New York Fashion Week: Bust or Dust?

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All good things must come to an end. Or, so the adage goes. And though we mourn the passing of people and circumstances that promote positivity, goodness, and mirth, we often understand, with great difficulty sometimes, that everything in life is temporary; every phenomenon has its moment. This is the circle of life!New York Fashion Week (NYFW) or in its original form, Press Week, was launched in 1944 by the industry’s first fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert. Eleanor Lambert started Press Week because American press and fashion industry professionals were not able to attend the European couture shows due to World War II. Being cut off from Europe facilitated a unique opportunity for Lambert to promote American designers to the American press and consumers.

Since its inception in 1944, Press Week, or New York Fashion Week as it now called, has evolved beyond anything Eleanor Lambert envisioned. This bi-annual event has grown from a mostly press and fashion industry event to an international phenomenon that has global coverage and merges the worlds of fashion, music and entertainment. 

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At its peak, NYFW was widely attended and covered by international press, major media outlets, and top celebrities—Beyonce, Rihanna, Vanessa Williams, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicki Minaj, Fergie, Paris Hilton, Grace Jones, Nicole Ritchie, Pharrell Williams, Chris Brown, Whoopie Goldberg, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Hudson, Martha Stewart, Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, Bette Midler, Jessica Alba, just to name a few. Add to that the proliferation of supermodels strutting in the shows and the variety of corporate sponsorship, from Mercedes Benz, Olympus, DHL, Amazon to Samsung, Papyrus, Skin Lab, and others, the CFDA, and later IMG produced a media event that was unparalleled and one of the largest on the planet.By the late 90s, Europe took notice and European and other world-class designers wanted to take advantage of the great press in the US, press which had surpassed international press at other international shows in Paris, London, Tokyo, and Milan. (Alexander McQueen, Alberta Ferretti, Diego Biletti, Georges Chakra, Antonio Bernardi, Versace Versus, Carlos Miele, Thom Browne, Hugo Boss, Vassa, Venexiana, and many others have showed at NYFW.) Additionally, international press began to take over the photographers’ risers and backstage at NYFW. This confluence of pop culture, international press, and glamorous fashion made NYFW one of the premier fashion events of every season.

That has all changed now, not only have the European brands jumped ship, but many top American designers are no longer interested in presenting during NYFW. (Tommy Hilfiger, Rodarte, Monique Lhuillier, Altazurra, Proenza Schouler, Vera Wang, and many others have opted out.) In fact, some American brands are throwing their hats more heavily into overseas markets, presenting their fall 2018 collections during Paris and London fashion weeks. And celebrities, well, they are few and far between at the shows. With the exodus of top celebrities, most of the major media outlets have disappeared as well.

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The decentralization of the shows is another big challenge. (Gone are the days of the tents at Bryant Park or Lincoln Center.) Add to that the almost complete disappearance of the international press, as well as the defection of top models to runway shows in Europe, China, Russia, and South Korea because of better pay, and you have a fashion week that is a shadow of what it was ten years ago.Why the exodus from NYFW, and has NYFW come to end as we know it, has the moment passed? “In fashion—and in a way, everything, but fashion more than anything else—there are these cycles. It’s true that we’re currently in a cycle where New York fashion Week has tended to be more realistic; more commercial, and so, for that reason, maybe, quite a few went to Paris this year … I think that New York, sometimes, isn’t the best place for growing the more creative of the brands, the less commercial ones, and that is probably the reason Rodarte went, and Proenza, and Altazurra, and maybe a few more,” explains Alexandre de Betak, creative director and founder of Bureau Betak in a article.

Prabal Gurung agrees in the same article, “ NYFW and Fashion Weeks worldwide have changed. The disruption through digital media has shaken the industry and has brought a rise in new voices, a new authority … while there certainly has been some shake-ups, change is a good thing as it inspires greater creativity …”

Still, one questions if the changing face of NYFW is a good thing. All change is not good, at least, initially. And is this change the result of the ever-evolving, peripatetic taste of the American consumer, or a reaction to America’s declining status as the premier world power. Interestingly, most of the brands that recently defected from NYFW are luxury brands that are finding more retail traction in Europe and Asia where luxury brands are have more appeal. According to a 2016 New York Times article, “[t]oday, Chinese shoppers account for nearly half of the global luxury market, providing invaluable demand to brands in every segment.” With Asian consumer’s luxury taste becoming more sophisticated and less label defined due to global travel, Asian consumers are always on the look for new, innovative, luxury garments that employ high quality fabrics, and have a distinct point of view.

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Combine the exodus of American luxury brands to greener pastures oversees to the stark reality that US consumer spending is down and Generation Xers and Millenials are far less likely to spend expendable dollars on pricey garments, opting for brands associated with pop culture collaborations—Off-White x SSENSE, Gigi Hadid x Tommy Hilfiger, Coach x Disney, Victoria Beckham x Reebok, just to name a few, and you have a very different retail environment compared to that market twenty years ago. As expressed in, “[t]he landscape of fashion has become increasing democratized, and the formula of offering limited edition pieces designed in collaboration with another brand or person proved to be extraordinarily lucrative and beneficial for both parties.” (Think of all the luxury collaborations in recent years with H&M, mostly with European brands, sold at way below luxury market levels.) This panoply of influences has created a landscape that is not so welcoming to US luxury brands.That said; many of the brands debuting at NYFW for the fall 2018 season are more commercial US brands—Juicy Couture, Carlisle, Land of Distraction, Saks Pott, and Alice McCall—or commercial Asian brands Peacebird (the Zara of China), KA WA KEY, VLEEDA, Clot, and Chen Peng—that are backed by big money machines. (Steve Kolb of the CFDA was spotted in China recently scouting Asian brands to bring to NYFW: Men’s.) Though some of the those brands already have market traction in the US and Asia; unfortunately, a significant amount will die the early death that most emerging brands experience in an over-saturated US market, fading from memory just as quickly as they emerged.

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Still, the challenges around NYFW continue, and one cannot but pause to reflect if the moment has expired or what we are experiencing is an expected, cyclical fashion malaise that will evolve into something more exciting and revolutionary. “The Fashion Weeks are changing and the whole way we look at fashion is changing completely, not just in New York,” details legendary hairstylist Guido Palau in a article. … “The great thing about fashion is that it never stays the same in any [fashion] medium … It’s all being mixed up to keep the whole thing exciting, and I think if we try to keep it in a certain way, it just becomes stale …” Hmm, I guess we have to wait and see.—William S. Gooch

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