N.Y.’S MOVE TO FIRST: A CALENDAR COUP OR A CREATIVE DEBACLE?

NEW YORK — Never mind that New York fashion week now falls during hurricane season. Is going first the right thing to do?
A year and a half after Helmut Lang set the wheels in motion to move up the American fashion calendar by six weeks, a great many designers, retailers and editors continue to cheer the move, saying it has improved deliveries, boosted sales and bumped up the stature of New York designers.
But there is also a growing chorus of naysayers who contend that the season is much too short, that it has caused logistical nightmares and that by moving up New York, one critical element was ignored: Many — if not most — American designers rely on Europe for creative inspiration. Without the new collections of influential European designers, which won’t be shown for at least two weeks, certain American designers were left in a kind of time warp last week.
“Gucci was all over the runways,” noted one important European journalist. “But it was last season’s Gucci. What happens if Tom Ford changes his mind?”
Others dismissed that attitude as merely an old-fashioned prejudice. In fact, most American designers are lining up squarely in favor of the earlier dates.
Calvin Klein, for one, is emphatic that the timing is ideal for him, casting the issue as a business necessity. “We need the production time to deliver the clothes, especially since we’re in a global market now,” he said last week. Klein, in fact, was the first major American designer to join ranks with Lang in moving up New York’s dates.
The voices of dissent bubbling to the surface, however, argue that the change is ultimately compromising the creative process.
Listen, for example, to Donna Karan. During a preview of her Collection line last week, she vented: “What do I think about showing first? I don’t like it, I don’t like it at all,” she said. “I understand that in terms of business, it’s important to be ready early, for production, for shipping, all of that, but on another level, it’s just wrong. I think we should all be celebrating fall. But what’s happened? We’ve skipped it, the most important season, and who has time to think about it? Retailers should be thinking about fall now, rather than running around looking at spring clothes. Who wants to think spring? It’s still hot outside!
“What we’re missing is that wonderful back-to-school feeling, when you get all excited about your new fall clothes, and ultimately, I think that’s bad for the industry.”
Karan predicted further difficulties next season, with fall shows scheduled for February, “when you have the least amount of time to design the most important collection.”
Editors freely questioned the wisdom of having New York fashion week so early. They said it wreaks havoc with their personal lives and forces them and their readers to digest information about a new season before many of them have given the current one much serious thought.
“I don’t care who shows first. It’s too early for the way we feel about fashion,” said Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune. “None of the groupies can be out in their clothes for the fall season. It’s not just about the runway. The readers don’t understand. The timing is off. We used to start Oct. 3 in Milan. That’s the right time for the consumer. It’s not going to be helpful. It’s very confusing. You say color [is in fashion], and they go in the stores and see olive drab.”
Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, agreed. “From a magazine point of view, we find it very pushed,” she said. “Most people are on vacation until Labor Day, and then they start the shows. There’s no time to get organized and get your head wrapped around it. It may work from a business point of view, but from an editorial point of view, it was much better the other way.”
Bonnie Fuller, editor in chief of Glamour, said she was perfectly happy seeing the American shows in November and April. “Speaking as a parent, it’s a disaster,” she said. “Between the Jewish holidays and back-to-school, everyone in the family is unhappy.”
Fuller said her troops weren’t thrilled either. “Everyone [in the office] is finally back to work and they’re furious at you at the office [for running to shows] and at home,” she said.
Despite those grumblings, 7th on Sixth Inc., the organizer of New York’s centralized shows, has no intention of changing New York’s position in the international calendar. The dates for the fall 2000 women’s and men’s shows are already tentatively set for Feb. 3 to 11.
“We wouldn’t have done it if we hadn’t felt that there was a need for it. People were requesting it,” said Fern Mallis, the executive director of 7th on Sixth. “We’re pretty pleased with the way it’s functioning.”
Mallis pointed to the fact that more Europeans are choosing to show here to take advantage of the timing. “I think that there’s a lot to be gained from being first out of the gate,” she said. “The bottom line is you have to get the stuff in the store and it has to sell.”
Nicole Miller, who was in the first contingent to leap-frog ahead on the calendar last September, said the impact on business has been positive. “Saleswise it’s been very good for us,” she said. “It’s been very advantageous to show early and get orders early. Plus, ever since we moved up, the focus on fashion week in New York has intensified and helped give us more attention. We’ve particularly gotten more coverage by the Japanese press, which is good for our business there.”
Carolina Herrera is also a fan of earlier dates. “At first the transition was a bit difficult because of the shorter time between shows,” she said. “But now that we have sales and production sooner, we can deliver to the stores earlier.”
Betsey Johnson said the shift has not been without problems. But it makes fabric projection easier because she’s had the chance to show it to key buyers before placing bulk orders .
“I love doing the show and getting the press when the collection is actually being sold, instead of three months later when my head is somewhere in 2001,” she said.
And she brushed off the notion that clock-watching had an impact on the amount of creativity being shown on the runways last week. “This is the reality you had better face as a company,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot of preplanning, but when you open on time, you then have the luxury of playing around with the line a little bit.
“I’m so tired of hearing, ‘This gray dress was a little bit late so it didn’t sell well because we missed this market and that market.’ That’s lame,” Johnson said.
Yeohlee Teng agreed. “I’m not dependent on what other people show,” she said. “My collection has its own point of view and my references pertain to other design disciplines and not necessarily other runways. Creatively, it doesn’t affect me from that angle. It’s kind of fun to go first.”
Retailers were unanimously in favor of the earlier New York shows.
“I love it. I think it’s great,” said Sue Patneaude, vice president of designer apparel for Nordstrom. “It’s fun to see the surfacing trends early, and I really feel that we will have better deliveries. It appears that the deliveries may be as much as a month earlier. That may be the best benefit. But mostly, it feels great to wrap up spring by mid-October instead of November, and I feel there is an increased pride in the domestic market. Plus, I’m already working on my spring ad budget, instead of having to wait till November.”
Sheri Wilson-Gray, executive vice president of marketing at Saks Fifth Avenue, agreed. “If your purpose in moving up the New York shows was to help manufacturers align their production and help deliveries, then it was a good decision,” she said. “With the whole world moving towards sportswear, it’s good to see New York show first, since sportswear is the forte of American designers.”
Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager at Barneys New York, said the early timing gives American designers a leg up over Europe.
“It puts the American designers in a good position of being able to show and ship earlier, and in the spring it really matters because the season is shorter [than fall],” she said. “It adds almost a month of time; we should be getting a lot of deliveries in the end of December to January period.”
On the issue of creativity, Collinson argued that last week’s shows proved New York designers are at the peak of their form.
“I feel the collections were very complete,” she said. “They didn’t show signs of being too rushed or early. This is positive from a creative and delivery standpoint.”
Connie Finell, vice president and general merchandise manager at Mitchells of Westport, stressed that the industry should accept the change, since that’s the nature of the business.
“This will last, then it will change,” she said. “The deliveries are earlier: right now we’re pretty much received for fall. The same thing happened last season. I would say it would make the deliveries three to four weeks earlier for spring — January, February, as opposed to March. The customers are pretty attuned to buying early. You would think they would want to shop closer to season, but our customers buy in advance. Designer customers tend to.”
Finell added that she detected no evidence of collections hastily thrown together. “Ralph Lauren looked very complete, not rushed,” she said. “I don’t think there is a noticeable difference by virtue of the change. The earlier showing is an opportunity for more consistent deliveries.”
But the longstanding criticism that Europe takes the creative lead remains a prickly point.
Commenting towards the end of last week, at a point where many observers lamented a dearth of new ideas on the runway, Amy Spindler, style editor of the New York Times Magazine, weighed in: “The good news is no one can accuse them [the Americans] of copying. The bad news is no one can accuse them of copying.”
Cathy Horyn, fashion reporter for the New York Times, said it’s to the advantage of American designers, who are “commercial,” to show first. “I think you get to Europe, particularly Paris, and you come alive with what’s there,” she said. “It would seem anticlimactic [for American designers to show] after them.”
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, acknowledged that many reviewers cited a dearth of big new ideas on New York runways last week. “Spring is always a little lackluster, both here and in Europe,” she said. “It never has the pizzazz of a fall collection.”
She said she was not disappointed in the week, however, and that there were lots of new ideas in tops and a unanimous endorsement of color over black. “I’m happy with what I’m seeing. It’s more summer dressing, which is fine because spring is almost nonexistent in much of the country. It gets us geared up for Europe.”
Klein said the issue of who shows first, especially as it relates to the issue of copying, exists “in the heads of more journalists than designers.”
“We’re not even thinking about European collections,” he said. “We’re thinking about our own work, and people can judge it for what it is.”
If anything, Klein said, New York designers have proven that they are influential, irrespective of when they have their runway shows. “America and American style has had such a strong impact around the world that one could argue that it’s changed the look of European fashion,” he said.
Asked whether showing first saves New York designers from accusations of knocking off the Europeans, Karan said: “It’s not my issue. I think we’re all sophisticated enough to know that you don’t pull a collection together in two weeks.”
“Personally, I don’t think it’s about being a leader or being a follower. It’s about being a great designer,” agreed Stefani Greenfield, an owner of the three-unit New York-based Scoop store. “I don’t think any of the major designers change their whole collection because Europe happens two weeks before. They set their own trends.”
“There’s a lot of American talent, a ton of it,” she said. “Look on the streets of New York. Women have never looked better.”
Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president and fashion director of Bloomingdale’s, told this anecdote to illustrate why he feels American designers deserve to show their collections first.
Last season, Bloomingdale’s fashion office wrote a report on fall 1999 trends after the New York shows in February, expecting it might have to tweak it and hone it after Europe. Ruttenstein said, “We didn’t have to do any tweaking.”
“I think trendwise, I always felt the Americans were really strong,” Glamour’s Fuller said. “I never felt they were a me-too. They’re so developed, they can really go anytime. I think they’re equally inspirational. The industry should be confident enough so whether they go first or last, their talents speak for themselves.”
Glenda Bailey, editor in chief of Marie Claire, said it’s “great” that the Americans showed first.
“For American magazines, it makes our lives so easy. We can put them in context when we see the European designers,” she said. “American designers have an instinctive feel of what American women want. For me as an editor, it’s really helpful [to have the Americans show first]. I’ve finished the fall-winter shoots and can start thinking about spring.”
Europeans who weighed in on the issue suggested New York might have overestimated the benefits of showing first. They also suggested that the creative process is being jeopardized with haste.
“I can remember talking to buyers from the U.S. stores last year, and they told me, ‘The shows in New York are too early — the designers will never be able to organize themselves in time,”‘ said Beppe Modenese, the spokesman for Italy’s National Chamber of Fashion. “It’s true that every country wanted their shows to take place earlier, but it seems as if the New York shows were a little too early.
“I always thought New York was in the best position of all when they closed the season,” Modenese said. “Their shows always reflected the full panorama of that particular season.”
Roberto Colombo, managing director of Lanificio Luigi Colombo, which supplies many of New York’s top designers with woolen fabrics, suggested the calendar shift has shortchanged the industry of creativity.
“The fact of the matter is that you need time to develop great fabric ideas, and the time at our disposal is shrinking,” he said. “The time gap between the idea phase and the production phase was very short this season. In addition, I have always believed that the most beautiful fabrics are the last ones to be produced. You need time to make beautiful things. We closed this summer, as usual, for the middle two weeks in August and managed to make our deliveries on time — but it was really the creative period that was cut short.”
Eugenio Boggio Casero, the managing director of Luigi Boggio Casero, a supplier of high-end cashmere, angoras and silks to top U.S. designers, echoed the sentiment.
“The earlier show season this year meant that we had less time for dialog with the fashion designers we work with, and dialog is important because that’s where the ideas come from,” he said. “Basically, our time for creative research with designers was cut by about 30 percent because our work cycle was shortened by a month. And all of this early scheduling is going to create a vicious cycle. Basically, the day after our in-house designers finish work on the fall-winter 2000-2001 collection in October, they’ll have to start designing the spring-summer 2001 collection. They will have to do the impossible to be ready by January.”
Interestingly, France seems happy with its position at the end of the international calendar.
“We don’t want to show earlier,” said Didier Grumbach, president of France’s Chambre Syndicale. “The later it is, the more creative the fashion is. We have to organize ourselves to be more just-in-time so that we can give early deliveries of the latest trends and creations.
“I don’t understand why it’s so important to have the shows on the air and presented to the press so early,” he continued. “For Paris-based companies, the early New York dates don’t adversely affect their production or delivery schedules.”
Marie-Claire Cercato, export sales manager for Groupe Perrin fabric manufacturers, said American designers miss out on the latest designs for the season, which tend to be the most creative and technically advanced because of the extra time for product development. “And these will show up on the Paris and Milan runways,” she said.
Designer Barbara Bui, who had shown her collection in New York the past three seasons, moved her collection back to Paris because of the early dates. She said it was just too tight.
“In Europe, everything is closed in August, so having a full collection ready and doing a good job of presenting it seemed impossible for me this season,” she said. “I’ve decided to wait for Paris although I think Milan has the best time slot. They have time for creativity and follow-through time for sales.”
Peter Speliopoulos, designer for Cerruti, said he thinks there’s too much emphasis on dates. “Creativity is put at risk,” he said. “More and more, the organization of the shows seems to in some way contradict the whole point of doing them: to showcase the very best and most creative work.”
He said Paris moved its show roster up a week, which tightens the span of shows, but “to be more radical would be difficult.” What’s more, he argued, the issue is somewhat moot. “First or last, America is America and Europe is Europe,” he said. “It’s not the same thing.”

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