New York Fashion Week undergoes changes

NEW YORK -- Fashion is filled with extremes, from the clothes (incredibly understated to outrageously ornate) to the creative people behind them (the keep-to-themselves quiet types to the outgoing and eccentric).

The latest extreme: the revamped tents outside Lincoln Center on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the home of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. The makeshift venue has been transformed from a fashion fun house, complete with a DJ in the lobby, to a stripped-down scene that's accessible to only those with seating assignment in hand for a runway show.

Why the change? For a while, some designers had been lamenting that the tents had grown too crowded with rookie bloggers and others not truly entrenched in the business credentialed to cover the eight-day biannual fashion affair that previews trends for upcoming seasons. The tents had "gotten too commercial, too much like a trade show," designer Carolina Herrera told The New York Times last year. The tents also had been criticized for looking dated and costing designers too much to show collections there. Many threatened to hold their fashion shows elsewhere, and many have vacated the tents this season, including Michael Kors, Tracy Reese and Vera Wang.

In response, IMG Fashion, a global leader in fashion show production, amped up the air of exclusivity at Fashion Week by making audiences more intimate and show access more limited. The redesign aimed to make "invitations once again an exclusive pass for true fashion insiders," said a statement from IMG Fashion.

It's true Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week had toed the line of being too generous with access in recent seasons. One year I sat next to a woman who said she had received credentials even though she had just started her fashion blog six weeks before. So a change was warranted, but maybe they went too far. Rather than simply taming the circus inside the tents, IMG managed to blot out much of the social scene that fueled Fashion Week with palpable energy in between shows.

Upon entering the tents, black ropes and men in black suits corral crowds into lines based on what show they say they have invitations for. If you don't have a seating assignment to prove it, you're not getting in. (Previously, anyone with an approved credential could get into the tents, even if he or she wasn't attending a show that day.)

Once you're inside, fewer people are milling about. Skylights and windows have been eliminated and lights have been dimmed, creating a cave-like environment for those who have to spend the day there. If you look hard enough, many of the features of the former tents are there: the press lounge, food stands, the promotional Mercedes-Benz automobile, charging stations for electronics, a wall of free fashion publications. But for the most part it's not intuitive, especially in the dark. The lobby feels rigid and strict, even a tad pretentious -- all the fashion stereotypes that are generally not true anymore.

Five blocks from the tent is a satellite location dubbed "the hub" at the Hudson Hotel. It was launched this season as a site for presentations and up-and-coming designers' collections. Now attendees have to dart back and forth (in the cold and snow) between some shows. The alternative venue isn't far, but it's just far enough to put people already crunched for time in a pinch.

There are some benefits to the makeover: Getting into the venues is less chaotic, and smaller audiences result in better views of the fashions and better cellphone and tablet photos for sharing via social media. Also, fewer people in the tents means less nudging and maneuvering to get from place to place.

But there was something organic about putting so many creative types from all walks of professional life in a well-lit lobby with things to keep them occupied from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It was a place where connections could be made, the day's fashions could be discussed and ideas for future fashions could be formed. I already miss that.

Visit the Post-Gazette's fashion blog Stylebook at post-gazette.com/stylebook for photos, videos, trend reports, backstage stories and more from New York Fashion Week. Plus, follow PG style editor Sara Bauknecht on Twitter and Instagram @SaraB_PG for insights from the runway.

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