Tom Ford’s first order of business as chairman of the CFDA: tightening New York Fashion Week.
“It starts Friday night and ends Wednesday — dramatically cut down,” the incoming chairman, in a brief phone conversation Monday, said of what will be the new format.
In an interview Monday at the CFDA’s headquarters, Steven Kolb, the organization’s chief executive officer, offered perspective on the upcoming, newly truncated calendar that is sure to garner high praise from some corners while ruffling feathers in others.
Ford and Kolb said the reduced schedule will go into effect for spring 2020. It will open on Friday night, Sept. 6, and run through Wednesday, Sept. 11. “Five nights, five days. We call it ‘the 5-5,’ internally,” Kolb said.
Both men were lean on specifics. “Everyone’s on board,” Ford offered, while at the same time stressing that he couldn’t provide details because he’s yet to have a board meeting. (The first of his tenure is set for June 5.) In fact, Ford doesn’t officially assume the role of chairman until June 1, with a ceremonial passing of the torch from Diane von Furstenberg two days later at the CFDA Awards. Ford chose not to wait until then to start moving on the amended schedule so as to facilitate its implementation in September.
“I’m confident that we have the board’s buy-in in this. They will obviously need to buy into it,” Kolb said. “In terms of membership, I think there will be members who appreciate it and welcome it, and members who will feel not very happy with the decision.”
Kolb added that, as of Monday morning, most of the CFDA membership remained unaware of the change and would find out about it with the publication of this article. While the topic will surely come up at the next membership meeting on May 21, Ford won’t be there and the agenda will likely focus on a celebration of von Furstenberg. Kolb noted that some one-on-one conversations have taken place, particularly with show producers, p.r.s and other agency people who work with brands on their shows. He said most understand the change, support it and will take those views to their clients.
The topic was Priority One when Kolb flew to Los Angeles a few weeks ago for his first meeting with Ford. “I gave Steven this as a first project, a first mandate,” Ford said.
Kolb offered a similar assessment — after initially sharing a brief impression of his West Coast host. “We got to know each other personally,” he said. “You know, ‘Oh my God, he’s human!’” Kolb exclaimed in an amused delivery that belied just a hint of genuine revelation.
Kolb called their marathon session “a great meeting,” in which plans for the schedule change dominated the conversation. “We talked about this challenge. It was Tom’s directive, his call to action, that we really needed to shorten [the schedule]. I’ll be honest with you, I was like, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do that,’ and, ‘Maybe we gradually start shifting things around and we shorten it for February.’ He’s like, ‘No, September.’”
For years, many showgoers have bemoaned the length and complicated logistics of New York Fashion Week, which can feel excruciating, and the marathon’s overall fashion impact relative to its length. Recently, the official calendar has run from Thursday to Wednesday, down a day from its longtime Thursday-to-Thursday run. Then there’s the unofficial calendar. For spring, off-calendar listings start as early as the Tuesday after Labor Day, adding considerably to the show season’s overall density. Some of those showings, often by emerging brands, are deemed “must-see” by significant segments of the audience. (Ford and Kolb are limiting their focus to the official CFDA calendar.) Meanwhile, international attendance by both retailers and press at NYFW has plummeted.
That second fact, rather than the whining of home-based attendees, is the reason for cutting the schedule. Ford insists that American fashion must increase its global profile and presence, and that process must begin with NYFW.
“There’s a choice,” he said. “All of New York Fashion Week moving toward irrelevance or changing the schedule, trying to reinvigorate it and trying to be as accommodating as possible.”
That involves concentrating on the “majors” — not surprisingly, neither Ford nor Kolb rendered the definitive makeup of that list — within that five-night/five-day period, and scheduling other shows around them, the narrower window thus making it easier and more budget-friendly for international press and retailers to plan trips. At some point, Ford will host a dinner with a very focused guest list, intended, he said, “to build a rapport with young designers and international press, [building] an enticement…to come to New York to see the creativity here.”
As for the composition of the various days — they’ll be packed. And Kolb doesn’t want to hear about brands not wanting weekend slots. “For this to work, it’s all hands on deck Saturday and Sunday,” he said. He added, with a hint of surprise in his voice, “Do you know what else people tell us sometimes? Eight o’clock is too late for a show.”
When that observation was met with a reaction other than incredulity, he elaborated. “I get that 9 o’clock is hard, and we do not encourage a 9 o’clock show. But for this to work, it starts at 9 and it ends after an 8 o’clock show. The other thing for us is, for this to work, we can’t schedule around parties, store openings, special events. Our core focus is the show calendar. If an important store opening is competing with an important show, in our mind, the important show wins. It’s important, too, for the participants in fashion week to say, ‘Sure, I want to go to that dinner and party, but my work is really to be at that show, and I’ll go to that dinner party afterward.’”
As for those 8 o’clock shows every night, “It’s the most coveted slot in the calendar, the most important piece of real estate on the calendar,” Kolb said. “Even shows that are really great morning shows sometimes try to shift to a night show. And we know from editors and buyers, they like that morning show. But 8 — it’s the most [desired].”
He acknowledged, too, that double bookings are likely, and that press and retailers will have to determine their priorities and in some cases, develop a divide-and-conquer strategy.
Those tidbits alone suggest that managing the NYFW calendar must be an agonizing chore — and that’s before the shift to five nights/five days. The new plan leads to the question: How do you distill seven already-packed calendar days into five full days and one evening? The short answer: You cut. While eliminating shows isn’t the stated intent of this move to shorten NYFW, it will be an inevitable result.
Kolb maintained that the cuts shouldn’t be terrible and that the schedule has air. From Wednesday to Wednesday, “there was a lot happening,” he said. “But there wasn’t enough concentration of what we consider the major shows. As you know, we’ve always been super democratic because we are a very entrepreneurial, democratic country and we’ve tried to really reflect the talent of all of our members. But [the gaps] with a lot of down time had been troublesome.”
Many showgoers would dispute Kolb’s impression that the prior schedule presented significant gaps. That some of the congestion was caused by “off-calendar” shows doesn’t matter when you’re trying to develop your game plan. Dealing with the brands that traditionally show on the days being eliminated cannot be done without a full-on reassessment of the total schedule and removing some brands from it — certainly a delicate process, and one the CFDA does not take lightly.
Given that, Kolb is soliciting input from various people involved in NYFW, starting with those producers and prs who work with the brands. In addition, “We have a number of anonymous committees,” he said. “We’ve identified people from retail and editorial, and we’re going to ask, ‘Who are the shows that you think belong in this period?’ We’re not just asking American editors and buyers, but also the internationals. So we’re not sitting here, making this decision ourselves.”
The international input will carry considerable weight. “The motivation is that we’ve lost the international press. They just aren’t coming or don’t come as frequently,” Kolb reiterated. “So we’ll look at it two ways: Who do they consider the brands that are important for them to see within that five-night/five-day period? And also, for a brand, who’s in your audience? What’s your mix of international and local versus just friends and family? That is going to be really critical in terms of how we filter things.”
Kolb added that many brands are already in place, and secure in their existing time slots. “It’s really shifting some people in. But the hard part of this is shifting some people out.”
So who gets shifted out?
“That is something that I’ve been incredibly sensitive to,” Kolb said. “I think what will happen, you’ll get an off-calendar [lineup], that will just populate. Talking to some producers, they see this as an opportunity to maybe support some of that off-calendar stuff. When you look at the gain, it’s better for American fashion and New York Fashion Week for the little bit of pain that will come from it.”
Beyond noting that a brand’s international profile will be considered when determining scheduling, Kolb skirted the question of whether certain types of brands are more vulnerable than others. Asked specifically about those in the contemporary arena, including some whose designers have expressed the hope that Ford’s chairmanship might lead the CFDA to focus more acutely on their sector, he acknowledged challenges in working with that demographic – though not specifically in the context of the show calendar.
“It’s the hardest group for us to service, if that’s the right word,” Kolb said. “We constantly talk about it here. Not just with Fashion Week, but in general. There is a lot of frustration in that category about on being nominated, or lack of nominations, for CFDA Awards. And that’s really the industry who’s voting on it, the retailers and fellow designers and stylists and bloggers are all voting for that.
“I don’t know how to change that,” Kolb continued. “So that is a hard group. And I think that that will be a pain point for some. But I think you have to look at how do we make a decision of where people fit? It’s pretty easy to know who the international [brands are]. And really, this is being built for international guests who maybe haven’t been coming lately.” He then gave a shout-out to the home team: “It’s great for you, too.”
As to whether this shortened calendar will have the desired effect of bringing the international audience back, Kolb called it “a first step.” Certainly the path is marked with considerable obstacles. As global representation at NYFW has declined, increasingly, American brands are setting up sales offices during Paris Fashion Week, making it less essential for international retailers and press to come here, creating a circular chicken-or-egg situation. Then there’s the bottom-line issue. Budgets are tight these days, especially editorial budgets. The major European brands sometimes sponsor traveling press members who attend their shows. That doesn’t happen with NYFW, and with few exceptions, most brands couldn’t afford to sponsor journalists if they wanted to.
To that end, the CFDA is in talks with NYC & Co., the city’s marketing and tourism arm, to investigate offering cultural incentives.
“Budgets are a big part of people not coming,” Kolb acknowledged, so investigating partnerships is essential, either through NYC & Co. or any others where there might be hotel discounts or other incentives. There’s also conversation about asking some of the bigger fashion and non-fashion brands to contribute to a travel fund, as happened for New York Fashion Week: Men’s.
That’s the definitive news from the CFDA about the first significant change linked to Ford’s upcoming chairmanship. Then, there are rumors, including one about shifting one New York Fashion Week each year to Los Angeles.
“No, no, no. No plans that I know about. Nothing. I can say that 100 percent honestly,” Kolb insisted.
He said that he absolutely foresees the likelihood of more one-time showings in L.A., as Ford and Tommy Hilfiger have done, and Rodarte did just last season. “I think it’s an in-and-out city that has great fashion credibility in terms of what’s happening. But we have no plans to produce one [Fashion Week] here and one in L.A,” he said.
Ford concurred, with a caveat one could infer as an indication that he plans to show in Los Angeles again, and sooner rather than later. “No, that’s not true at all. So no official, formal shift,” he said of the rumor. “Next year, some brands may choose to do a show in Los Angeles. New York Fashion Week overlaps with the Oscars. If you want star power in the front row, that will be the way to get it.”.