DENVER — When people hear that “Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective” is on view at the Denver Art Museum, they all ask the same question: Why Denver? The designer’s business and life partner, Pierre Bergé, has given several answers over the last few months: 1. I asked them first; 2. Why not Denver?; 3. J’aime Denver. (I love Denver).
But what will the exhibition — which brought large crowds and lines of up to two hours when it debuted in Paris in 2010 — do for Denver? “We believe we are the new cultural destination in the United States,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock when he addressed guests at the exhibition’s opening gala last Friday, adding, “Denver is ready to take our rightful place on this global stage.”
DAM is probably banking that the show, which runs through July 8, will unleash the Alexander McQueen effect in the Rockies. The 2011 blockbuster Met exhibition “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” attracted 661,509 visitors in its three-month run, and brought in millions of dollars in revenue (exact numbers were not available). The New York institution sold 23,000 museum memberships thanks to special privileges that allowed members to jump to the front of the line, and 17,000 visitors paid $50 to see the show on Mondays, when the museum is closed to the public.
In the months leading up to the Saint Laurent exhibition, Denver has pulled out all the stops to make sure everyone knows about the retrospective’s first and only engagement in the United States. DAM’s publicists alerted media about the show last fall, leading to mentions in all the major fashion magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. In partnership with the museum, Visit Denver, the city’s travel and tourism visitors’ information bureau, has been targeting regional and national markets with an ambitious direct mail, online, and print ad campaign, which included space in the Wall Street Journal, Women’s Wear Daily, and the New Yorker. Jayne Buck, vice president of Visit Denver, said that their main target audience is women in high-income households.
Exact figures aren’t available on how much was spent to bring the exhibition to Denver. The museum, for its part, is keeping mum. “We’re really hesitant to talk about numbers, but it was one of our more expensive shows in the last 10 years,” DAM director Christoph Heinrich told ARTINFO. Buck said the partner cooperative campaign cost about $200,000 and that it was part of Denver’s general summer marketing campaign, which has a budget of around $2 million.
In addition, the exhibition has partnered up with many local hotels and businesses to create special promotional packages, which consist of various combinations of hotel stays, spa treatments, cocktails, and meals. “There was no better pairing in luxury than to have the Ritz-Carlton Denver create a special package honoring Yves Saint Laurent,” said Allyson Fredeen, senior public relations coordinator for the Ritz-Carlton Denver. “It’s just going to bring travelers from all over the globe since it’s the only city in the entire nation” to host the exhibit, she added.
Denver is certainly buzzing with excitement. “I think if you would have said Yves Saint Laurent or YSL a year ago in this town to any number of people, they would have been like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Britta Erickson, director of the Starz Denver Film Festival, told ARTINFO. “But it’s really brought an awareness to this specific designer as well as how important fashion is and how it relates to the art world.”
Some denizens believe the show will help infuse style into the laid-back city. “I think it will bring a lot of people that we would want in Denver, very fashion-conscious people, because Denver is so casual,” said Alex Jimenez, assistant manager of the luxury consignment boutique Your Best Friend’s Closet. “It will spice it up a little.”
City officials hope that the exhibition will spark international interest and increased tourism. “The Denver Art Museum’s Yves Saint Laurent retrospective is a rare opportunity to draw a national and international audience,” Mayor Hancock told ARTINFO via email.
Buck is also optimistic. “Whenever there is an exhibition of this nature we see regional visitors come in, spend the night, eat out in the restaurants,” she said. “But when they come in they’re spending money to do other things – they may extend their stay and see something else.”
The move to bring the retrospective to Denver follows a cultural gamble the museum lost a few years ago when the then-new Daniel Libeskind-designed wing failed to bring in the projected million visitors a year, causing the institution to operate a loss and lay off several employees in 2007.
While the fashion spotlight shines on Denver at the moment, whether or not “Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective” will actually attract the masses and put the city on the world map as a cultural destination is yet to be determined — the verdict will come in July.