie’s FWO Influencers, Chris speaks with KIA STYLE360’s creator, David Manning (also president of A-List Communications).
Q: I always like to go back to the beginning. You attended the University of Vermont as an economics major. What was the inspiration to get into sports and entertainment, and then create a branding agency?
I grew up in Boston, which is more of a financial town. I always had that upbringing too, so I thought I was going to become this business, e-con type person. That’s what I studied in school. Then when I get out of school and got my first job, I realized I hated it.
When I got my first e-com job, I realized I hated it.
I play guitar, so I’ve always had a passion for music. And I’d always taken the advice to heart, “Do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” So I pursued that, and got a job in the music industry, and kind of got exposed to the marketing and sponsorship side of the business. It was a great fit for my business acumen and love for entertainment and music, so I just followed that career path., through several companies. The first company was the company that actually produces the New Orleans Jazz Fest and Newport Jazz Festival and things like that. I ended up being the vice president of marketing for Clear Channel Entertainment, which is now Live Nation, the concert company.
Do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
And then I decided to take a chance and start an agency with a few folks, then I sold out of that and started A-List Communications. So when the music industry did kind of a little downturn, I got exposed to some marketing opportunities with some other brands, particularly Premiere Magazine, which at the time was the #1 consumer film magazine, and that opened us up to a lot of opportunities with film.
We started working with Hollywood studios and doing film premieres and parties; Sundance and Toronto film festival activations. We started building a lot of brand marketing and event opportunities with that magazine. They were owned by Hachette Filipacchi, and they loved the programs so much that they introduced us to Elle magazine.
They loved the programs so much that they introduced us to Elle magazine.
They said, “Hey, can you build something for Elle in a similar fashion?” And we did. We built a program called “Style Lounge,” which is kind of what we have now, only on a smaller level. And then we changed the name around 4 years later when all these “gifting lounges” started to appear.
We didn’t want to be perceived as a gifting lounge, so we changed it to “Style360” because our premise is that we’re sort of 360 degrees of promotion marketing during fashion week.
Our premise is that we’re 360 degrees of promotion marketing during fashion week.
So we changed the name and evolved from there.
Q: In terms of fashion, how did you conceptualize Style360? How did it go from a marketing company to actually introducing new collections? Was that always the intent, or did that come about more organically? Because a lot of big names are now showing at Style360.
I think we just kind of saw an opportunity in the marketplace. When we came out, it was all about Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at the tents. There weren’t a lot of other opportunities [for designers] unless you were producing your own show. And as you know, even if you’re an established designer, or a newer designer producing your own show, between the lighting and casting agents and everything you have to do, it’s easily a 6-figure proposition.
When we came out, it was all about Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. There weren’t a lot of other opportunities [for designers] unless you were producing your own show.
And the offerings at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week were great in the industry, but they weren’t that discounted. You were paying anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 just for a venue, then you still had to bring in your hair and makeup, and other things like that. So it was still a pretty expensive proposition.
Producing a fashion show was easily a 6-figure proposition.
So we just saw an opportunity in the marketplace and said, “Let’s create an opportunity where a lot of the production is already absorbed: the hair, makeup and lighting. We’ll bring in partners and sponsors that are organic to the initiative, from photography and camera companies and automobiles, to online and media companies.”
We were partnered with Elle at the time. And everyone was able to contribute to the mission of co-promotion, to make the events as big as they could be, at the same time subsidizing the cost of entry for the designers. We thought, “Let’s do this and see what happens.”
We thought, “Let’s create an opportunity where a lot of the production is already absorbed, and see what happens.”
And we found there was a great opportunity for us to come in, and we did. And we found there were a lot of celebrities coming out with their own lines, with a very busy schedule. And they really needed an offering where someone could handhold them through the process, take on a lot of the production work, so they could come in really focused on the collection.
We found there were a lot of celebrities coming out with their own lines.
Q: Well there’s proof that it works. What is this, your 11th year? How has A-List Communications grown with the evolution of Style360, now KIA Style360?
Yep, 11 years! The program gives us some credibility when speaking about fashion. We get the opportunity to come to the table to speak with great brands like HSN, for example, which is how the Serena Williams Collection came about. And that leads to other opportunities. We also have culinary offerings, thanks to our partnership with Wolfgang Puck, and other areas. And that allows us to grow into other areas.
The KIA partnership, for example, involved creating a program for them sponsoring at Sundance Film Festival. And the big success there allowed us to involve them in Style360.
Q: So as it’s grown into a mainstay of New York Fashion Week culture, have you become more hands-on, or stepped back to be involved exclusively in the creative side, leaving the day-to-day to others? And what do you plan to do to make it even bigger, if that’s your goal?
Actually, the bigger it gets, the more day-to-day I am, because fashion is a very specific conversation to have with brands, with designers. It’s all about brand image, so that’s a very difficult thing to pass off.
It’s all about brand image.
So I’m very involved, though obviously it takes a big team to pull it off. I have a lot of great people under me making it happen. But my job remains pretty much the same, and maybe more so, in terms of picking the designers, curating the show, developing the sponsorship relations, designing the new KIA Style360 logo, which is something that I worked on with my designers … so yes, very involved with all those specific nuances. And of course growing the team, choosing the team members underneath me.
Fashion’s a great space, but it’s a busy space, too. It’s a lot of work, but the great thing about fashion is that everyone’s so passionate about it. It’s about a vision that everybody has. So it’s a nice thing to be part of.
It’s a lot of work, but the great thing about fashion is that everyone’s so passionate about it.
Q: How do you choose the designers for Style360? Can people submit, or do you target certain designers? What’s the process?
It’s a little bit of both. But for us to keep it manageable and on budget, we have a specific process. We usually have a couple of celebrity designer brands, plus some established or growing fashion designers, like Raul Penaranda, for example. And a couple of mainstream designers showing within that as well.
We try to use that formula so it’s a good mix every season. A little bit of something for the fashion community, something from the pop culture side; from celebrity to emerging designers with a strong buzz. We want people who have a good following and who can generate some excitement and buzz themselves.
With the opportunities we’re seeing with New York Fashion Week, our next evolution will be to expand.
To your question about how we’re evolving, we’ve had this formula of 6-8 shows, but with the opportunities and the shift that we’re seeing, and the opportunities opening up in general with New York Fashion Week, I think our next evolution will be expanding the days, so we can accept and host more designers, which will make the process of people submitting to us more amenable.
Q: That would be huge. Because I know there are so many designers out there, especially emerging designers, and producers, who would love to have a shot at working with Style360. What kind of advice would you have for emerging producers, who’d like to to show they can help you produce a show. Is there any specific formula or thing you look for when looking for producers to help you with the shows? Are there any emerging producers you have your eye on? Or do you mainly promote in-house?
Producers usually come with the designers, but [when looking] I would say success and track record. You don’t have to have produced 100 shows, but if you’ve done a couple shows that have proven successful, that’s definitely something we have an eye on, and can kind of bring you on the team.
We also want to make it the designer’s show, too, so they definitely have a lot of latitude to produce their own show within the space, and work with the people they usually work with. They’re not necessarily utilizing my team every time. We’re there if they need us.
The designer has a lot of latitude to produce their own show within the space.
Q: From the time you started A-List Communications and Style360 until now, would you say you’ve achieved all you set out to do, or are there still things you want to achieve?
It’s been a long, great road, and there’s a lot more to come. I don’t think we’ve even come close to where I would like to be. I think the fashion community is a very tight-knit community. My goal, at the end of the day, is to be fully embraced by all parties, and seen as one of the hubs of New York Fashion Week.
And the next step will be extending the days, so we have more opportunities for more designers.
What celebrities and designers will be at year’s event? Visit KIA STYLE360 at Style360NYFW.com.