Why do our editors and retailers insist on making comparisons between European fashion weeks and New York Fashion Week? I hear things like, ‘We have to look to Europe for innovation and excitement,’ ‘Why is this on the runway? It should be on hangers in a showroom,’ ‘Our expectations are so low for NYFW,’ ‘We should eliminate NYFW and let them all show in Paris.’
Hasn’t the world recognized the difference between us and them yet? We are entrepreneurs. We are more often than not underfunded. We are independents. We are scramblers and street fighters. We are on shoestring budgets. Corporate support is hard to acquire and limited at best. Sponsorships are a struggle to obtain. And yet we give birth to what Europe adopts and exploits! All the time. Grunge, street, boho, tie-dye, hip-hop and denim for God sakes! And even as far back as we can recall, flappers, big shoulders, Hollywood glamour. Scarlett O’Hara wore a dress made out of curtains! Global decades are defined by our style — American style.
Give some of our more creative designers a $2 million budget along with all kinds of governmental support to design and stage a show! Let Jason Wu and Christian Siriano and Nili Lotan and Ulla Johnson and Proenza Schouler and Prabal Gurung and Cushnie and Amiri and The Row and Rodarte and John Elliott go wild. I think we do pretty damn well under the circumstances.
Just think what they could do if they weren’t constrained by every dollar they spend. If they had a staff of hundreds to create and construct their visions. If they had tanneries at their disposal and shoe factories and custom fabric mills and ateliers with dozens of trained beaders, embroiderers, sewers and patternmakers. It frustrates me to no end. We are different here. We should be proud of these differences, and praise them — celebrate them. We gave birth to diversity on the runway. We shattered gender bias on the runway. We’ve made everyone start thinking about sustainability and zero waste and animal cruelty.
And yet I read over and over again how New York Fashion Week is getting tiresome and unexciting, and buyers’ budgets are being reserved for the European shows. The attitude of the global fashion press is frustrating and frankly astounding. Isn’t it time to step into the real world? They should be looking at what we do independently of what’s done by the fashion conglomerates…at what we do better.
And credit has to be given where credit is due. Many of the brands I mentioned try hard to stage shows at a zero bottom line cost to their companies. Do the editors and fashion directors even understand what that means? Where should our brands cut back? On models? On staging? On p.r.? On samples? On venue? We should be celebrating the results under these very real circumstances of the American fashion industry. But we don’t. Time and time again we denigrate these efforts. And trust me, I have firsthand knowledge of this every day! I see the toll that preparing for a runway show takes on a small company, financially and creatively. I see the stress and anxiety caused by continual concerns about cash flow and even meeting payroll weekly. Yet we persevere. And we thrive.
Ralph and Calvin and Tommy and Michael and Marc and Coach make the front pages and they put on spectacular shows in creative venues, with all the top models, their design and creative and marketing teams are huge and well-funded. No one complains about attending their shows. Is it money that dictates how a brand is perceived? Shouldn’t we, as an industry, be more astute than this? Smoke and mirrors won’t resonate forever with the modern consumer. We see at retail how brand loyalty is eroding. I’m certainly not denigrating these iconic American brands. I’m only asking for the industry to look deeper into the back of the house of the American fashion dynamic.
And now we’re embarking on building similar creative machines, emulating LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Kering and Richemont, utilizing shared services and leveraging talent and resources. Tapestry and Kors and my own private equity platform, Interluxe, are buying design companies! Are they all going to nurture them? Build them? Support them? I hope so. But if we’re going to compete on this level, we need new leaders with long-term vision. Leaders who are willing to invest in artistry and talent without any hope of profit for years. Visionary leaders who understand the business of fashion. Can we do this? Can we mentor our best talent and create global brands again? Will these companies give the brands a runway long enough to really find out if they can and will succeed on a global level?
But even this path won’t change the entrepreneurial spirit of the American fashion industry. New designers continue to emerge, with little or no funding to help them along. This is what makes us so special. My office is a revolving door of bright, new talent.
I’ll end where I began. We are different here. And it’s time we stood up and applauded what makes us so unique, what makes the world adopt our style and capitalize on our inspirations — what makes the world dress like Americans. Look to NYFW for what we do best. Look to other venues for different things, fantastic in their own right. But please, please give our valiant workers in fashion a break!
Gary Wassner is chief executive officer of fashion factoring company Hilldun Corp. and chairman of Interluxe Holdings, which has investments in Jason Wu, A.L.C. and Mackage.