Hot studio lights glare down on runway models and attendees, while fat bass lines pump out of the speakers at upbeat shows. Other events lull guests with dimly lit venues and tantalizing classical piano. In the midst of the hectic week’s glitz and glamor, and alongside the designs themselves, the cocktails served play a vital role in a seasonal line’s branding.

This year’s New York Fashion Week (NYFW) includes a total of 104 official events (not including exclusive celebrity bashes) spanning five days. In fitting with the celebratory atmosphere will come an abundance of themed cocktail menus and occasions for attendees to imbibe. For fashion labels, which often host parties before or after designer shows, it’s a chance to welcome attendees with purposeful drinks. Beyond serving a physical buzz, each sip provides an opportunity to cultivate an identity as a comprehensive lifestyle brand.

Glasses of Champagne and Aperol Spritzes are all but synonymous with front-row tickets. However, brands are going further these days, via cocktail-dispensing garments and color-coordinated drinks matching the season’s look, all in the name of creating a curated experience.

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Mixing Up an Immersive Experience

At NYFW cocktail hours, brands aim to make the “invisible, felt,” says taste and smell consultant Mindy Yang. In other words, everything from the drinks’ aromas, flavors, and garnishes may be honed to evoke the intangible: a label’s identity.

This exact goal guides Yang’s work in sensory psychology. As CEO of Perfumarie and a consultant for alcohol and fashion brands, she’s often a key player in planning the strategy for companies’ cocktail events. She’s also worked as both a mixologist and beauty brand chemist before transitioning to the world of perfume marketing. Her client portfolio includes big hitters such as Calvin Klein, Dior, Chandon Vineyards, and even New York Fashion Week programming itself.

In the most extreme examples, the “invisible” might be felt — or tasted — as a literal component of a design.

The cocktail scene at New York Fashion Week.

In 2019, tech designer Anouk Wipprecht constructed futuristic costumes that delivered personalized cocktails to guests. The “Elixir” dress, as part of a partnership with Cirque du Soleil and software company SAP, contained multiple ingredients to create cocktails. After attendees answered a few questions on the iPad-like device on the models’ arms, the tech-y garment mixed up a custom tipple.

While the flashy Wipprecht innovation caught the eye of onlookers, the presence of cocktails at fashion week is often more subtle. Instead of the main event, designers and brands use alcohol and mixed drinks as supporting actors for their seasonal concepts.

Yang says that smell is an especially important aspect of such drinks. “Cocktails that are botanical, or spirits like mezcal, tequila, and whiskey [or] Scotch — those have really complex smell profiles,” she says. Thoughtful deployment of garnishes, too, can inspire positive memories and associations with people, places, or items. Aromas expressed from fresh fruit or herbs often evoke strong emotions — Yang mentions the rush of memories after smelling an ex-lover’s cologne or perfume.

New York-based mixologist Arley Marks creates fanciful cocktails for clients during fashion week. A former bar manager and sushi chef’s assistant, he has conceptualized ultramodern Eckhaus Latta’s NYFW cocktails nearly every year since 2010.

When Marks is approached by a fashion client, he’s often given complete creative license to design their drink recipes. He’ll play around with floral arrangements, sculptural glass presentations, and flashy drink hues.

His favorite fashion week cocktails include a 2016 variation on the Vodka Red Bull that combines the energy drink with cinnamon and hibiscus syrup, and Tito’s. Those unique ingredients tie with Eckhaus Latta’s bold, printed clothing.

Marks has also included blue-green algae powder, charcoal powder, and turmeric in his other post-show drinks. “People come to me because they trust me to create something that’s unusual and interesting, and that’s a good talking point,” he says.

On the service side, Marks says drinks must incorporate the aesthetics of a brand while also staying practical. Guests often leave the venue soon after the finale, so Marks often plans post-show cocktails around quick distribution. In the past, he’s batched up to 400 drinks ahead of time, waiting until the last moment to add ice and an elaborate (but quick) garnish.

Building a Fashion Brand Through Booze

For alcohol labels, NYFW partnerships can be mutually beneficial. Grand Marnier will return for the second year in a row as the official liqueur of NYFW. The partnership will see it host everything from a swanky bar pop-up to curated dining experiences.

It’s hardly surprising that the Campari-owned brand might want to associate itself with the event. Its proximity to the ritzy shows solidifies it as a premium liqueur befitting a luxury lifestyle. Guests will, hopefully, make the connection.

“Fashion is often about elevating your style, and Grand Marnier is all about elevating your cocktail experience,” Bernadette Knight, a marketing director at Campari America, told VinePair via email.

Forecasting Fall 2022 Cocktail Menus

For those entwined in the drinks industry, it might not be surprising to learn that this year’s drink menus may well feature ingredients that are currently à la mode among drinkers. Yang says to expect an emphasis on wellness, such as CBD drinks, non-alcoholic cocktails, and low-ABV vermouths. Especially health-conscious attendees might sip a can of butterfly pea tea or a matcha RTD, too.

Those so-called “good-for-you” beverages can aid in maintaining stamina throughout the week. As daily schedules run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and beyond, consuming booze-heavy cocktails at every event can result in hangovers and fatigue.

As buzzy designers sway the pendulum of what’s in style, unique cocktail trends enter the mainstream in a similar way. Guests this season might expect new twists on old favorites, as well as stunning new creations.

The cocktail scene at New York Fashion Week.

Marks spent the week before the show perfecting his cocktail builds. He’s currently crafting up another Red Bull variation; this time, he’s experimenting with mulberry tea and cinnamon.

During the NYFW: The Shows events in fall 2021, Grand Mariner served up the Grand 75, a bright and punchy Champagne cocktail, and the Grand Ginger, an aromatic tipple with ginger ale and lime. Those drinks are joined by the JR Maximalist Margarita, a newcomer to the 2022 festivities.

Celebrity stylist and fashion designer Jason Rembert partnered with Grand Mariner’s ambassador Xavier Herit to develop the tart passion fruit Margarita. The reimagined classic is served in a coupe glass with a black salt rim and dried passion fruit garnish. Guests can sip the drink at the Grand Dome cocktail bar at Spring Studios. Knight says it “celebrates maximalism with its bold flavors and color palette.”

The aesthetic elements in drinks and designs play so well together, it’s not surprising that they come together in NYFW plans. As labels draft up garment innovations to wow trendsetters, mixologists find similarly new ways to delight guests.

Sipping luxurious drinks at runway shows will always be en vogue.