The Evolution of New York Fashion Week
The Evolution of New York Fashion Week
When summer starts to wind down, there are a few things that make the impending cold days a little more tolerable: treating our taste buds with pumpkin spice, getting our lives in order for Virgo Season, and, of course, feasting our eyes on New York Fashion Week. Take a little trip back through time with us as we trace the contours of this celebrated event in anticipation of the artful trends sure to be on display this year.
Fashion has been an integral part of modern culture since Parisian marketers hired women to wear high-end couture items out in public, but the concept of an organized fashion week was in fact an American invention. In 1943, New York Fashion Week was created by Eleanor Lambert, press director of the New York Dress Institute, the first promotional arm of the American fashion industry.
At the time, due to World War II, industry insiders and reporters were unable to travel to Paris for the French fashion shows. Up until this point, while American designers were certainly in the game, the press hadn’t been paying much attention to them. Since the media couldn’t get to Paris anyway, Eleanor decided it was high time that American designers got their due from the fashion media – hence, the event’s original name, Press Week. The first Press Week was a smashing creative success, and soon American fashion began to receive attention from major magazines like Vogue.
As Fashion Week began to take shape and grow in the ‘50s and beyond, shows were held all over the city in a variety of spaces, including unconventional ones like nightclubs, galleries, lofts and even restaurants. A show in one such unconventional space – a particularly rough loft – lead to the consolidation of events. In 1990, Michael Kors was presenting his collection at this loft when horror of all horrors, plaster pieces of a disintegrating ceiling began drifting down onto the heads of models and editors alike.
By that point, the Council of Fashion Designers of America was the organizing body of Fashion Week, and it was determined that shows couldn’t be held in willy-nilly avenues across the city, no matter how creative the original intent was. Fern Mallis, the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America at the time, is even quoted as having said, “The general sentiment was, ‘We love fashion but we don’t want to die for it.’”
In 1993, New York Fashion Week as we now know it began to coalesce. Fern Mallis, along with the CFDA’s president Stan Herman, consolidated all the events by hosting them at Bryant Park in white tents. This version of NYFW was branded “7th on Sixth.”
Since then, NY Fashion Week has been owned, moved, shifted around, and gone through numerous sponsorship-related transformations throughout the years. While Bryant Park and then Lincoln Center were once the central locations, that is no longer the case and shows are now held at different avenues citywide again – though perhaps in less gritty spaces than the infamous Kors loft! Some of the unique locations include a former post office – more on that below – and a dead end street where Alexander Wang presented the Spring 2018 collection. Yes, really: press and retailers were sent to a dead end street in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where they were met by 32 models spilling out of a party bus donning the energetic new collection.
The James A. Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue and 31st Street has been a New York Fashion Week staple since the mid-aughts. Because so much mail has been replaced by email, the building’s 41,000-square-foot mail sorting room was vacant until its conversion into an event space by Jennifer Blumin, who renamed it Skylight at Moynihan Station and set it on its path to becoming a new hub for designers. The industrial touches in a safer environment than the Kors loft of the ‘90s were a huge draw for many of the biggest names in fashion looking for a cooler space to highlight their work, including Prabal Gurung's spring and summer 2014 collection, seen below.
The arrival of the 21st century brought its own elements of innovation to the events: in September of 2011, live-streaming hit the fashion scene and designers began offering streams of the shows on YouTube and other sites. The emergence of social media as a touchpoint for virtually every facet of life left its mark on NYFW, too. In December of 2015, the CFDA hired the Boston Consulting Group to study and strategize updating the format of the events in order to adapt to social media-related changes. Originally, the focus of Fashion Week had been on editors and industry insiders to tease upcoming trends and styles; buyers were important too, as they would be selling the new fashions six months after they were paraded on the runway. But with the immediacy of social media, people were beginning to wonder if the gap between runway and store appearances should be bridged.
As a result, one of the suggestions was to split the shows into two types: private showrooms for buyers and public shows for in-season items that could be purchased. As a result, the next year brought about a new model that some designers chose to experiment with, known as the “see now, buy now model.” Under this model, some items would be available to be purchased immediately (or even during) the show, instead of the usual six months later. Burberry was one of the first brands to trumpet this change, although Diane von Furstenberg was exploring this type of format even earlier.
In recent years, some amazing modeling milestones have been achieved, showing that the industry is embracing inclusivity on the runway. In February 2014, Dr. Danielle Sheypuk became the first model to use a wheelchair to appear in a NYFW show, while in September of that year, Karen Crespo became the first quadruple-amputee to appear on a NYFW runway. The following year, actress Jamie Brewer walked the red carpet to become the first woman with Down syndrome to be featured at NYFW.
2015 saw the addition of the first NYFW menswear show, while the fall/winter season this very year was a historic one as well, with nine of the ten most-booked models being models of color. Another historic element this year was the very first showing by a transgender designer. Pierre Davis, a transgender woman of color and founder of the label NO SESSO, debuted an agender collection.
This year, NYFW continues to make fashion history with another modeling milestone: 9-year-old Daisy-May Demetre is slated to become the first child double amputee to appear on the runway. This amazing girl has modeled for Nike and other retailers already, and she brings her grace to New York walking for the French-inspired children's fashion line Lulu et Gigi Couture.
With its roots in wartime exclusion, New York Fashion Week has come a long way to become a place of loving inclusion. From the very first shows being only for the media to now, when almost anyone can watch the shows live on their devices and people can even purchase pieces as soon as they come off the runway, NYFW has undergone a tremendous evolution in not only form but style.
No longer merely a place to display the next season’s haute couture, NYFW is now a full-fledged art event in its own right, with many shows virtually doubling as artistic live performances outfitted with extravagant set design and cinematic music. As a fellow historic NYC brand, we’ve watched the evolution of Fashion Week from the sidelines, probably appeared in the skincare rituals of some of the models to grace the stages, and now can’t wait to see the magic this season – held from Friday, September 6 through Saturday, September 14 – will bring!
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