Chris Corrado‘s fashion trade show, Capsule, was born of dissatisfaction with the status quo and an attitude of “If you’re not getting what you need from others, give it to yourself.” With industry experience making him a veteran in his field, the charismatic Corrado went on to revolutionize the traditional fashion trade show format leading attendees on a wholly experiential journey through the cavernous Capsule environs, while keeping a non-competitive, supportive relationship with and between participants. As part of Portable’s Curators Conference, Corrado will be sharing his insights and expertise, so we sat down with him ahead of the event to talk about the curatorship of brands and the ethics of style…

Portable: So tell us why you started the tradeshow in the first place, and what inspired it.

Chris Corrado: Well, I’m not sure if most people know this but we are a sales and PR agency for brands, it’s actually what our core business has been since the company was founded 8-9 years ago. And for years as a sales agency we’ve participated in other people’s trade shows, and that was all fine and dandy for a time, until we realized that we didn’t necessarily fit in with that experience as a whole, we didn’t have that right brand agency by the brands we represented, we didn’t have the right sort of atmosphere in the show, and eventually we decided that it made more sense for us to try to do something on our own.

So the initial plan was to find a small space, where maybe a few other brands that were interested in coming abroad, would just show with us. So we would do it at the same time at the other shows, or the menswear market in New York or the market in Las Vegas, and we were just going to do something small, and before we knew it, we had 45 other brands that wanted to show with us in that space, and we had to call it what it was. So it wasn’t like one day we sat down and said ‘Hey, let’s have a trade fair’, it was more like we just ended up with one, and of course, now 5 years later, we’re at a stage where we’ve got 12 shows a year between men’s and women’s markets, in New York, Paris, Berlin and Las Vegas.

P: Earlier you were saying that other trade shows are sub-par, but what do you see as the deficiencies across the board?

Chris Corrado: The typical tradeshow experience, not just in the fashion industry but across all markets, is that it’s a convention, it’s a giant place where ‘the more the merrier’, everyone is invited, and quantity, to a degree, is important for certain brands, but when you represent the brands we represent, the most progressive brands in the market, it’s more about quality, it’s about existing in an environment that actually compliments the brand.

So we looked at what actually existed in the trade show market, the amenities that trade shows offered brands and the experience, and we just looked at all the details that needed to be better. Easy setup, easy breakdown, a very clean, egalitarian layout – we don’t let people go crazy with displays or do giant build-outs, it’s not about how much money you can spend on building your booth, it’s about the quality of the product you represent. And by keeping that playing field even, you’re not playing any favourites, everyone feels like they’re getting a fair chance, and it creates that vibe of community, brotherhood and family. And that is a hell of a better way to hang out and do business than a competitive environment.

We also looked at little things like the music that we play, the food that we serve, the things that we invest into the show to make it better and smarter and more interesting, more educating and also entertaining, not in the sense that it’s that kind of show but more – are we inspiring the people with the things we are doing here? So it was a very simple formula: look at the things we didn’t like, fix them, and make them better.

P: What’s the process of selecting brands and designers?

Chris Corrado: We have a pretty large prospective list of designers that we’re interested in working with, having been in the market and working with brands for over 10 years, and working in this particular tier of the market we know what we’re interested in, which brands would fit in and the vast majority of designers that show with us are actually directly invited by us.

So we as a group set that list, review it seasonally, and send out the invitations, which is the bulk of it. But brands can also go to our website, and submit an enquiry to exhibit, and we have a judicial panel that reviews all of those brands, and then based on those reviews, we will get back to all those brands with a yes or no decision.

P: What in particular do you look for in that judicial process?

Chris Corrado: It’s complicated to answer, but more than anything I think it comes back to the way a brand makes us feel. There’s a lot of great product out there, and it’s hard when reviewing brands via things they send you through email or via the Internet to really know whether their garments really have a high quality of construction, or design aesthetic, there’s a lot you can’t tell from pictures.

P: So it’s got a lot to do with ethics as well as style.

Chris Corrado: It’s got to do with ethics, and it’s also got to do with the knowledge of the consumer in that they want to feel some connection to the soul of the brand, not just the product that they bought off of the shelf, and on the Internet you can actually learn a lot about the people that make that product, the guy that designed it or the woman that designed that dress – you have a personal story that you can go and learn about and investigate, and that makes a huge difference. Certainly to our market, because the designers that we work with and we represent and our clients are individuals who put thought into literally every step of the process. It’s never just a jean or a shirt, it’s a fabric they found somewhere, they probably had to climb a mountain and talk to a Sherpa, and that Sherpa’s grandma wove that fabric years ago. And all these stories make up these garments are what we’re showing in this particular setting, and it’s working at retail.

The one trend that’s been going for 10 or so years is that people want something that’s real, and something that feels unique to them, and that I don’t think is going to change. I think that’s only going to grow. And so it becomes even more important, or when you look at it that way, that there’s actually more room for these small designers to exist. You need them all in order for everybody to get their unique piece of awesome.

P: Do you think that desire for the more unique product comes out of the fact that everything is so disposable and accessible at the same time?

Chris Corrado: I think actually the last that we underwent, before people started caring about heritage product, if you rewind the tape a little bit, we were vintage inspired for a long time, not that that ever went away, along with vintage came this thing where all these little hipsters and tastemakers were out there and they were shopping cheap. They were going out and buying vintage t-shirts of 3 dollars. It was then that a brand like American Apparel came into play, because you could get what seemed like cool tees or shorts or vintage inspired bodies, real cheap, made in Los Angeles, interesting little segue way there – is that when people got bored of disposable fashion and it became so common everywhere, all of a sudden this heritage trend came around. All these old-school brands – Red Wing, Levi’s, a lot of the brands that we work with at our show that are heritage brands – these things became symbols of quality, they were actually a rebellion, in a sense, against that fast fashion that existed. The vintage thing, that actually still went forward and moved on and succeeded but the way it changed is that it went from being a 3 dollar thrift tee to now bring like collectors items, like how do you go and find that item.

That’s actually why we included vintage in the show, because there are retailers out there that are showing progressive men’s wear and women’s wear alongside beautifully curated vintage products, whether that be some piece of denim they found in a mine somewhere that they’re now charging $10,000 for, it just amplifies that drive for unique, real product. So we’ve got 4 or 5 of the best vintage purveyors in the world that exhibit with us, and sell those cash and carry, as well as bulk orders to retailers. But we’re actually maybe exiting that heritage phase, and getting into an evolution of that. I don’t think heritage will go away, maybe just move forward just as vintage did, as one little path, and now possibly the sort of performance / technical world is seeping in again because the product is real, it takes savvy and technology to create it, and because that shit is good.