WhoWHATWhereWhy: Why does New York Fashion Week matter?

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Valentine's Days is creeping closer, but for the fashion community it might as well be Christmas -- New York Fashion Week kicks off Thursday.

For buyers, designers, models, stylists, photographers and fashion journalists and publicists, it's one of the industry's most exciting yet extremely hectic times of the year. But for those not smitten with style, New York Fashion Week (also called Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, when referring to shows at Lincoln Center produced by IMG Fashion) is just something seen on TV shows such as "Project Runway" or "America's Next Top Model."

For anyone who's ever been curious about what all the fashionable fuss is about, here's some history on the biannual event:

What's the point: New York Fashion Week welcomes designers to showcase their upcoming collections for media and merchandisers. Clothes are featured in runway shows or presentations (where models stand wearing apparel as guests walk around them).

For buyers, Fashion Week is a chance to see what colors, patterns, silhouettes and other trends will be popular so they can incorporate them into the next season's merchandise. Fashion journalists attend so they can share trend reports with readers, as well as begin to plan major fashion shoots and spreads for coming months.

How it started: Historically, Paris has been regaled as the world's fashion capital. In 1943, however, many American buyers and journalists were unable to make it overseas to view collections due to World War II, so a fashion week was started in New York City.

"That was the opportunity to get everyone to look at American designers," says Stephanie Taylor, department chair of fashion retail management and fashion design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert, often called the "Empress of Seventh Avenue," was a leading figure in fashion week's infancy. Back then, it was called Press Week, because it was exclusively for media and buyers. There were no cases of celebrities snatching front row seats from industry insiders. Why twice a year: Fashion week is held each September and February. In the fall, looks for the following spring and summer are on display. Fall and winter fashions for later in the year are spotlighted in February. The preview format allows store buyers to plan merchandise six months to one year in advance. Plus, many fashion magazines work up to three months ahead.

Where are the shows: Early fashion weeks were held at the Plaza Hotel. Events bounced around the city after that, until 1994 when they were aggregated under the tents at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. They remained there until September 2010, when the shows moved uptown to Lincoln Center.

"This centralized location was one of the contributing factors to putting American fashion on the map," says Jarrad Clark, global director of production for IMG Fashion Events and Properties. "Designers showing together created the critical mass necessary to attract editors and buyers from Europe and other foreign markets."

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week this month will include more than 90 shows and presentations, most of which will be held at Lincoln Center. To have a show under the Mercedes-Benz umbrella, designers must submit an application, including a media kit and recent press coverage.

"We look for designers who have already been in business for a few years and have successfully shipped a minimum of two collections to retail, in the U.S. and abroad," Mr. Clark says.

Hundreds of other designers not affiliated with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week also show their collections at other locations across the city, such as hotels, private showrooms, piers along the Hudson River and Milk Studios in the Meatpacking District.

Who gets invited: All guests must be invited to attend the shows and presentations. These days, newspaper and magazine writers and editors, bloggers, stylists, buyers, TV reporters and celebrities frequent fashion week. Press and buyers work with public relations firms and designers to secure access, while celebrities get in because of who they know. It's a status boost for designers to have a front row peppered with stars.

More than 100,000 will pass through Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Mr. Clark says. Guests who visit during the week are responsible for an estimated $233 million in revenue for the city, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

What does it all mean for the average person: The looks that parade down the runway trickle down from high-end designers and influence the types of outfits produced for and sold at mainstream stores.

"It affects people who aren't even interested in fashion in terms of what they're going to be wearing in the future," Ms. Taylor says.

Fashion's reach also extends beyond what people will see on store racks.

"Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is truly a barometer of what's happening in the world," Mr. Clark says. "The fashions and trends seen on the runway have an influence in music, culture and the everyday life of people everywhere."


Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com. Twitter @SaraB_PG. First Published February 5, 2013 12:00 AM


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