A Champion for Young Designers Returns to Fashion Week

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Brad Barket / Getty Images for Gen Art

Gen Art hosts the debut of William Okpo's fashion line on Thursday in New York City.

After a two-year hiatus, Gen Art, the champion for emerging talent in arts and entertainment, returned with a comeback show to kick off New York Fashion Week on Feb. 9. Established in 1995, the company showcased up-and-coming designers — including Zac Posen and Phillip Lim — filmmakers and artists. The company, and all of its fashion shows and film festivals, shut down when corporate support dwindled in the wake of the recession. But on Thursday night, Gen Art was back with the "New Garde Fashion Show."

New Garde showcased three designers who are about to pass the "tipping point of renown with a full-fledged European-style fashion show. The event was similar to its famed Fresh Faces show, which features several emerging designers such as Ann Yee and Project Runway winner Jeffrey Sebelia and was also re-launched in September. Hosted by Entourage actress Emmanuelle Chriqui, the runway show presented designs by Gemma Kahng, Samantha Pleet and sibling duo line William Okpo. It was also the first show to collaborate with a charity; all proceeds were donated to the RAISE Hope for Congo campaign under the Enough Project.

As emerging designers, the hardest thing is to grab everyone's attention. All of us are kicking and screaming for attention and Gen Art is excellent at pulling press and buyers to check out our work, says Lizzy Okpo, who designs William Okpo, a women's wear brand, with her sister Darlene. On Thursday, the pair showed their New York public school inspired line of hot pink overalls and striped boxing jackets.

The event kicked off to the beats of DJ Harley Viera-Newton of Roc Nation as partygoers mingled among Gen Art alumni like Whitney Port from the reality show, The City. with complimentary cocktails and champagne. Besides one screaming baby and Kahngs first model accidentally flashing the audience, the show was a smooth-sailing, yet provocative debut.

All three designers kept to their vastly contrasting aesthetics. Kahng headlined the show with her leather and lace filled line followed by Samantha Pleet's flower child themed collection described by the designer as a revival of Romanticism. William Okpo closed the show with a funky collection of mixed plaid and neon. Yet the party continued after the runway lights dimmed. Guests kept the venue open late in a classic Gen Art after-cocktail-party—pleased the organization hasn't lost its party-throwing touch.

Gen Art began in the NYU law school dorm room of Former Gen Art CEO, Ian Gerard, who, with the help of his brother Stefan, launched the organization to showcase new, young visual artists. Last May, the Gerard brothers posted an online letter to fans saying, It is with an extremely heavy heart that we are posting this. After struggling for the past 18 months since the economic crisis, Gen Art has finally succumbed to the recession." The close was unexpected to fashion players outside the company. It was a complete surprise, Tatiana von Furstenberg, director of a Gen Art winning film Tanner Hall told the New York Times. There was speculation at the time that the true reason the organization was closing was because of mismanagement. A Gen Art tipster told Gawker, Gen Art deserves to die. It doesn't support artists, it supports wannabe socialites who need another party to be seen at. Hopefully people will realize this and give their money to a real charity.

Marc Lotenberg, CEO of Gen Art and founder of 944 Magazine, a monthly fashion, entertainment and lifestyle publication,is credited with helping the organization resurface. After 944 gained several employees from Gen Art layoffs, he researched where the company's assets had gone after the bankruptcy. He eventually approached publishing company Sandow Media, who acquired Gen Art and agreed to help stabilize the company in its first year of re-launch. After raising additional capital, Lotenberg became CEO. Designers depend on Gen Art to help showcase and completely fund their lines to expose them and catapult them to the next phase of their career, says Lotenberg.

At least for now, well-heeled fans can expect more events from Gen Art as fashions prodigal son renews its record of debuting the Next Big Thing.