New York Fashion Week has always been different from runway shows across the pond. At Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks, shows are dominated by established fashion houses – the ones who have been around for decades. Your grandparents are probably familiar with them: Chanel, Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, etc. Try mentioning Yigal Azrouel or Rag & Bone to Gramps – he will think you’re talking about a foreign dignitary or a secret society.
New York has always been a place of opportunity for those smaller labels, the unknown designer who is getting his first shot at showing his work to the world. However, they exist in the shadow of the more established brands, which generally dominate the official tents at Bryant Park.
… But Bryant Park is a thing of the past. This past week was the first time since 1994 that the block-long park was barren during the annual fashion extravaganza. The sea change began in February 2009, when, because of the economy, many designers decided to opt out of the traditional (read: expensive) spots in “the tents” in favor of smaller presentations. A new chapter has begun for Fashion Week, made concrete by the abandonment of Bryant Park, and it doesn’t really have a setting or cast of characters.
The new “official hub” of the event is the Lincoln Center, but it did not draw the same crowds or demographic as Bryant Park has in the past. Fashion Week itself is still immensely popular – the event drew record crowds to the city this year – but it is becoming diffuse. The focus is no longer on what Prada will show this season (for their 10,000th season running), but instead on what new name is going to be creating buzz.
Cutting edge discovery was truly at the forefront, as the internet and social networking suffused yet another aspect of our lives and brought together two unlikely bedfellows: twitter and couture. Every show was squeezed through the 120-character sieve and broadcast to the world. Heavyweights like GQ Magazine, Style.com, Women’s Wear Daily, Elle Magazine and Glamour Magazine were tweeting an outfit-by-outfit chorus to their readers. The accessibility of information – especially supplemented by TwitPics – breaks down the wall between exclusive haute couture shows and the common fashionista. What was before a celebrity-only environment shrouded in mystery, is now played out live for anyone on the internet.
Bloggers were center stage at the shows as well. A couple seasons ago, the fashion equivalent of the Clinton scandal was released: labels were actually paying celebrities like Kanye and Rihanna to occupy front row seats. In the wake of the outrage, bloggers neatly stepped in and became celebrities in their own right. Scott Shuman (the Sartorialist), Tavi Gevinson (the Style Rookie) and Joshua and Travis (Street Etiquette) became well known names not only in the fashion world, but to consumers as well. Designers had to face the harsh reality that trends are formed by blogs, not monthly magazines, and so they began to roll out the red carpet treatment for bloggers. Pair that with the fact that everyone and their mom can create a blog, and fashion really has entered the realm of ordinary people. Now, more than ever, couture is attainable – at least to the digital consumer.
That accessibility and freedom of opportunity is uniquely American – the same feeling does not characterize Paris or Milan fashion weeks. It’s no coincidence that it comes at the heels of the Americana trend in fashion. Clothing from classic companies (the ones formed by brave entrepreneurs, made in America and serving the common man) is once more in stores, as these labels enjoy their (second) fifteen minutes of fame. Fashion week is evolving – becoming more diffuse, breaking down barriers of exclusivity and emphasizing the role of the internet – and fashion is changing as well. Maybe, in the future, the whole “fashion week” debacle will be archaic. Personally, I’d be sad to see it go.