I’ve been a personal stylist for a decade now. While I currently live in New York City, I no longer attend New York Fashion Week. As it turns out, I am not the only industry insider who has been opting out in recent years. Here’s why.
For around 14 seasons (two a year) I was an avid attendee. Back when six-inch heels were the only acceptable form of footwear in the fashion world, I raced around Manhattan with a luggage-sized bag to tote my actual CAMERA, just eager to be a part of all of it.
I supplemented meals with cupcakes snatched from Fashion Week lounges between shows, or wraps untouched by models backstage. All for the triumph at actually just getting IN to one of the most exclusive events in the city, as well as the high of those eight minutes of ear blasting music as the models thumped down the runway.
Fashion Week was a chance to see the collections first, to rub elbows with the regulars and big wigs of the fashion scene, to be a part of a community. For an eager young stylist and journalist, it was all worth it.
Back then shows were mostly centralized in tents, first around Bryant Park and later Lincoln Center, with Milk Studios alleviating some of the over scheduling as an alternative venue. And even then it was a hustle.
Now fashion shows are held in the most interesting (read: remote and scattered) venues across Manhattan, Brooklyn and even Long Island City, making the hustle a real hassle. Factor in travel time and the 30-minute wait for the show to begin, and suddenly those eight minutes of magic are a little less...magical.
But perhaps even more than scattered venues, it’s the immediacy of today’s digital documentation that has fashion folks wondering, “Is NYFW really even necessary?” An ever rotating cast of social media stars now line the front rows once reserved for fashion elite — dozens of iPhones pointed where their eyes should be, instantly sharing the experience with millions of followers.
The exclusivity and feeling of community are all but lost. If I can consume six times the content in real time on Vogue Runway — but from the comfort of my own home — why wouldn’t I?
As an attendee, you may consider the time, gas and money spent getting around the city as significantly wasted resources, not to mention the energy spent borrowing, styling and photographing outfits in an effort to “look the part” or get noticed by a street style photographer. In fact, what happens outside of the shows is just as influential, maybe even more so, than the shows themselves.
Where Paris Fashion Week is revered for its directionality, NYFW has long been more focused on retail. The value of street style vs. uniform runway styling is high.
As a personal stylist, it is just as interesting for me to see how real people are actually wearing the clothes as it is to see what the designer intends. When I build a wardrobe for a client, I aim for thoughtful and well-curated over endless and mindless. I focus on beautiful items that will actually be worn and loved, then passed along when the time is right rather than holding on to a closet full of “maybe one-day” outfits.
The more ways to style an item, the more worthwhile the investment and the closet space. That’s why street style inspiration is crucial for me. However, even this element of the NYFW scene can be better appreciated by following along with a brand or influencer’s Instagram profile, or clicking on a street style round up.
And back to the concept of wasted resources… A typical fashion show can run anywhere from $200,000 to over $1,000,000 and only lasts around 7-12 minutes. A presentation is a static alternative to a runway show, where models often stand in place or rotate several times in a smaller venue, giving guests a chance to glimpse the clothes up close while attending at their leisure during a one-hour period.
Some might argue that this is a more effective way to showcase a collection and more tenable for invited guests with busy schedules. Either way, these somewhat staggering numbers typically include the venue rental, lighting, styling, hair and makeup and celebrities being paid to attend.
While it isn’t cheap to produce a show of this magnitude, there are certainly reasons that brands have been doing it for so long. For one, it’s a great way to celebrate a designer’s vision and showcase a complete collection before it’s dispersed and mixed into retail floors. It is also a way for loyalists to show their support for a brand. For newer brands, a show can significantly increase visibility and social media presence in a way that long outlasts the show itself.
However, in our digital age the largest motive for hosting a live fashion show seems, ironically, to be measured not just in traditional return on investment [ROI], but through what data analysts call “MIV” or media impact value. MIV for a show filled with big names, buzzworthy news and the most influential of influencers can swing way up into the multi-million dollars. Clearly, New York’s fashion shows are relevant for the industry at large, but the question is: Are there better ways to use these resources to achieve the same ROI/MIV?
If the goal is to create news and gather many people with digital influence into one place, perhaps brands can do so while also linking themselves to a charity in an effort to use this exposure for good. The Council of Fashion Designers of America rode the media wave of NYFW a few years ago by distributing “Fashion Stands with Planned Parenthood” pins, not only raising awareness but also donating $5 to the organization for every pin Instagrammed and hashtagged. That same year, Joseph Altuzzara auctioned off two seats to his highly coveted fashion show, donating the proceeds to Planned Parenthood.
Or, as designer Rebecca Minkoff has done in the past, a brand can choose to forgo showing at NYFW, instead using the resources to donate time and money to a cause they stand behind. This strategy can garner as much attention for its rebellion as a traditional showing, while also having a tangible impact on the cause.
NYFW has slowly morphed from an exclusive experience for industry insiders to a media circus whose main goal is increasing a brand’s SEO and social media presence, ultimately resulting in sales.
Are there ways to achieve influence in a less wasteful way, aimed specifically at digital consumption while maintaining a social and environmental conscience? With consumers demanding more transparency in the manufacturing and distribution of goods, is Fashion Week one of the final frontiers toward sustainability? I don’t know the answers, but I know that all change begins with a conversation.
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