c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — Fashion Week has been around in some form or another for 70 years, but (wouldn’t you know it?) fashion people have been complaining about it for even longer.

In 1941, when the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union first invited 30 journalists to New York to visit the designer showrooms, its membership balked, not seeing how writing about clothes would help sell them. Even after Eleanor Lambert, the great 20th-century cheerleader for American fashion, got her hands on the event two years later and created the first “press week” at the Waldorf-Astoria, the rag reporters grumbled, though their numbers grew and grew.

“My face seems to show the lines of every silhouette that has appeared during the past 15 years,” one of them groused in The New York Times. That was in 1958, when their numbers were about 200.

To the outside world, Fashion Week may look like the most fabulous party on earth, but insiders are getting a little tired of all the fuss. In its present form, it is more like Fashion Month, beginning Thursday with the overscheduled spring collections in New York and ending with those in Paris on Oct. 3, with no breaks in between for the now thousands of writers, retailers, photographers, videographers, bloggers and hordes of indeterminate somebodies who for various reasons Really Must Be There.

Designers, too, seem to be dreading this season, and more so than usual.

“It’s depressing,” Joseph Altuzarra said a few weeks ago at a party for a Web video about his clothes, already hustling in the supposed recess of summer. “Well, not depressing so much as panic-inducing.”

There is, in fact, a curious sense that just when fashion has become a vibrant force in popular culture, attracting a new generation of designers (and wannabes), Fashion Week is losing its relevance. Of course, people have been complaining that there are too many shows for more than a decade. (It was the subject of a front-page article in The New York Times 12 years ago, and look at Fashion Week now; it’s nearly twice the size, with 350 shows and presentations during nine days.)

But the real point of Fashion Week, to promote collections to editors and retailers several months before they will be in stores, is becoming lost in the age of instant online accessibility. Factoring in the revved-up cycle of fashion, the addition of resort shows, the fashion show that takes place outside the tents for the street-style photographers, and the confused customers, Suzy Menkes, in a column in T: The Times Style Magazine last month, wondered “who needs more fashion and is gagging for yet another show?”

In fact, the major events in New York, London, Milan and Paris are coming under fire from all directions. Jewish editors and retailers are upset that the New York and London shows overlap with the High Holy Days. Lincoln Center area residents are furious about the intrusion of the noisy shows and polluting generators into Damrosch Park and neighboring streets (and those shows, formerly in Bryant Park, appear to be on the verge of moving once again).


Italian designers are angry that the London designers are stealing all the creative thunder, and American designers are angry the Italian designers won’t budge on their show dates, forcing everyone here to work on Labor Day and the Jewish holidays. Vanessa Friedman, in her Financial Times fashion blog, argued that designers wouldn’t dare have shows on Easter.

Can you imagine? All those people in pastel? My eyes!


“Fashion Week needs to be rethought,” said, of all people, Fern Mallis, who turned the shows into a wildly successful marketing and media event in the first place.

In 1993, while executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, she orchestrated Fashion Week’s move to Bryant Park, where runway shows took place twice a year under enormous white tents for 15 years, establishing New York designers on par with their counterparts in Europe. The move to Lincoln Center in 2010, necessitated by a dispute with park management over the duration and timing of the shows, was heralded at the time for bringing the luster of the performing arts to fashion.

But there is little disagreement that the move has been a failure. In March, a lawsuit was filed against New York City and Lincoln Center over the use of the park for commercial events like Fashion Week and the Big Apple Circus, which effectively limit the public’s access for most of the year.

“Whether Lincoln Center will continue or not, we do not know,” said Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the fashion council.

The lawsuit, Mallis and others said, may be the nail in the coffin.

Beyond that, though, many designers who showed there complained that the environment was beginning to resemble an airport terminal or a trade show, with overwhelming crowds and displays of sponsorships. The shows in Lincoln Center, produced by IMG Worldwide and called Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week after the title sponsor, represent less than a third of those taking place throughout New York this week, but they include marquee designers like von Furstenberg, Michael Kors and Carolina Herrera.

Some who do show there, including Anna Sui, said they have considered moving elsewhere.

“I feel like we are in someone else’s territory,” she said. “Every season I think about moving, but frankly, economically, the tents make sense.”

The biggest advantage is that those spaces are relatively inexpensive compared with the cost of independently mounting a production with lighting and sound. But they can also resemble a fashion factory.


“The next show comes in and they’re hauling you away like a wedding caterer,” said Vera Wang, who also shows at Lincoln Center.

Several other show locations, like Milk Studios in the meatpacking district, the new Spring Studios at 50 Varick St. (for the Calvin Klein show Sept. 12) and countless Chelsea galleries and piers, threaten the primacy of IMG, which acquired Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in 2001. Mallis, who left IMG in 2010, is also organizing a new space for shows beginning this season at Grand Central Terminal.

“What I created worked in a time and a place, but now I think it is over the tipping point,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who likes going to those tents any longer.”


Catherine Bennett, a former fashion council executive who became a senior vice president at IMG in March, said the company had hired a creative director and is developing initiatives to ensure that the shows are effective for designers. She said that the shows will most likely remain in Lincoln Center through 2015, but IMG is also looking at other spaces if the lawsuit forces them out sooner.

A proposed Culture Shed in the Hudson Yards development is being designed with the input of the fashion council (von Furstenberg is also on the board of that project), but that is planned for completion in 2017. One possibility in the meantime is Pier 57 on the West Side Highway at 15th Street, a new retail complex called the SuperPier, which will be the site of shows for Opening Ceremony and Marc by Marc Jacobs this season.

A new home won’t solve Fashion Week’s problems alone.

There are already signs this season that many designers are reacting against the hype by moving to more “intimate” shows, including Altuzarra and Reed Krakoff. Oscar de la Renta said he was cutting back the number of invitations to 350, telling Women’s Wear Daily that industry professionals “shouldn’t have to go through 30,000 people, and 10,000 who are trying to take pictures of all of those people who are totally unrelated to the clothes.”

And von Furstenberg surprised several designers at a fashion council membership meeting recently when she offhandedly remarked that a few years from now, they may all be showing digitally.

“Things have changed so much that it is difficult to know exactly where we are going,” she said on the phone the other day. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Perhaps most telling is that one of the most anticipated new collections this year has been that of Tamara Mellon, the former Jimmy Choo designer who is striking out on her own — and skipping the shows altogether. Mellon received an enormous amount of attention, and a major feature in Vogue, when she declared she would introduce smaller collections throughout the year, and deliver them to stores in the season for which they were designed.

“I, for one, hate to buy a coat and not wear it for four or five months,” Mellon said. “And my customer doesn’t care about Fashion Week.”