September, also known as the most important month in the fashion industry. Why? Fashion month. Twenty-seven years ago, Fern Mallis, the former director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) created a way for fashion buyers to get an understanding of upcoming trends and for designers to give a coherent and cohesive presentation of what they had been working on. She hoped that housing multiple fashion shows in one location would enable buyers to make the best choice and boost NYC as the fashion capital of the United States. Her solution became known as New York Fashion Week and for a while it worked.
“The shows” as they were previously called took place inside tents at Bryant Park. It was amazing for fashion editors because it eliminated the travel from venue to venue and limited the excuses editors could give brands for not showing up. For brands, it was also great as they were not responsible for the burden and money that is poured into fashion shows for lights, sound, security and space.
By 2010, the week-long event outgrew the space that Bryant Park offered and designers started looking for venues that better matched their aesthetic and had better technology to fill the increasing need for digital components. The move allowed designers to live-stream their shows on YouTube so that even if you didn’t have an invitation, you could join in on the fun and magic.
Brands got exposure, aspiring designers got their time of fame and buyers made better informed purchasing decisions for retailers to stock. More recently, the glamour and process of New York Fashion Week has gained a lot of backlash inside the industry. There is a proposal called “Rewiring Fashion” that discusses the frustration of long lead times from fashion shows to products in actual stores. Certain industry insiders plead that long lead times diminish the excitement for instant-gratification-fashion-consumers. Consumers are very used to shopping entire pages on social media accounts like Instagram and the proposal states that long lead times are no longer relevant in a social media obsessed world.
With COVID-19, fashion shows have gone viral. The benefits are huge: brands and magazines save on time and money for travel to fashion weeks, and brands save on production and the hiring of multiple fashion models. The current virtual model disrupts the traditional model in which designers were bound to a specific limit in seating and editors were bound to travel budgets and packed schedules.
I don’t think fashion shows are dead, I think they’ve pivoted into the digital space. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Increased technology could increase hundred of like-minded fashion fans who previously didn’t have much of a say in the conversation. Brands could gain more followers and loyal shoppers. As a fashion editor, it’s exciting to be able to attend more shows, where previously we are boggled down to sit at advertising shows and often can’t fit in indie brands into our already packed fashion week schedules.
I think by having virtual shows and presentations, we get to see more of the designer and brand, creating a front row seat into their personal aesthetic and vision. Virtual shows also create less waste as it isn’t as much of a production and travel responsibility as in-person shows are, which is better for the environment. Not to mention fashion week is stressful AF. Most of us spend early mornings to late nights getting smoozed by advertisers, cocktail parties, launch events, coffee dates, happy hours and a plethora of other small-scale events outside of the shows. It is draining and we often get sick. On top of that, we somehow have to find the time to write about all we are seeing. It is exhausting. I think virtual collections will be such a welcomed change for the industry and a cool way for brands to show a new level of innovation.