THE NY DATE DEBATE: DESIGNERS SAY ‘FIRST,’ AUDIENCE DISAGREES

NEW YORK — Is it one step forward or two steps back?
Frustrations between designers, retailers and editors over the scheduling of the upcoming spring collections in New York have reached a boiling point, with a looming deadline over their heads to decide whether to remain at the beginning of the fashion cycle or to return to its conclusion.
There are several critical arguments at issue — some are artistic, many are patriotic and few are practical. What’s most important to a majority of American designers in staking their claim on the trends at the outset of the season is in direct conflict with the wishes of many buyers and the press who say they want to see New York shows last for the sake of convenience and for their ability to sum up the unreachable dreams of Paris and Milan fashion into tangible trends.
Also complicating the process is the matter of scheduling Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week within Bryant Park, the popular venue utilized by 7th on Sixth since the shows were centralized in 1993. Because the proposed dates for the spring collections, Sept. 6-14, fall two weeks earlier than in previous years in respect to the Jewish holidays, there is a strong possibility that the shows — or at least part of them — will be moved to an alternate venue.
“The ideal scenario would be to be back in the park and to keep everything status quo, but that’s not always going to be the case,” said Fern Mallis, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which is in the process of selling its 7th on Sixth production concept to the licensing conglomerate IMG. Mallis is expected to move to IMG when the deal is completed, possibly by the end of April.
“We are very sensitive to the amount of time it takes to put the tents up — it’s like building a city — and these dates fall during prime summer time in the park,” Mallis said.
Bryant Park management has been resistant to turning over the majority usage of the park to 7th on Sixth so early, since it would disrupt public access during its most popular time of year. With that in mind, Mallis said 7th on Sixth is looking at an alternate venue, which she would not disclose, which would also allow for the inclusion of men’s shows during the spring season.
“We have to make a decision very quickly because it’s imperative that we put our bids out for contract for creating the venue and to get schedules and everything out to the designers by June,” Mallis said. “May is the killer month for us to do all of the creative work on the package that will become the collections. We have to decide at the outside latest by the end of April.”
That said, the gut feeling around town, and reflected by a WWD poll of more than 50 designers, editors, retailers and producers, is that the shows should take place in early September. Of 26 designers, 21 voted for early September, four preferred late October and one actually wants them held in July.
From the audience’s perspective, the odds were flipped. Of 12 buyers, only two were forcefully in favor of the early shows, while seven argued for later dates. Three others had mixed feelings and plenty of gripes. Of 10 editors, just two made cases for starting the season with New York, but the rest were adamant that they should return to the end. And of seven show producers, two supported the early shows while five voted to move them back.
Few people were impressed with Helmut Lang’s comments last month, indicating he might jump back to Paris with his spring collection. A spokeswoman for the designer said on Tuesday that Lang remains undecided, and probably won’t have a definitive answer for another month.
Of the major American players, Ralph Lauren is supporting the Americans’ position at the front of the fashion cycle, having secured a time slot to show on Sept. 13, while Calvin Klein clearly votes for the earlier dates, having previously threatened to pull out of the New York scene if New York reverted to the end. But Anna Sui complained that sourcing fabrics is too difficult to support early shows and Tuleh designer Josh Patner, who broke from the New York crowd with a show last month, said earlier dates make it difficult for small, independent designers to compete.
Here’s a look at what some of the high-profile regulars at 7th on Sixth had to say, organized alphabetically by designer, and followed by retailers, press and producers:

DESIGNERS
Bill Blass designer Lars Nilsson: “It’s good to show first because you get a longer time in production to make sure clothes are perfect for stock.”
Kenneth Cole: “I think we should show fashion first and deliver fashion first. Today the world is very much about speed to market. The buying market is in line with our showing early. Buyers will have made their orders by the time they go to Europe.”
Halston designer Craig Natiello: “For God’s sake, let’s not move it one more time. Let’s keep it where it is. What I also don’t understand is who’s interested in clothing a week after Labor Day, because I certainly have no interest in clothing right after Labor Day.”
Douglas Hannant: “The difficult part was making the transition the first time. I distribute in Europe and show a collection in Paris. It would be almost like having two collections.”
Carolina Herrera: “We’re happy with the shows being when they are now. It is too disruptive to change the dates again, as it works fine with New York going first.”
Marc Jacobs president Robert Duffy: “I don’t think it ever should have changed to begin with, but now that we have, I don’t want to change back — right now. We’ve already scheduled our staff, planned production and budgeted the year. If they want to discuss it next season, I’ll discuss it then.”
Betsey Johnson: “My preference is early September. Let’s do it and get it over with. The collection is on my mind all summer, it’s totally complete by August, so I figure, let the games begin!”
Wolfgang Joop: “When you have more time, you just start later and then you end up under the same pressure. I have my themes worked out pretty early and I want to show the collection while it’s still fresh for me.”
Calvin Klein: “I have always preferred the earlier shows and I still do,” Klein said this week. If the shows were moved back after Paris, he had earlier vowed to “just show in Europe, as I do with my men’s collection.”
Helmut Lang: “We still have not decided for certain,” said a spokeswoman for Lang. “Helmut will only know in a month or so what we’re going to do.” He said early this month that he was considering returning to Paris, but that “I’m not intending to change the system. That’s a decision to be made by American designers who have been showing here for years.”
Jussara Lee: “If we move, it would make us look like losers. Just because of Helmut, we should not look like we’re always depending on this one person, and the rest of us have no personality.”
Nicole Miller chief executive officer Bud Konheim: “Let’s have it in October. I don’t care about Europe one way or another. I also agree with Donna Karan that we should show when the collections are actually in stores. But to show a fall line in September would be contrary to the fashion industry because it makes sense.”
Mark Montano: “I really hope they keep it first because American style is prevalent throughout the world now and I think it’s important. We may not be the most exciting, we may not be couture, we may not be this and that — but we are wearable, and salable and comfortable and still interesting.”
Christina Perrin: “It would be so much more convenient for all of us if they were to move the New York shows until after Europe. It is extremely difficult to get the fabrics in from Europe on time.”
James Purcell: “New York should go first because we are the most important world market. The Europeans have changed their business to tailor it to the American market and customer, so why shouldn’t we?”
William Reid voted for even earlier, in July: “The September schedule is trying in terms of ordering piece goods. Having an extra six to eight weeks after having stores see the line helps you move more efficiently.”
David Rodriguez: “It’s important to be the first one out of the gate, to set your tone, make a statement and not be a follower.”
Narciso Rodriguez: “September. To go back would be difficult for my company because we changed so many of the schedules to meet that deadline when we moved back from Milan. Having just gone through that process, to change the schedule would be really difficult.”
Cynthia Rowley: “I really think it’s better to show early. It gives us a jump on production. I think to go back to the late schedule again seems a little defeatist.”
Peter Som: “I prefer where it is now, in early September. I open my line in mid-August so by the time the show comes around, things have already been seen. Most buyers come to the showroom, but they still want to see how it walks on the runway.”
Anna Sui: “Even though there are pros and cons to both timings, with the schedule pushed up even earlier in September, it becomes almost impossible to use European fabrics. It doesn’t give enough time to develop the collection because fabrics would need to be ordered six months before the show to get them on time.”
Zang Toi: “It would be better to be in the beginning, from a business point of view. When we show two months earlier, I manage to get my orders about two months earlier from the department stores.”
Josh Patner, co-designer of Tuleh: “We would prefer that they be at the end of October, though I understand why other people don’t. We all feel like we’d like to go first because who wants to live under the burden of being told you were paying too much attention to what other designers were doing?”
Diane Von Furstenberg: “I prefer to be first because then I’m finished. I design my fabric so I have to work way in advance, so it’s easy for me to do it that way.”
Yeohlee: “We went through a whole big change in scheduling already and it took time to adjust to a whole new rhythm, but now I’m in the September groove. It’s better to show earlier because it puts you ahead in the manufacturing cycle. It’s common sense.”
Donata Minelli, director, Yigal-Azrouel: “I think it needs to stay first, in early September. From a commercial point of view, to do business in the U.S. and to work on the delivery schedules of major retailers, with in-store delivery of spring being in the end of December, it would be virtually impossible to finalize a season in October and deliver it on time.”

BUYERS
Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s: “The early date did not really make for earlier deliveries. In early September, we need to be on the floor to see what people are buying and take the pulse of customers, in presumably what will still be a tough retail environment.”
Lavelle Olexa, Lord & Taylor: “I much prefer it later. By then, I have seen showrooms, street fashion, what’s been published and can get a better perspective on the entire season. I would never look at it as Europe leading off first, and New York capping it off, following their lead. I don’t think the first is necessarily the best.”
Sue Patneaude, Nordstrom: “We need it in September. Deliveries are absolutely horrendous from a number of designers, not all. But it’s not getting better, and the October time frame would probably exaggerate the situation.”
Joan Kaner, Neiman Marcus: “The biggest problem is not when the Americans show, but the fact that there needs to be at least a week to come home [in between the collections] to take care of our businesses.”
Mark Goldstein, Emma Gold and Madison: “I would just rather go from New York to Europe and hit them all in one go, as opposed to traveling back and forth.”
Nevena Borrisova, Curve and Vionnet: “When I see the shows in September, I want the clothes the next month. The trends already hit the streets a month later. I would like to see designers [produce] two months before the season.”
Jaqui Lividini, Saks Fifth Avenue: “The issue isn’t who should go first, the issue is, when first is. If first means starting the New York shows the first week of September, then that is too early, no matter where the shows start. We’d like the New York designers to go first, but what’s wrong with October?”
Beth Shepherd, Kirna Zabete: “It’s more important to end with America than start with America. The shows are starting too early, and customers today are so advanced. We have already received calls about items they’ve seen in the press that they want to buy, and they don’t understand why they’re seeing something now that they won’t be able to have for almost a year.”
Stefani Greenfield, Scoop stores: “The timing is difficult this fall. The shows start three days after Labor Day when my customer is still going to the Hamptons and I’m still wearing a sarong. I don’t care when the New York shows are, but we don’t need the big breaks in between. Personally, I would prefer that the shows be as late as possible, to be as close as they can to when the merchandise is actually delivered.”
Ed Burstell, Henri Bendel: “It really wouldn’t matter to me one bit. What really matters is, can they manufacture and ship the goods on time? As it works now, we have ample time to figure out our position at the store and our strategy for promotions and the event calendar.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, Jeffrey New York: “Later in the season would definitely be a good thing. I do enjoy buying, but I also enjoy being in my store, and the shows are starting just as my most important goods are coming in.”
Julie Gilhart, Barneys New York: “There are always a group of people who aren’t ready and frankly, I would prefer to see the whole market at once when everyone is ready. Originally, designers said moving New York would be better for deliveries, but that certainly hasn’t happened. We’ve had some of our worst deliveries ever in the past few years.”

EDITORS
Cathy Horyn, The New York Times: “New York has always been able to assess what goes on in Europe, take stock of it and put its own spin on things and make sense of the nuttiness out of Europe. At this point in the world of fashion, we all know how quickly things can get copied. If Americans are the last to show, it has a better chance of being the last word.”
Amy Spindler, The New York Times Magazine, is for moving the New York shows to late October: “For our readers, it’s really confusing to have the newspaper covering the shows at the same time Fashions of the Times [that covers the previous season] comes out. The clothes are just getting in stores and all over the TV, local news and CNN, you’re seeing next season’s clothes.”
Bonnie Fuller, Glamour: “Personally I feel [early September] is too early. I always enjoyed coming back to the American shows. The clothes were accessible and understandable and gave you a great wrap-up and you felt you were coming back to a place where designers truly understand the American market.”
Robin Givhan, The Washington Post: “As a daily newspaper, we’re set up to cover breaking news, so whenever fashion breaks, I cover it. I think it’s like saying, ‘I think the Super Bowl should be in July because it’s summer.’ Ideally for the flow of my stories, it works better when New York goes last. For readers, the New York shows put it all in perspective. The reality is American designers are more aesthetically accessible for most people.”
Anna Wintour, Vogue: “Ultimately it should be the designer’s decision,” she said on Wednesday. However, in her editor’s letter in the April issue, she wrote, “Just three years ago, when the American collections followed Europe, the wearable sportswear ideas they espoused seemed refreshing after the high jinks of London, Milan and Paris. We all used to breathe a sigh of relief on encountering a great trouser suit or the perfect winter coat. Perhaps the American design community should now rethink its commitment to being first.”
Mandi Norwood, Mademoiselle: “It’s nice for New York to kick off fashion week. It signifies New York is a leader rather than a follower. In terms of theater and drama, Milan and certainly Paris know how to make a show of fashion and it’s nice to end with a bang like that. New York is a little more realistic. You come back to New York and you’re ready to work.”
Mary Alice Stephenson, Marie Claire: “I like New York to kick off the fashions shows, but I’d like it to be less drawn out.” She said she doesn’t mind if it’s early or late, as long as it goes straight through without big gaps.
Cindy Weber Cleary, In Style: “I think it [the New York shows] should go back to the end of October. Americans going first so no one could accuse them of copying is narrow-minded. You look at American shows and they’re straight forward. American designers are so concerned with being commercial, I think that’s an advantage.”
Alexandra Shulman, British Vogue: “It is catastrophic New York being first. Showing at the beginning of September is ridiculous. I think all the shows are far too early, but New York going first is the final nail in the coffin. When we used to go to New York you felt you were getting how fashion was going to work in a broad way. But last season New York was a major waste of time.”
Hillary Alexander, The Daily Telegraph, said New York’s position is naturally at the end. “One wants to get a flavor of the different moods in the other cities and then see how America translates it into wearable fashion. When New York goes first it’s very bland.”

PRODUCERS
Kevin Krier, Krier & Associates: “It still feels very awkward to me to have New York first. I would much more prefer that the schedule goes back to the way it was. It would make my life easier.”
James LaForce, LaForce & Stevens: “I feel like everyone has plenty of time from a press standpoint. Basically, it would be fine if everyone shows later. It doesn’t ultimately change the perception overall if New York is first or not.”
Norma Quinto, Quinto & Co.: “It is really hard for people to get fabrics on time with this schedule. In one way, we want to be before Europe so buyers can’t give excuses that they spent all their money in Europe. At the same time, a lot of designers can’t show now because they can’t get it together.”
Mary Loving, Loving & Co.: “Americans want to show first. But the whole thing is moving so early — before we know it we will be showing spring in August. I think we have been pushed into a corner, and down the road it has to affect designers’ creativity.”
Harriet Weintraub, Harriet Weintraub & Partners: “I don’t think American designers are considered followers anymore. There is enough creativity happening here that we stand on our own. In many ways, you give the freshest impression if you are last.”
Alex de Betak, Bureau Betak: “I strongly believe that in New York’s interest it should stay first. There is some excitement you only have by being first. There is a return to school type of atmosphere that is good and exciting. I think most of the big American designers are in fact better off without the interference of European shows.”
Katie Ogan, Ogan/Dallal Associates: “New York should definitely start at the front of the calendar. From the experience of our clients, it gives them more selling time. Personally, I hate the early dates, but from a business standpoint you have to go where the business is.”

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