Blink and it will be August. That means that New York Fashion Week is right around the corner.
In anticipation, earlier this month the Council of Fashion Designers of America unveiled its new fashion week logo, the result, Steven Kolb told my colleague Lisa Lockwood, “of the process of creating New York Fashion Week as a brand.”
The B-word. Is there no fashion entity immune to its lure? What does it mean, to create NYFW as a brand? Is it necessary? Should the organizers of NYFW have, as a stated goal, even a secondary one, to promote the week as an entity?
If yes, might such promotion trump promotion of most of the 350 or so brands showing under its umbrella?
Launched as a trade organization for the purpose of advancing the interests of its members individually and American fashion as a whole, the CFDA retains that purpose, as articulated in its mission statement: “To strengthen the influence and success of American fashion designers in the global economy.” Along the way the CFDA itself became a brand, not accidentally but with systematic and voracious attention to promoting itself as an organization. That’s fine; most trade organizations promote themselves as entities separate and apart from their memberships, and in ways that often benefit the individual members.
Now, the CFDA wants to formally brand NYFW. To what end? “So all the wonderful stuff that happens can fit in the umbrella,” according to Kolb. How will perceptions be changed or enlightened by the addition of a logo in the unchic color combo of royal blue and orange, not just the colors of the Mets and Knicks, but apparently, along with white, the official hues of Gotham itself (who knew)?
Few would disagree that the CFDA under Kolb and Diane von Furstenberg has been a huge success. Its member ranks have swelled — 40 more just made the cut — and it has elevated the image of American fashion as a whole and individual designers around the world within the context of a changing global economy that has seen the explosion of new, fashion-hungry markets and the digital revolution that has forever altered marketing, retail and virtually every other aspect of business. Most importantly, the CFDA has encouraged and nurtured new talent dramatically through the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, the CFDA Fashion Incubator, Americans in Paris and other initiatives.
But success comes with baggage of its own. Pre-Steven and Diane, the nonprofit CFDA determined that it wanted out of the unwieldy business of managing and producing fashion shows en masse, and in 2001 sold 7th on Sixth to the for-profit IMG (now WME/IMG). Under their joint auspices, beast blossomed into behemoth, fed by IMG’s long-term and one-time sponsors, from Mercedes-Benz to toilets. Over the years, the number of designer participants has expanded exponentially, most on the official Fashion Calendar owned and run by Ruth Finley, until she sold it last year to the CFDA. Meanwhile, in a so-much-for-synergy move, IMG, which continues to oversee and produce a healthy percentage of shows, will soon debut its own new NYFW logo.
That sounds like a big hole in the umbrella, since the CFDA’s branding project indicates a desire for more control (exclusive of any production role) over the whole enchilada. “We wanted to create a New York Fashion Week brand that unified the group venues and the independents,” Kolb said.
To that end, the CFDA engaged Redscout, described on its Web site as “a brand strategy and innovation agency dedicated to creating new, prosperous futures for ambitious brands and businesses.” I have nothing against the firm. I’m one of the people who talked with its team; they seemed smart, attentive and interested in what I had to say. Nor do I have a problem with a shiny new logo. I just question whether the development of one required months of outsourced discussion. This is a wildly creative industry with access to the best creative directors and graphic designers in the world. Why not interview a few and hire one or two to present submissions? But that’s just me.
I didn’t then and don’t now understand the point of this branding endeavor. If the logo’s launch is the first step toward a total rethinking of NYFW — Godspeed, it needs an overhaul. As for upping the week’s profile, if visibility and hype are the markings of a brand, then NYFW was already there, pre-logo. Given the global online and print coverage, the local NY1 coverage and the constant traffic tie-ups on thoroughfares no more niche than the FDR and West Side Highway in the interests of photographing packs of unusually dressed people, come showtime, how far under a rock must one reside not to know that something’s up?
Under the CFDA’s plan, all kinds of entities, fashion and non — retailers, cultural institutions, etc. — can apply to use the NYFW logo and, as WWD reported, the campaign will be promoted through a joint effort with NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourist organization. So does posting the logo require a concrete connection or, for example, can random restaurants apply? Might the fashion week insignia lure tourists to a Times Square eatery expecting, for example, to see the Proenza boys holding court with a bevy of models? If the logo launch foreshadows a more serious shift toward a consumer orientation, it merits consideration; surely were fashion shows open to consumers, they’d be the hottest tickets in town.
Given the current audience, a new logo does nothing to temper the trade woes of NYFW. Anecdotally, in all of the whining and complaining that goes on during fashion week (some justified; some because four or five days in, what else is there to discuss?), I’ve never heard anyone say, “Traffic’s horrendous; there were four 2 p.m. shows today — and this no-logo thing has my head spinning.”
The biggest issues of NYFW aren’t about a dearth of awareness. For showgoers, they are the unglamorous, pragmatic, familiar concerns about too many shows — upcoming in September, the typical 350 or so, minus the relatively small number of men’s brands that just showed — squeezed into a finite period and spread with no rhyme, reason or consideration of showgoers, around the city.
Still, while facilitating the process for attendees should and does matter to the CFDA, its primary purpose is to service designers. For them — not the majors, who don’t need help from the CFDA to command an audience, but the 300-plus others who show — the biggest concern should be getting as many key people as possible to view their work. Possible partial remedies (perfect left the station long ago) — geographic clusters, group shows or even a chic trade-show approach for emerging types — would serve both the larger designer community and the professional show audience. Yet the topic of serious overhaul seems not to come up for discussion anymore, at least not in any official, productive context. Rather, it remains fodder for small talk between shows. Now we have a new logo to fold into our chatter. Let’s go, NYFW!