Please Note: The Revolution Has Been Cancelled

New York Fashion Week Schedule: Now With Greater Exclusivity

 
by Pablo Avion

Did that headline make sense? No? That’s okay; it confused us a bit, too. But amid all the hubbub over IMG’s announcement that NYC Fashion Week will become even more exclusive, we’re probably a bit overwhelmed.

Beyond all the “news noise,” the gist is this: a lot of industry people are frustrated by fashion week. Some designers, like Tamara Mellon, feel it’s pointless. Other designers, like Oscar de la Renta, feel it’s confusing and not exclusive enough. Most designers feel it’s too expensive.
 

But Fashion Week Sucks! Or Maybe It Doesn’t.

 
In fact, the only people who don’t seem grouchy are the public, who — on the contrary — are more interested and excited than ever.

We’re always fascinated when people (like VICE.com) talk about how lame fashion week is when you’re actually there, and wish we could be that showily jaded (thereby proving to a “bog of admiring frogs” both our street credibility and awe-inspiring connections to the world of luxe: a boast that is, at heart, too paradoxical to honor: like the trust-fund kid who feels subjugated by their riches and embarks on a spiritual quest that involves snubbing everyone they meet, with the help of edgy tattoos).

Yes, oddly enough, we have fun at fashion week, and react with the kind of starry-eyed enthusiasm reserved for kids at Disney World still too unwise to realize everything isn’t delicate and precious. Or maybe we’re just naïve enough to be grateful for everything. But we digress.

Or maybe we’re just naïve enough to be grateful for everything.

 

Exclusivity: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful

 
“It was becoming a zoo.”

So said Catherine Bennett, IMG’s SVP and managing director of WSJ. “What used to be a platform for established designers to debut their collections to select media and buyers has developed into a cluttered, often cost-prohibitive and exhausting period for our industry.”

But what’s it all about, Alfie?

 

Who Moved My Cheese?

 
The charge was led by designers such as Oscar de la Renta, who told WWD last August: “Why have 20 million people with zero connection to the clothes?”

To counter an apocryphal stat with a real one, it’s worth mentioning that more than 600,000 folks watched the shows live last season. (And ask your most fashion-conscious friends and you’ll be amazed how many people are still unaware they can.) So although “20 million” is obviously meant to add emphasis, the fact of fashion week’s growing audience casts a kind of ironic shadow over the quote. One has to wonder: What if 20 million people tuned-in to watch the shows? What if it was “only” 5 million? Would you still say these people have “no connection” to the clothes?

Because although Mr. de la Renta’s quote had to do with actual attendance (not live Web viewing), the way the industry defines “connection to the clothes” may need some rethinking. Because guess who’s buying those clothes, at the end of the day? Yep, “people.”

Ultimately, the audience is the market. Journalists have to write, and buyers have to buy. That’s still what they do, and at the end of the day they’re going to write about fashion, and make buying decisions, with or without special treatment. (And those are good gigs, btw.) So it may not pay to alienate an excited public of bloggers and consumers, either actually or psychically.

With half-a-million watching and growing, the industry may want to rethink how “connection to the clothes” is defined.

 

Why Have Fashion Week At All?

 
The core message is that the shows are still primarily for buyers and big press.

And so yes, the notion of making it less chaotic is a good thing. But then that begs the question: Why have fashion week as a live, expensive event from Lincoln Center at all, when it can be held and webcast from anywhere? Reviews can be written by computer. Interviews can be held by email. Buying decisions can be made from pictures and samples. So what’s fashion week about anyway? Or rather, what has it become?

But that seems to ignore the fact of what fashion week is becoming.

In an excellently written article for (of all things), MTV.com, Mary H.K. Choi asks:

“Aren’t traditional fashion shows in and of themselves quaint pageants? … They haven’t served a straightforward function since a handful of socialites with serious pocketbooks, a pack of buyers … and a smattering of Big Screen Movie Stars With Studio Deals convened at some atelier to see the haps. Fashion Week in New York turned into an international trade-show-music-festival forever ago, because the very nature of how fashion is regarded and consumed has changed. The audience has shifted. It’s … shoes, handbags, red carpet, ad campaigns, capsule collections, famous people, voyeurism … that move units, not fashion shows at Lincoln Center. [I]t’s the value of physically attending a fashion viewing at a specific, eventized time that actually seems to be the problem when you crunch the math.”

Of course, the math is a separate issue. But the question is out there. Do we still need fashion week?

Well, if we only look at fashion week as what is was, maybe it’s begun to outlive its original purpose. But that seems to ignore the fact of what fashion week is becoming: in gestation, a globally-anticipated event closer to the Oscars, or possibly the World Cup, except with more of a festive (and less of a competitive) element.

Which takes us full-circle: The only people who seem excited about fashion week are the people. You know, those bothersome people who go out and buy clothes.

You know, those bothersome people who go out and buy clothes.

 

The Times They Are A-Changin’

 
The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that fashion week is changing.

What seems to be missing is the notion that this may not be a bad thing.

Ask anyone who’s ever held a party or put on a live show: the perception of exclusivity has its place. It’s that classic twist of human psychology: if there’s a chance I can’t get in, is it even worth going?

Nowadays anyone can dream of attendance, and that dream may be answered. And when they do, they talk about it. They blog about it. More watch. And if that’s not a “connection” to the industry (which exists to sell clothes to people), what is?

And what’s to be gained by shutting that door too tightly?

And if that’s not a “connection” to the industry (which exists to sell clothes to people), what is?

 

Please Note: The Revolution Has Not Been Cancelled

 
The democratization of fashion week hasn’t been cancelled. It’s just that some of the unsteadiness that accompanies change seems to have set in.

(Sort of like how we go ballistic when they update one of our software applications, until, four months later, we realize it’s actually better.)

If you’ll excuse a Dylan quote (lines written for social movements with a bit more gravitas):

“Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Exclusivity is fun. Order is good. But we prefer keep one eye on the fabled story of the poor hungry dog, and a hand that one day stopped feeding it.

##

Image: PeopleStyleWatch.

Excuse our shortlink; the story took a different direction, and now it’s a bit late to change it. But we promise to make it up to you with a new, more exciting, less randomly optimized permalink in the future.

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Please Note: The Revolution Has Been Cancelled
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Is the "democratization" of fashion week already over?

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