Much ado has been made of the state of New York Fashion Week: Is it less relevant? Is it better than ever? Is it moving to the summer? Does runway still matter?
Answers to all of those questions are elusive, but one thing is for certain: the fashion calendar is ever changing.
This season is marked by an absence of familiar names in familiar time slots. In addition to those that decamped to Paris last year — Altuzarra, Proenza Schouler, Rodarte and Thom Browne — Public School, Creatures of the Wind and Baja East are absent from the runway calendar. Rihanna’s star power will be missed this season, as Puma has no plans to show a Fenty Puma x Rihanna collection for fall. Rihanna originally signed a three-year contract in December of 2014. It could not be learned if her contract had been renegotiated.
Photos and films are the chosen avenue for many. For the first time since launching Monse in 2015, Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim have opted to show their collection via a short film directed by Fabien Constant to be screened at a party on Tuesday in lieu of a runway show. Still, Garcia and Kim aren’t stepping away from the runway entirely for fall. Their Oscar de la Renta show is set for Monday at 4 p.m.
Rachel Comey is also off the schedule this season. “This fall-winter season, we are excited to make pictures. It feels fresh to us as we are coming off many seasons producing an experiential event and show,” she said. “I’m sure we will do a show again in the near future.”
Then there’s Zac Posen. Instead of parading his glamour gowns — “which aren’t meant to walk at 16 miles an hour down the runway,” he said — he’s been invested in creating striking imagery with famous faces he exhibits or diffuses. This season, Katie Holmes is his look book muse and model.
“A photo lasts,” said Posen. “It’s about doing authentic projects. Today, with so much noise, authenticity cuts through, and you’re giving the same image to the fashion world that the public sees.”
Yet despite all the off-calendar, off-runway action, the schedule is far from empty. IMG is overseeing 78 shows this season, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America has put nearly 120 designers on the official Fashion Week Calendar whether in a show, presentation or runway format. However, Saturday is, at least for the foreseeable future, the last time Alexander Wang will stage a runway show during what is still known as NYFW. As of June, he’s leading the charge to realign the show dates to December and June. Wang was the first to wave the flag for this seismic shift in show scheduling and the CFDA is hoping others will follow. So far, no one else has jumped aboard the early bandwagon.
In a letter to designers Monday, CFDA chairwoman Diane von Furstenberg acknowledged that designers are doing their own thing this season. “This is a changing world for fashion as it is for all industries, so we designers are not only designing clothes any more, we also are designing new business models for the future,” she wrote. “The only real advice I can give each one of you is to follow your heart and do what YOU think is right for you. More than ever, brands need to be authentic to what they are, and therefore, BE THE BEST OF YOU!”
Von Furstenberg herself is bypassing a runway show this season, and with Nathan Jenden, who returned as chief design officer and vice president of creative, plans to jointly host a series of showroom appointments at the DVF headquarters on Sunday.
But is free rein dampening the message? Gary Wassner, chief executive officer of Hilldun Corp. and cofounder and chairman of InterLuxe, questioned the effectiveness of so many designers splintering in different directions and considering alternative fashion weeks. “Everyone should be working together to promote American fashion and American designers and fashion week in New York. It seems like everyone has their own agenda. We don’t seem to have one voice,” he said. “The whole atmosphere is toned down. It’s going to hurt New York significantly if we don’t create excitement. We’ve lost some of the great shows, but some have come back like Tom Ford. It just doesn’t seem like there’s any coordinated effort to promote New York Fashion Week the ways we did in the past.”
He noted that many of his clients are still doing runway shows such as Cushnie et Ochs, Jason Wu, Maria Cornejo, Jonathan Simkhai and Mansur Gavriel. But he pointed out that younger brands need sponsorships and assistance from beauty companies and tech companies. “When you dilute fashion week and split it, it becomes less exciting for them to come in and sponsor a group of shows. That makes it harder for the younger brands. There are a lot of ripple effects when we break down and divide and not work together,” he said.
Wassner frequently discusses with his brands at Hilldun whether they should invest $500,000 in a runway show. Is it the kind of marketing that they need? Is the money well spent? “When you can work on collaborations and sponsorships, and get a great audience, great editorial and good influencers at the show, it becomes meaningful. When it becomes diluted by virtue of showing at different dates (i.e., June/December idea) and showing all over the city, and not having a core presence during New York Fashion Week, it puts all the challenges and pressures on the smaller brands,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next week and I’m really anxious to see the attendance and enthusiasm; I really hope it’s there and really successful for everyone. We’ve got to keep that momentum going. I just feel like it’s waning.”
For younger designers, platforms such as VFfiles, Made, New York Men’s Day and GenArt have helped underwrite the cost of showing during NYFW, but these formats are beginning to shift.
For the first time since launching, VFiles is opting out of a traditional runway show that features work from emerging designers and instead is partnering with Adidas Originals on an immersive event that will include video screenings, guest performances and a live fashion shoot. Fashion designers from the VFiles community will style their pieces with items from the Adidas Originals collection.
This season, Made, which was acquired by WME-IMG in 2015, will take over Spring Studios as part of NYFW: The Shows on Friday and feature the collections of Telfar, Priscavera and Matthew Adams Dolan as well as an afterparty. Made continues to focus on the Made Los Angeles event, a consumer-facing activation that merges musical performances with shopping and runway shows. Members of the press are provided early access to the retail marketplace, and press and consumers are given prioritized seating at the shows.
GenArt, which is known for its Fresh Faces in Fashion runway show, is also aligning with corporate partners in new ways and abandoning the traditional runway or presentation formula. It has started a multiyear partnership with Universal Pictures that allows young designers and brands to create merchandise inspired by Universal films. The organization is also partnering with WeWork to host a series of trunk shows globally.
“In our attempted relaunch in 2015, we did a show with a bunch of amazing young brands. Put all our money into that. Even added on a big-box retail partnership and did a runway-to-retail play. It was a huge mistake,” said Keri Ingvarsson, who acquired GenArt in 2015. “We learned way too late in the game that very few corporate companies want to fund these shows anymore as they can align with great fashion and cultural content for way less money and garner far more reach than a single fashion show.”
Brands are also starting to realize this. Kanye West used his wife, Kim Kardashian West, and the power of Instagram and its influencers to promote Yeezy Season 6, which is now available to purchase and pre-order on the Yeezy Supply site. (And many of the items are sold out.) For the past year Jennifer Fisher has presented her new collection on Instagram and will continue to do that.
While the CFDA doesn’t have a fashion week platform specifically for younger designers, Steven Kolb, the CFDA’s president and chief executive officer, said it helps designers on a one-off basis. For example, the organization helped Rio Uribe of Gypsy Sport with a venue for his fashion show, which will take place at Pier 59. Last year the CFDA launched a one-day program that connected 50 designers with buyers, publicists and fashion show producers and offered them advice on how to monetize their showing at fashion week and the steps they should take after the show. Kolb said he is also working on finding a partner for a virtual fashion show fund concept that would help raise money for young designers to put on a show.
“There isn’t a younger designer who has talent and has the need to show that doesn’t get the industry’s support,” said Kolb.“These platforms for young talent do exist, but they are not always marketed or done in a formal way.”
More often than not, the CFDA advises younger designers to not show. “They shouldn’t feel the pressure to do a show,” said Kolb. “If the investment for them isn’t a good investment or they aren’t at that point in their career, there are a lot of creative ways to show a collection. The best way we help young designers is by telling them to take their time and not rush to do a show.”
Opening Ceremony is still planning to have a runway show, but cofounders Carol Lim and Humberto Leon will hold it in Los Angeles on March 7. In years past, Opening Ceremony’s New York Fashion Week shows were must-sees for many.
Kimora Lee Simmons is also sitting out NYFW and will go with a video instead on Feb. 16. Inspired by the idea of “a party of one,” models were shot wearing the fall collection against a green screen with a green treadmill in the backdrop. “The traditional Fashion Week model can – at times – be limiting. Using the immediacy of digital media we can ultimately create stories and impressions through video that (ironically) live far longer online.” she said.
Opting out of a runway show in favor of appointments, designers Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia of Sachin & Babi have lined up Maye Musk to appear in a video and look book. Aside from being the mother of SpaceX founder Elon, the 69-year-old is an entrepreneur, IMG model, educator and dietitian. Inclusivity and women’s empowerment are the underlying messages for the label.
Motivated in part by the cost of runway show venues, the change in the retail format, and her agency’s reputation for launching brands like Threeasfour, Nicholas Kirkwood and more, People’s Revolution founder Kelly Cutrone wondered, “How do you keep the young artists who are coming up and get them noticed in this sea of designers with these increasing financial demands?” Further complicating the situation is the decline in retailers, “an industry that is six months ahead instead of instant. How do you keep them in business and flourishing?”
She is pulling together an “Unprecedented Evening of Magic and Runway” for Xuly Bet, Mimi Prober and Hogan McLaughlin. There should be between 300 and 500 guests at the Thursday event at Industria that will include a voodoo ceremony and music on the runway “to call upon the divine feminine to heal the hearts of humanity, give abundance and bless us,” said Cutrone. A mambo named Sallie Ann Glassman agreed to buy her own plane ticket to fly in from New Orleans to lead the ceremony, she added.
Just as Cutrone isn’t charging any of these long-term clients (who are on retainer) for the show, various florists are donating flowers that will be used. “It’s not like they are just coming in and trying to use the agency to make a bigger splash.” she explained. Combined, the event will be a $20,000 joint investment. Had they not gone this route, each designer would have to spend between $60,000 and $100,000 for their respective shows, Cutrone said.
Duckie Brown is using NYFW to debut its new by-appointment 1,200-square-foot shop which is located within its West Village studio. After scouring the overpriced New York streetfront store scene, Daniel Silver and Steven Cox decided to keep what they have, and also sell gloves, pottery, photos and vintage. “It’s a shop like a wood workshop where you have things made — it’s back to more traditional stuff.” Cox said. “For 15 years, every six months I had always done a collection and a show, a collection and a show. We’ve done a certain amount of pieces for the shop and that turned into a small little collection. When we laid it out on a long table in our shop before shooting it, we said, ‘This is like a show.’”
Spring, IMG’s home for NYFW: The Shows, has lined up a series of special events for showgoers to get more insight into the lives of designers, the industry’s changing landscape and other factors that are shifting the business. From Feb. 9-14, After Show at Spring will feature talks with designers about entrepreneurship and their everyday routines. On Feb. 13, Coco Rocha and Badgley Mischka designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka will be part of the “Demystifying Digital” panel discussion, created and led by NYFW: The Shows and supported by SAP. Other events include a Fashion Illustration Workshop with Jeanette Getrost.
Rebecca Minkoff, who was the first brand to embrace “see now buy now,” decided to sit this season out because she’s expecting a baby. Instead, she enlisted 10 inspiring women, including members of the Women’s March committee and key supporters such as Gretchen Carlson, Zosia Mamet and Zanna Roberts Rassi, and photographed them wearing items from the designer’s spring collection. The designer shared their stories about why they are marching or supporting the march across her social media base of two million. “It will all be buy-now. Every profile had a grid that you can click into to see what the woman is wearing. And it’s all available to purchase,” said Minkoff.
Rebecca Taylor has been bypassing formal fashion shows for several years now and instead collaborated with Tilt Brush by Google at her Meatpacking boutique. The Rebecca Taylor x Tilt Brush installation features what the company calls “a magical environment” through light-infused 3-D projection mapping that will applied to the space, enhanced with Tilt Brush and special effects through augmented reality.
Rag & Bone, which has vacated runway shows, decided to screen a short film called “Why Can’t We Get Along,” last Thursday at the Metrograph at 7 Ludlow Street in New York, rather than stage a fashion show. It starred Kate Mara and Ansel Elgort wearing the spring-summer 2018 collection. The movie is currently on Rag & Bone’s YouTube page, and went live on its Web site Feb. 6.
“Putting a show together — we did 20-odd shows in our years as a runway brand. It just began to feel very stale for us,” said Marcus Wainwright, founder, creative director and chief executive officer of Rag & Bone. “While it was easy and safe and every February and September you knew what you were doing, now we have complete freedom to do absolutely anything all year round and do whatever we want whenever we want. With that freedom comes a lot of pressure and stress to come up with an original idea each time.”
Club Monaco, which normally has a runway show or presentation each season, has created a large-scale, interactive installation at its Fifth Avenue flagship, with additional activation points throughout New York City and Brooklyn to launch its spring collection.
Francis Pierrel, ceo of Club Monaco, said, “The climate of New York Fashion Week has been evolving for a couple of seasons now — it’s not just about runway shows and presentations anymore. We really wanted to do something inclusive that would speak to who we are as a brand and touch our customers in an engaging way.”
Norma Kamali is presenting a retrospective of her work with What Goes Around Comes Around, curated by the vintage retailer’s cofounders, Gerard Maione and Seth Weisser. The event is in honor of the designer’s 50th anniversary, and will feature iconic pieces from her archives. The collection will be available for purchase both online and in-store, as of Feb. 13. It will feature more than 70 apparel and accessory pieces dating from the Seventies to the Nineties, when fashion shows in New York were chockablock and concentrated in Bryant Park.