The Trump-Made Nightmare Engulfing New York Fashion Week—and Stephen and Kara Ross

By tim.teeman@thedailybeast.com (Tim Teeman) alaina.demopoulos@thedailybeast.com (Alaina Demopoulos)
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

New York Fashion Week often brings drama and controversy. This year, that drama and controversy has started nearly a month early—and has nothing to do with exposed flesh, hemlines, or Kanye West.

One of New York City’s most powerful politicians has urged Hudson Yards tycoon Stephen M. Ross to “reconsider” his support of “cruel, racist, and misogynist” President Trump.

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New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s intervention is significant in that he is also the first member of the board of directors of arts venue The Shed at Hudson Yards—where fashion shows for New York Fashion Week are set to take place next month—to speak out against fellow board member Ross, who is chairman of real estate company The Related Companies and also the principal owner of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium.

Johnson told The Daily Beast: “It is disappointing to see Stephen Ross support Donald Trump, who clearly does not share New York values and every day demonstrates his efforts to divide our country. I urge Stephen Ross to reconsider his support for this cruel, racist, and misogynistic president.

“There are a lot of Trump supporters in this town on a lot of boards,” continued Johnson. “This is America and they can support who they want. But they should know that many people in this city are horrified at this administration, and they should expect to hear from these people. New Yorkers aren’t shy about expressing their disgust, and it’s one of our best qualities.”

The intervention of Johnson, an ex officio board member at The Shed, came after two high-profile designers—Prabal Gurung and Rag & Bone—announced that they would not be holding their fashion shows at The Shed during New York Fashion Week because of Ross’ Hamptons fundraiser for Trump last weekend. Ross did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast.

Another designer, Dana Lorenz of Fallon, quit the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) because of Ross’ wife Kara’s position as a board member of the nonprofit.

An unknown number of fashion shows are planned to be staged at The Shed during Fashion Week. A source at the venue confirmed to The Daily Beast Wednesday that “a lot of shows” were scheduled to take place there. The source could not give a precise number or say which brands and labels were showing at The Shed.

Indeed, those plans could be in flux following Gurung and Rag & Bone’s withdrawal, and the ongoing high-profile controversy around Ross’ position on The Shed’s board and his support of the president.

Johnson is the only Shed board member so far to speak out. The Daily Beast reached out to other Shed board members (one of whom is Diane von Furstenberg, wife of Barry Diller, chairman of IAC, which owns The Daily Beast). Of those who returned our inquiries none wished to comment, and a couple directed questions to The Shed’s chief operating officer, Maryann Jordan. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Daily Beast reviewed IMG’s fashion week schedule, which includes more than 80 designers. The CFDA released its calendar last month; when cross-referenced with IMG’s shows at Spring Studios, about 36 presentations are being held in locations that have yet to be disclosed.

So far, seven of those labels—Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Zimmermann, Carolina Herrera, R13, Marina Moscone, and Collina Strada—have told The Daily Beast that they will not be showing at The Shed.

WWD reported that Rag & Bone had existing plans to use The Shed during NYFW but switched locations after the Ross story broke. Fashionista reported earlier this week that Tory Burch, Kate Spade, and Brandon Maxwell were also not set to show at The Shed.

The Daily Beast did not hear back from Coach 1941, the ready-to-wear arm of Coach, which is headquartered in Hudson Yards. Other major labels like Longchamp, The Row, and Tibi did not respond to inquiries.

Both CFDA and IMG staff referred The Daily Beast’s inquiries on which designers would be showing at Hudson Yards to The Shed itself. The center’s director of communications, Sommer Hixson, would not directly address The Daily Beast’s main inquiry on whether any fashion shows would be held there.

“I cannot comment on third-party rentals or how rental clients plan to activate the space,” Hixson wrote in an email. When asked whether Ross’ position on the board was secure, Hixson sent a general statement.

“At The Shed, we believe that access to art is a right, not a privilege,” the response began. “We were established as an independent non-profit for all New Yorkers, visitors, and artists to share work across all disciplines. Our values are demonstrated through the artists we commission and the work we present. In many cases, the art on view at The Shed today reflects a radical response to the most urgent issues of our time and it underscores the importance of diversity and inclusion.”

“The Shed is fully independent and not owned or controlled by any private or for-profit entity,” the statement went on. “The Shed does not endorse or take part in fundraising for political candidates, period. We are committed to supporting and welcoming the widest range of artists and audiences, and we will continue to do so.”

In a statement last week, after the Trump controversy broke out, Ross wrote: “I have always been an active participant in the democratic process. While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about.

“I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions.

“I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability, and I have and will continue to support leaders on both sides of the aisle to address these challenges.”

His statement was immediately criticized, including by Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills, who said he had told his boss “you can’t play both sides of this.”

The Ross controversy began when The Washington Post revealed that Ross and his wife, a jewelry designer, were hosting a lavish fundraiser for Trump at their home in Southampton. It was the first of two Hamptons fundraisers, which in total raised a reported $12 million for Trump’s re-election campaign.

Ross’ company owns the boutique fitness companies Equinox and SoulCycle, and an exodus by members began on social media led by celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Billy Eichner, who called for people to cancel their subscriptions to the gym, which can run up to $300 a month.

Trump said of Ross last week: “He’s a great friend of mine; he’s a very successful guy. We were competitors but friends in real estate in New York in the old days. He’s probably more inclined to be a liberal if you want to know the truth, but he likes me, he respects me.” The fundraiser controversy made Ross “hotter,” said Trump.

Though the deluge of complaints were mostly focused on Ross’ gym ownership, a WWD opinion piece penned by Out magazine editor-in-chief Phillip Picardi shed light on the Ross family’s connection to Fashion Week. Picardi wrote, “New York Fashion Week Has a Donald Trump Problem,” referring to the fact that The Shed, a “cultural hub” located in the Hudson Yards pavilion, was the proposed future home of the bi-annual event.

Ross, as chairman of The Related Companies, was behind the $25 billion development of Hudson Yards, a 14-acre complex consisting of a mall, residences, and office buildings.

As critics of the project have noted, a study from The New School reported that The Related Companies garnered around $6 billion in tax cuts.

Picardi said that those who work in fashion like to consider their industry a liberal one, but any shows held at The Shed or Hudson Yards would be tainted by financial ties to Trump. Just as many canceled their Equinox memberships en masse, designers began protesting.

First, Gurung posted a statement on Instagram, saying he would not host his label’s 10-year anniversary show at The Vessel, an acorn-esque structure in Hudson Yards. “When I heard about the fundraiser, I chose to pull my participation,” Gurung wrote. “We hadn’t confirmed anything yet,” he added, saying his team had been in “direct contact and conversation with the team there and we were keen to partner.”

“I am not calling this out to be part of the cancel culture or start some tirade against people, but rather to question these individuals whose motivation seems to be nothing but $$$ and to also challenge our own integrity and choices that we make everyday,” Gurung also wrote. (The designer did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.)

This past weekend, the jewelry brand Fallon followed suit, with its founder, Dana Lorenz, also taking to Instagram to reveal that she withdrew from the CFDA in protest of Kara Ross’ position on the board.

“I will no longer participate if a woman that funds the current administration remains on the board,” Lorenz wrote in a post. (Kara Ross did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.)

“Democrats and Republicans coexist in many environments,” Lorenz wrote in an email sent to The Daily Beast. “It was an eye-opener to realize someone was hosting this type of fundraiser. I naively assumed the fashion industry was more progressive.”

In the days since going public with her resignation from the organization, Lorenz claims to have spoken with “several” other designers who are considering leaving the CFDA in protest. “I would urge them to search deep within themselves and ask what they would do if they had nothing to lose,” she wrote.

When asked about Kara Ross’ place on its board, a representative for the CFDA referred The Daily Beast to a statement that CFDA President Steven Kolb gave to WWD. The rep also said: “We’re very sorry that [Lorenz] decided to leave. As an organization, we cannot participate in political campaigns, as a 501C6 non-profit, we are legally restricted. We don’t discriminate by race, gender, political affiliation, and so on.”

The representative would not elaborate on Kara Ross’ standing as a board member of the CFDA, despite calls for her to resign. “She is on the board for now,” the spokesperson said. “Every board member has a term, and there is no news on that front.”

The CFDA has also declined to take a stand on where its members present. “We don’t tell designers where to show,” the rep said. “That’s really up to their own decision.”

The Daily Beast reached out to other board members of the CFDA, but none responded to inquiries. (One of the board members is von Furstenberg.)

“I have no idea what the CFDA can or cannot do legally on this issue,” Lorenz wrote. “One cannot escape the crisis of conscience it must be to call yourself a champion for equal rights, women’s empowerment, the LGBTQ community, and sustainability, and ignore the fact that someone on your board not only opened their home to the most dangerous president in history, but did so with the intention of raising 13 million dollars to continue this nightmare in 2020.”

The questions facing The Shed, and Ross’ position on its board, extend far beyond New York Fashion Week. It is principally a visual and performing arts venue.

The Daily Beast reached out to the artists scheduled to perform or host events at The Shed in the next few months, including artist Agnes Denes. A spokesperson for Denes’ gallery, Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, said they had no comment.

Electronic musician Jan Jelinek told The Daily Beast that he had decided to go ahead with his Aug. 24 performance at The Shed, despite the “intolerable and unbearable” ideology of Trump.

“As a German artist living in Berlin, I wasn’t aware of this problem,” Jelinek told The Daily Beast. “After careful consideration I decided not to cancel my performance in The Shed for the following reasons:

“First of all, there are pragmatic reasons behind my decision: Contracts have been signed, flights have been booked, another concert in Brooklyn is already confirmed. A planning process that lasted for weeks required the cooperation of several people, whose political integrity I am convinced of. With a boycott I would harm these people. The concert in Brooklyn would have to be cancelled. Here, too, I would harm an organizer who is not involved in this controversy.

“The invitation to perform at The Shed did not come from Stephen Ross himself, nor from any member of the institute’s staff, but from my artist friend Tony Cokes. My concert is part of his exhibition Collision/Coalition. A boycott of my performance would also question his political integrity, and I have no doubt about his integrity.”

Jelinek said he had “sympathy for artists who opt for such a boycott. To support a Trump ideology in any way seems intolerable and unbearable to me. The boycott of a single person which takes a whole, many-voiced institute hostage seems to me, however, the wrong strategy for the above-mentioned reasons.”

Other artists and their spokespeople stayed silent. A representative for the singer and performer Arca did not respond to requests for comment; nor did Najee Omar and Kameelah Janan Rasheed, who are overseeing a project called Dis Obey, which “provides space to explore protest and creative action through writing, storytelling, and visual art workshops”; nor did the choreographer William Forsythe and his representatives.

The Shed’s first guest curator, critic Nora N. Khan, did not return a request for comment for a group project, Manual Override, that she is overseeing.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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