Is New York Fashion Week Becoming More Accessible?
The answer is yes. Should it be? That answer is a lot less simple. New York Fashion Week – an event long awaited by many, both within the trade and outside it – began as an informal collection of shows put on by designers. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Council of Fashion Designers of America decided to make it a more orderly affair.
By 1993 almost every major designer had signed up to Fashion Week, and eight years later IMG bought the event, eventually moving it to New York’s Lincoln Center, an attractive venue but one which came with a hefty price tag. What followed was a necessary slew of sponsor-gathering, and many designers who felt their brands had been cheapened deserted the official venue and staged shows independently.
At the same time, social media hit fashion. Suddenly, the street style of celebrities was highly visible on blogs, vlogs and every other medium. The great divide between the stars and the rest of the population had been bridged.
A New Era: WME/IMG
Enter the new WME/IMG, the entertainment behemoth which now owns New York Fashion Week and several others globally. Aiming to offer designers the full package, WME/IMG utilised its ownership of every piece of the trade (apart from the designers), including top photographers, stylists and modelling agencies, to offer huge front-row draw-cards.
Since most of the designers who have signed up recently to the WME/IMG schedule are younger, less established brands, it is evident that the idea was successful. It works for them because it subscribes to popular culture. It is diverse, and it challenges the stereotypical definitions of the fashion world.
The image of fashion as an exclusive club is familiar, and it is this exclusivity that appeals. Catwalk shows have always been private affairs, perpetuating the notion that only ‘the worthy few’ may have access to the fashion they exhibit. Now, by offering tickets to the general public, fashion shows will remove this element. But will the move also inject a much-needed element of diversity and unpredictability into the trade? After all, good fashion thrives on unorthodoxy. It is defined, essentially, by its freshness.
The fashion market is changing, so opening the doors wide to catwalk shows not only better reflects that but also makes business sense. The current boom in upmarket fashion is evident. Pundits claim this is a direct result of the gradual de-mystification of fashion over the past couple of decades.
In addition, now that catwalk shows are designed to sell to the world at large, if executed well they have the propensity to bag customers for life. These are people who don’t necessarily spend eye-popping figures on luxury clothing, but who will spread the word to friends – indeed to anyone hooked up to a social network – for free and with huge impact.
Add to this the accessibility of New York Fashion Week with live streaming in the city and a free app, and it is not only those who can afford the tickets to Skylight at Moynihan Station or Skylight Clarkson Square in SoHo who will be able to indulge their sartorial whims.
Will fashion houses buy into this? Or will they, at all costs, preserve the sanctity of their profession, emphasising the creative over the commercial?