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McDonald’s Bows Out at Fashion Week

Crain’s New York, February 11, 2010

By Adrianne Pasquarelli

The usual designers were in attendance at the tents at Bryant Park on Thursday, the official first day of New York Fashion Week, but one big name was conspicuously absent. After two seemingly successful seasons as a co-sponsor of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, fast food giant McDonald’s Corp. declined to sponsor the February shows.

Upon entering the tents Thursday, several Fashion Week attendees immediately turned right, expecting to see the McCafe lounge, where McDonald’s spent the last two seasons serving its McCafe line of hot beverages free of charge. Many attendees surprised that McDonald’s would sit out the last Fashion Week to be held at Bryant Park.

“We had a tremendous presence at Fashion Week in 2009. The integration allowed us to really propel our presence and awareness and generate trial of our new line of McCafe coffee,” said Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s, adding that the goal was reached and another sponsorship of Fashion Week was not warranted. “It was designed as a launch platform.”

Experts say the eatery succeeded in generating buzz for its McCafe line and that it probably didn’t want to spend the money for the sponsorship, which is estimated to be in the high six figures.

“It doesn’t catch me by surprise,” said William Chipps, senior editor of IEG Sponsorship Report, which tracks and analyzes corporate sponsorships. “McDonald’s used that partnership to promote the launch of its McCafe specialty coffee lines among fashionistas and trendsetters. My take is they reached that audience, and decided it was time to move on.”

IMG has now enlisted Starbucks to offer fashionistas Frappucino Lite, a limited-calorie option created especially for Fashion Week. Ironically, experts say McDonald’s started the McCafe offerings in order to compete against the more upscale coffee chain. According to sources at the tents, Starbucks pitched the Frappucino Lite concept to IMG.

A representative for IMG Fashion, the production company behind Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, did not immediately return calls requesting comment.

Last February, fashionistas were initially taken aback when mass market brands McDonald’s and QVC—not normally associated with the glitzy opulence of runway shows and Fashion Week—signed on as sponsors of the eight-day series of runway shows and parties. McDonald’s paid an undisclosed amount to be the coffee vendor at the tents and serve lattes and cappuccinos to caffeine-starved editors, buyers and designers.

After exceeding expectations for the number of beverages served last February—more than 13,000 cups of espresso and coffee had been poured by the halfway mark of Fashion Week—McDonald’s returned as a sponsor this past September. At the time, experts agreed that the partnership made sense, as fashion was returning to more modest price points and a low-cost coffee product was likely to be well-received.

Earlier this week, McDonald’s made headlines by announcing positive same-store sales of 2.6% in January, lifted by a strong performance overseas. The chain reported that total sales rose 9.1% during the month.

In a sad note for the fashion world, famed designer Alexander McQueen, whose Meatpacking District retail store is known as a destination for the neighborhood, was found dead Thursday at his London apartment after an apparent suicide.

Mr. McQueen’s McQ line was scheduled to appear in a show Thursday evening at Milk Studios. It has been cancelled. Mr. McQueen’s Web site is down and his Meatpacking District store is closed.

Mr. McQueen was 40 years old.