New York Fashion Week is the Holy Grail, the best of the best in sought-after, high-end fashion. Everyone wants to be there, but everyone who is there wants everyone else to go away.
It’s been speculated that NYFW’s relevance is nearing its end, notably by the New York Times earlier this month. So, why do we do it? Why do we participate, despite all the complaints? And how can we correct the issues that threaten this bi-annual event? Yesterday, I began my coverage of NYFW with a historical overview and current images. Today, I’ll tackle some looming questions and concerns about state of New York Fashion Week.
First of all, I believe that anyone who works in the fashion industry in any aspect should experience Fashion Week at least once. It’s incredibly exciting, albeit a bit overwhelming, with invigorating energy and inspiration found at every corner. It’s special. If fashion was a religion, NYFW would be its high holiday. But, as with many events held on a grand scale, its true purpose is often lost in the frenzy. Would you cancel Christmas, though, just because the meaning is lost on some?
Okay, maybe I’m taking this holiday metaphor a bit far, but New York Fashion Week is undeniably important to the industry. Twice yearly, hundreds of designers present their collections to buyers and the press at locations all over the city. It’s a costly venture, as well, with some paying nearly $750,000 to successfully produce their shows.
Let that dollar amount sink in for a moment. Now imagine you are a designer. You need to create your collection, and you also seek the backing of important editors and a-list celebrities, though their presence greatly distracts from the clothes themselves. That’s one major criticism of Fashion Week, as it has evolved through the years. What to do? Many designers this season, including Tommy Hilfiger and Oscar de la Renta, took an active stance against the tabloid frenzy that their shows have produced in the past. While they risked losing coverage their competitors gained through star attendees like Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, and Nicki Minaj, they held their shows in more intimate settings with smaller than usual invite lists.
This departure is one sure way to lighten the stress, keep the presentations on time, and maintain a focus on the garments. And lessening the Hollywood effect doesn’t mean designers can’t include big names in the actual shows. For example, Diane von Furstenberg featured Naomi Campbell at the close of her Lincoln Center presentation. Cara Delevigne, Georgia May Jagger, and Sky Ferreira all walked for Marc Jacobs. This proved a successful strategy for designers wishing to utilize big names without the risk of distraction.
Another point of issue is Lincoln Center itself. For decades, designers showcased in independent locations. In 1993, however, a dangerous accident at a Michael Kors show forced the Council of Fashion Designers of America to source a central setting for Fashion Week. From 1994 through 2010, Bryant Park served that purpose. Today, Lincoln Center has taken its place. But how could a glamorously appointed 17,000 square foot building with central heating and air be bad?
Of note, the designers themselves complain the most about Lincoln Center, but as a guest, I don’t really fault them. Vera Wang likened herself to a wedding caterer due to the way she and her team were rushed from the venue following her show to make room for the next designer. Not to mention, the number of sponsors is insane. Walking into a show at Lincoln Center is like entering an odd circus tent plastered with advertisements. Between shows, walking in circles, bombarded by signage, it’s easy to become so mentally exhausted you truly forget what you’re doing there. I’d slap myself for sounding so petty – am I complaining about attending Fashion Week? But the thing is, everything I’m saying is true. As a reporter, I’d almost rather stay outside Lincoln Center.
To answer the critics, it seems an easy fix would be to nix the idea of a central location and go back to independent venues. The idea is simple enough, but it poses another problem. As I stated before, independent shows are extremely expensive, time consuming to produce, and with the rise of the internet in the past two decades, more and more designers are looking to the web instead.
Thus, another big question moves to the forefront. Will the internet kill Fashion Week as we know it? It has definitely played a major role thus far. It started in 2009, when the late Alexander McQueen streamed his spring collection live on the web. When queried about the move, the designer explained, “I wanted to create a sense of inclusion for all those in the world who are interested in my work and the world of fashion. This is just the first step towards revolutionizing the ‘show system’ as we know it.”
It was an admirable notion, and the 3.5 million people who watched that show must have agreed. This season, 59 designers showed a live stream of their presentation to a worldwide audience. More than 630,000 people tuned in, the largest online viewership to date. And not only were there more people watching – 50% more than last season according to IMG and their live stream provider – but they were watching for 40% longer than they did during Fashion Week in February.
Unfortunately, however, when you crunch those numbers, you realize that each show averaged about only 14,000 views in total, and that each viewer only tuned in for one or two collections. The ‘fashionably late’ phenomenon may contribute. Since online viewers aren’t present in person, if a show is late to start, they quickly lose interest and move on to surfing elsewhere.
In this industry, nothing is simple and everyone wants to be seen. Obviously, there can be no one single strategy to solve every issue with New York Fashion Week, but from my perspective, there are definitely things that can be done to improve its current state. Certain aspects will need a fresh take to keep up its strength, but do I think the effort as a whole should simply be scrapped? No. The jobs it produces, the inspiration it provides, and the commerce it drives prove the power of NYFW to be undeniable – and they make these improvements worth the effort.
All photos, credit Heather Lettieri for DFW Style Daily.