Olympus looks to Fashion Week for brand flair

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Olympus Corp., looking to glam up the image of its cameras, replaces Mercedes-Benz USA as name sponsor of New York's Fashion Week, after the DaimlerChrysler unit did not renew its three-year sponsorship.

Olympus wants to build an association between its cameras and upscale design, said Martin Lee, VP-marketing for the consumer products unit.

"We're building these different associations-whether it's designers or fashionistas-we're bringing them inside the tents and then we're taking them outside the tents," he said. It also helps that more than 600 international photographers-and potential consumers-will be working at the shows, he added. Fashion Week begins Feb. 6 and runs through Feb. 13.

`queer eye' connection

Olympus hired "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" designer Thom Filicia to design interiors for the show tents, which will include video walls showing photos of the day's events. Additionally, the company will sponsor an event at the tents Feb. 11 with "Today" show anchor Katie Couric to announce a charitable partnership with the National Colorectal Cancer Association. It will sponsor designer Esteban Cortazar's show.

"Olympus is doing an extremely smart thing," said Kenneth Panton, president of ecityofstyle.com, a fashion and lifestyle Web site. "It exposes them to a whole a new audience-more of an accessory, rather than equipment."

Even as the show tents were going up, organizers of the event, renamed Olympus Fashion Week, were still lining up additional sponsors, including negotiations with a network to replace Style Network. A spokeswoman said the cable channel chose to not renew its sponsorship, but will continue to air the shows.

Coverage is important for many sponsors, who value seeing their product photographed with the celebrities attending the shows. Sponsorships have expanded in recent years to a variety of non-fashion companies looking for the celebrity-fueled aura of hipness around the shows. This season's non-fashion sponsors include Johnson & Johnson, Delta Air Lines' Song, and North Fork Bank.

Sponsorships and designer participation had suffered during the recession and took a serious blow following the Sept. 11 attacks, which cut short the Spring 2002 shows.

"The economy has affected everything. After 9/11, it hurt everybody-sponsorships, designers, etc.," said Fern Mallis, executive director of Olympus Fashion Week. But with the recent upturn in the economy and in the luxury goods market "it feels right again," she said.


A spokeswoman for Mercedes said the Fashion Week relationship had been "mutually beneficial" but said the shows were very industry-focused while the automaker is refocusing its sponsorships to "provide direct consumer interface."

Departing sponsors are being quickly replaced, Ms. Mallis said. Groupe Danone's Evian Natural Spring Water replaced Fiji Water's Fiji as the official water, and Estee Lauder's MAC replaced Shu Uemura as the cosmetics sponsor, a key category supplying product to many designers' shows.

There are also other TV negotiations in the works, Ms. Mallis said, including a deal to produce Fashion Week programming for a broadcast TV network.

Sponsors have been the backbone of the shows since Fashion Week began in 1993, grouping what had been independent designers' shows. For Seventh on Sixth-the organization formed by the Council of Fashion designers of America to organize the shows-sponsors bring vital cash to the table, as well as goods to stock the tents.

contributing: jean halliday

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