Fashion is a fickle friend. Then again, how easy is it to turn a billion dollar global industry on its head? As certain as the torrent of trends will cycle through at the lightning speed of the digital age, so too has the hullabaloo of fashion taken on a life its own, barreling full steam ahead unaffected by any destruction left in its wake. The unbearable pressure of the fashion calendar has been intimated in the collapse of more than one artistic genius (Alexander McQueen and John Galliano as of late). Beyond the taxing global trek of fashion month, there are also a confounding number of presentations to create and implement: couture shows, pre-fall, resort and menswear collections. Buyers and editors are increasingly drowned out in place of bloggers and reality TV stars. Veteran insiders who have experienced the transformation firsthand have begun to call for a change. Simon Doonan stated as much on his most recent book tour. Fern Mallis’ lecture series at the 92Y continually probes the dilemma. And Suzy Menkes has thrown her weight behind the issue. The current state of affairs is unsustainable. But as fast fashion has grown to set the pace of insatiable consumer demand, is there any end in sight?
The answer may lie with the designers themselves. Oscar de la Renta, whose runway show is one of the highlights of the New York lineup, dramatically downsized the size of his presentation for his S/S 2014 collection. IMG Fashion, the organization who runs the event, seems to be following suit, announcing a new ticketing policy for the A/W 2014 (showing in February) that will curb the free-for-all frenzy of the past couple of seasons. Will this change usher in a new era in the history of New York Fashion Week?
New York was the first city to establish its own fashion week, an idea concocted by the publicity genius of Eleanor Lambert. As Parisian houses shuttered in the face Nazi invasions, Lambert cleverly saw an opportunity to promote American fashions as Parisian couture houses shuttered. The first NYFW (called Press Week at the time) was held in 1943. Editors and were invited to stay at the Plaza or Pierre and the shows were staged on location. As the downtown art scene grew in prominence, designers chose to stage their presentations in scattered clandestine locations around Manhattan – galleries, restaurants and underground clubs. By the early 1990s, the CFDA pushed to unite the shows back to one place. The first Bryant Park Fashion Week took place in 1993, showing the Spring/Summer 1994 collections. To accommodate the growing spectacle of the biannual event, the shows were moved Lincoln Center in 2011.
What started as essentially a tradeshow for industry insiders has turned into a scene to see and be seen by a bevy of bloggers and frenzy of fanfare. By no means should enthusiasm be drowned out. And of course, there is merit in the democratization of fashion, a system previously based on exclusivity and the hierarchy of tastemakers. But not when it comes at the expense of the designs themselves - and more importantly the designers, who are, after all, only human). Is it possible to return to the regulated structure seen before the circus the shows have evolved to? For the sake of our brightest minds, we should at the very least try.