The Life and Death of New York Fashion Week

The issue of the death of New York Fashion Week is a complex one. With an event that has been running for so many years, what could have caused the death of one of the "Big Four"? 

A Brief History of New York Fashion Week

As World War 2 raged on across Europe, fashion journalists around the world were unable to get to Paris—which had, up until then, been the epicenter of fashion. Twice a year, buyers and press flocked to the French capital to take in the seasonal collections from houses such as Chanel, Balenciaga and Dior. As the war waged on and with France under German occupation, American travel to the area was extremely restricted. 

“The French capital powerfully dictated trends, with plenty of US-based fashion labels copying what first appeared across the Atlantic,” says Vogue. “However, as war continued across the globe…an opportunity emerged for the Americans to establish their own design credentials”. 

In 1941, American publicist Eleanor Lambert recognized the opportunity and established the New York Dress Institute, a group of clothing labor unions and manufacturers. In 1943, a new innovation came: press week. The idea was simple. Press from both New York and further were to attend the event at a centralized location—The Plaza Hotel. It was then that the modern day practice of payment for coverage was born, as well. Vanity Fair states, “Lambert fail-safed the success of her innovation by offering to pay out-of-town journalists’ expenses”. Showrooms were organized and the event was limited simply to press. Buyers were to schedule their own appointments. American designers Claire McCardell, Hattie Carnegie and Norman Norell were finally acknowledged in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar—something which had previously been unheard of as the magazines were jam-packed with French inspiration. 

In 1945, the pink-paged schedule, the Fashion Calendar, was born. Ruth Finley was the first to coordinate the shows to ensure designers’ show times didn’t clash. Press week would continue through the late ‘50s, with Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass rising to the top. In 1962, Lambert helped establish the Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA) in order to ensure the economic and cultural success and recognition of the US fashion industry. For the next three decades, designers continued to stage their own shows across New York City, with no specific unified location. Change boiled down to one event: part of the ceiling collapsed at Michael Kors. Executive director of the CFDA, Fern Mallis, decided that NYFW needed a new direction. Immediately. 

Designers were hesitant to the new change and a test run was conducted at the Macklow (now Millennium) Hotel on 44th. Spring 1994 brought about more change, as the CFDA officially launched New York Fashion Week in Manhattan’s Bryant Park, securing sponsor’s such as Mercedes-Benz. Tents then sprung up in Bryant Park, with crowds swelling immensely. On September 11, 2001, NYFW was scheduled to kick off. The entire event was called off due to the 9/11 attacks that day. 

After the recession of 2009, designers began to downsize and disperse across the city. In 2010, the tents were no longer suitable to host the events—shows were moved uptown to the Lincoln Center and throughout New York. Once again, NYFW was no longer held in one singular place, with the fashion crowd having to run from venue to venue, exposing their looks to the streets—hence the birth of street style influencers. 

In late 2014, a class of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit claiming that NYFW’s “intrusion on a nearby park was in violation of laws governing public use of the land in New York”. The built the desire for a new centralized location, possibly Chelsea’s Hudson Yard, which has quickly become complicated due to ties with President Donald Trump, causing many New York brands to cancel their shows. 

Why NYFW No Longer Works 

The largest issues threatening NYFW are finances, drop culture, and fast fashion. 

With more than 150 shows on the New York calendar—it’s easy to forget the tremendous financial undertaking that comes with putting a collection on a runway. Back in 2014, the estimated cost was around $200,000. Christian Siriano, who has been showing since 2008, broke down the cost of hosting an official NYFW show. 

Siriano typically spends: 

$40,000-$60,000 for models. Big name models like Kaia Gerber, Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner come with a hefty price of an additional $20,000. 

$20,000-$50,000 to rent a venue. 

$10,000-$40,000 on lighting.

$5,000-$10,000 for sound. 

$20,000-$30,000 on production. 

$5,000-$10,000 for seating. 

$20,000-$100,000 on set design. 

$2,000-$5,000 for catering of team dinners and backstage food. 

$5,000-$7,000 for car rides. 

$0 for hair, makeup and nails, which are sponsored. 

His total, for example, then comes to $125,000-$312,000—without the added cost of the production of the runway samples, meaning that the ROI of a show is incredibly challenging. Some have estimated to have spent as much as an average of $1 million. 

Then comes drop culture. Companies like Supreme have found extreme success by creating scarcity, dropping limited collections whenever they want to—no regularly scheduled collections necessary. They don’t need a presence at fashion week because people are already interested in their products—even after 25 years, lines that span full city blocks form every Thursday morning. 

Enter fast fashion. Trends now come and go at lightning speed thanks to the oversaturation in stores. Of this, Tom Ford, current CFDA chairman, says “In a world that has become that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to consumers is an antiquated idea that no longer makes sense. We have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era. Fashion shows and the traditional fashion calendar, as we know them, no longer work in the way that they once did”. 

There’s a huge lag between seeing and buying when it comes to designer brands. Fall clothing is shown in February and spring in September—meaning that fashion week is half a year before consumers are able to purchase. In 2016, major designers Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger adopted the “see now, buy now” strategy, making collections available for purchase immediately after presenting at NYFW. Why wait when brands like ASOS and H&M can take the photographs from collections, tweak them slightly, and have a turn-around of just a few weeks? 

Alexander Wang, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren and Proenza are among the many who have dropped themselves from the Fashion Calendar. With the calendar becoming more condensed every year due to time efficiency and budgets, it begs the question: is New York Fashion week even worth saving? 

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