New York Fashion Week has become quite the spectacle in recent years. For a few days each year, celebrities, fashion experts, and the media converge under the tents to watch the shows of top designers and up-and-coming talent. Anyone who’s anyone is in attendance, and major brands vie for attention through coveted sponsorship deals. But it wasn’t always this way. In the early 20th century, being taken seriously by the global fashion community was a top priority for many American designers. When war made travel to Paris difficult in the 1940s, Eleanor Lambert, a publicist, seized the chance to make New York the place to be. The first shows aimed to be informative and lucrative for the brands, which would be able to present their work to wholesalers and members of the press. Today, of course, it’s a whole other story.
The press and potential buyers still make up a significant part of the NYFW crowd—what would the week even be without Anna Wintour’s steely gaze? However, Fashion Week is no longer an inward-facing event. Recently, it has turned its gaze outward towards the consumer, turning the shows into one of the biggest marketing campaigns of the year.
It isn’t just fashion houses that are taking advantage of the media attention. Brands that have nothing to do with fashion are now jumping to attach themselves to the publicity. I’m sure, for example, anyone who cares about NYFW would easily be able to tell you that Mercedes-Benz has been the event’s namesake up until this year. Wherever you look, non-fashion brands have attached their labels to the event.
Non-fashion brands aren’t the only additions that seem out of place. Recently, there has also been an influx of attendees who don’t seem to fit the initial audience model. Celebrities, for instance, have become one of the most talked about part of Fashion Week. Though many famous people have become major influencers in the fashion world, they are undoubtedly there for publicity reasons. In addition to hoping pampered celebs will favor their brands, designers know their shows will receive substantially more press coverage if tabloid-favorites are in attendence. Designers compete to build the most star-studded front row, and media attention often seems more focused on the people in the seats than on the clothes on the runway.
However, it is important to remember that not all of the modern changes have been bad. Racked reports that only decades ago, designers had to shoulder the burden of arranging and hosting their shows themselves, which often lead to unsafe conditions, not to mention attendees with feet sore from trekking back and forth across the city.
Do the commercialized, celeb-filled shows of today align with the original intent of New York Fashion Week? I would say the answer is an unsatisfactory “maybe.” When NYFW began, it aimed to bring the fledgling American fashion industry into a position of influence and respectability. With focus on Europe, Americans had a lot to prove. Today, many fear that the diminished attention on the designs will take away from the seriousness of the event. It’s difficult to be considered respectable when sponsors, stars, and reporters distract from the shows themselves. On the other hand, New York Fashion Week no longer has to worry about being noticed. The most important names in fashion are present on and off the runway. What the week may have lost in taste, it has made up for in attention. Whether this attention is worth a lessened sense of integrity may take some soul searching, but it’s a choice that needs to be made.
What do you think, collegiettes? Does NYFW need to clean up its act, or embrace its modern (and perhaps, uniquely American) identity?