A Significant Operational Shift Comes to New York Fashion Week

Image of Dior Haute Couture Fall 2020 courtesy of eveningstandard.com

New York Fashion Week (NYFW)  is one of the crown jewels of fashion events, and the kickoff to the grand tour for runway shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. However, for the past few years, NYFW has lost its luster. The days of the glamour and star-studded moments of Bryant Park and Lincoln Center is a thing of the past. Still, the passing of the old guard and the traditional way of having fashion shows facilitates room for  a new generation of editors, designers, stylists, and fashion industry professionals.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, it is imperative that  the fashion industry completely rethinks its way of doing business. The efficiency and constant motion of the fashion calendar has been one of the things called into question. And with the recent financial toll enacted on the fashion and retail industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this upcoming NYFW is expected to be shadow of what it once was.

NYFW has been shortened to just three days from September 14 to September 16, with most participating designers showing their collections digitally. A number of major fashion brands have already pulled out–Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, and Ralph Lauren, just to name a few. While this reduction is reason for concern, independent designers might finally have their chance to shine.

Image courtesy of meikmagazine.com

Fern Mallis, the founder of 7th on Six Productions, which put New York Fashion Week on the map for consumers, explains, “People are getting a little oversaturated with digital shows and presentations, but there’s certainly an interest level, and people are still anxious to see what will be coming next season. Digital fashion shows are an easy way to equalize the playing field between new and independent designers and big-name brands. Independent designers now have more opportunities to stand out.”

Mallis also believes that this is the time for independent designers to “grab the brass ring.” Independent designers also need to analyze their sales strategy.  “Independent designers can’t wait for Barneys to come in and buy the clothes anymore,” Mallis said. “Neiman Marcus is bankrupt, and the other department stores including Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Saks all have low foot traffic. Right now stores can’t be counted on for buys like they used to.”

Mallis also believes that independent designers aren’t losing anything by not having a physical show. The recent Louis Vuitton spring 2021 Men’s show in Shanghai proved that shows with a strong digital presence can sell clothes. After showing the collection to a small in-person audience in China, Louis Vuitton also gained major traction by promoting and broadcasting the runway show on China’s various social media channels, which led to an uptick in sales across East Asian countries . “Designers have a chance to do something digital or go home,” Mallis said. “Digital now allows the opportunity for people to be very creative, and designers can really show you who they are and talk about their collections.”

(Image courtesy of Tolga Akmen / AFP

Many of Mallis’ colleagues share the sentiment that it’s time for fashion shows to evolve. Aliza Licht, a fashion industry veteran and host of the “Leave Your Mark” podcast, said, “I really don’t believe in the traditional runway format anymore. What really impressed me last year was the lookbook Rodarte produced for their collection featuring the actresses from “Mad Men,” like January Jones. It was so beautifully produced, and the casting was so smart and press worthy. You needed nothing but to run those images on Instagram for a successful campaign. I found the Rodarte approach much more effective than the digital runway format. Featuring noteworthy campaign stars, beautiful sets, and making it shareable on social media is better for trying to go viral.”

In the past, independent fashion designers have often struggled with fashion show attendance as the major members of the press and buyers, especially from Europe, would come to NYFW for just a three-day cluster of the top-tier American designers. Digital fashion weeks can help even out the playing field now that smaller designers/brands don’t have to compete for Fashion Week attendees.

Licht believes that even in a post-pandemic world, shows will by mostly digital and physical shows will return to the old school days where the industry took a more salon-style approach to collections. “We’ve been in lockdown a long time, and retail has suffered,” Licht said. “Shows in a post-pandemic world could potentially be a lot more intimate and showroom-style where things will have a more couture mentality. [Physical] shows need to be made for actual industry people who need to see them, and they can be for a widespread and more general audience thanks to digital options. [It is] likely people will make fashion shows more like what they used to be back in the day.”

Fashion industry professionals who work on the production of runway shows have also been reevaluating the current fashion cycle. Gloria Johnson, a fashion stylist who has styled runway shows during NYFW, says that while she thinks that digital fashion weeks won’t be the same, it’s important to keep people safe. “Shows are going to be a lot smaller, and [designers] are going to be a lot more selective and over the top,” Johnson said. She also says that stylists will become more necessary for independent designers because, “They will need to hire stylists to add a different perspective of their collection. [Shows] will look and feel more like digital lookbooks.”

Image courtesy of Reuters UK

Despite the need to adapt, Johnson also says that by not having physical shows designers are losing out on seeing the genuine reactions of audiences. The models, and seeing the clothes in person will be lost with much of the creative energy dissipating.

While the world continues to adjust to this new normal, the fashion industry must continue to find ways to be forward thinking, its survival is on the table.  For the independent designers who have been able to weather the economic COVID-19 storm, a digital version of New York Fashion Week could be their chance to shine. Fashion’s new world order is coming, and everyone will have to get on board, or get left behind.

Kristopher Fraser

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