Should New York cancel fashion week?

Tom Ford stuck a dagger in the heart of New York Fashion Week when he scheduled his Autumn/Winter 2020 show in Los Angeles on the season’s first day.

We are witnessing a collapse in the erstwhile US fashion capital this season that was highlighted when Jeremy Scott stared at his team members on 24 January — precisely two weeks before his show was scheduled — and decided to cancel. They had already sent invitations to the event, which was scheduled for the same evening in New York that Ford is set to show in Los Angeles. Some key editors appeared to be heading for Ford’s show, and the group realized there was little to gain from a cross-coastal double-header. Scott will move his show to July in Paris, the highest visibility fashion platform on earth and the city that gave him his start.

New York’s calendar is pocked with holes where its tent poles were supposed to be. Ralph Lauren is MIA from the schedule. Tommy Hilfiger is showing in London this season. St John canceled its presentation, which had been planned to re-introduce the collection, and is instead launching it on social media. Joseph Altuzarra hasn’t looked back since decamping for Paris in 2017. Pyer Moss will drop a new collection, but won’t show until September. That’s when Kerby Jean-Raymond will reveal Part 3 of a collection he’s been rolling out in his sweet fashion-calendar-be-damned time. Telfar isn’t on the New York calendar. Nor is Batsheva.

Maria Cornejo quietly canceled the runway show she’d planned in New York, despite having a coveted place on its official calendar. Her team declined to comment other than to confirm it, saying they were still deciding on an approach to the season. Baja East, having just dressed Billy Porter for the Grammys — the near-equivalent for a fashion designer of winning a Grammy — is showing in LA. That’s fitting for the label, if not its name.

Ford is the newly installed chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, so his decision to forego New York this season felt like a betrayal to some of the trade group’s members. I would argue his decision should have been better co-ordinated in advance, so small labels didn’t find themselves in competition with a powerhouse. Ford declined to discuss his decision, saying through a spokeswoman that he was immersed in the design studio.

Centrifugal forces

But here is the issue, and it isn’t Tom Ford: the economic, cultural and technological conditions that made the Bryant Park tents a vibrant center of US fashion don’t exist anymore.

American fashion is now far deeper and broader than New York and its runways. There are shoe factories in Texas and Wisconsin. The Northwest is a bastion of leatherworking. Chicago is a vibrant fashion market. Rodarte gowns are designed, cut and sewn in LA, which has become a breeding ground for fashion designers. Ex-New York designer Jonathan Simkhai moved his studio to West Hollywood and opened a store next door. These days, he surprises clients in the dressing room and sketches new looks for his team 10 feet away. I asked Simkhai why he isn’t showing in LA. He pointed out that his showroom is still in New York. And so, of course, will be the models as soon as Tom Ford is finished with them.

These are symptoms. The disease is that New York Fashion Week is no longer necessary, not in its current format. The pressure to hold splashy runway spectacles is doing many American fashion designers more harm than good. The big labels that can benefit from shows need to hold them when and where their customers are paying attention. On Oscars weekend, a glitzy red-carpet brand like Tom Ford belongs in LA.

New York Fashion Week this season is on the wrong coast for any apparel label that needs the attention of A-list stylists and celebrities, who may outrank store buyers and editors for fashion impact. With the now-annual Frieze LA art fair scheduled on the tails of the Oscars, art-world personalities and events will descend on Los Angeles, a lost opportunity for fashionistas in New York.

Ford previously issued a statement that suggests he feels there is much to be gained by a closer relationship between US designers and Hollywood events. “There is an excitement in LA on that particular weekend, and the relationship between film and fashion is a strong one,” he said. “In my role as chairman of the CFDA, my main intent and priority is to globalise and bring attention to American fashion. There is truly no bigger or more prominent stage in the world at any given time than Los Angeles during the Academy Awards.”

Store buyers are long gone from fashion shows. There are now so many buy-now product “drops” that the word “delivery” has largely been supplanted as the term of art for the moment when apparel is available to the consumer. We are increasingly moving toward a system where wealthy labels create talked-about branding events that needn’t be tied to a fashion calendar or a city.

A tradition of cruise-season shows that travel around the world, gathering influential guests and generating a shower of images is now fully established. The height of this art came in September when Rihanna’s Savage by Fenty show became an Amazon Prime streaming-television spectacle. It won’t be her last.

New York Fashion Week has also suffered from chaos and poor communication among the disparate powers that control it. The US lacks the iron fist of France’s fashion system or the cooperative anarchy of Italy’s Camera Moda. There have been legal tussles over who owns New York’s nomenclature and the @NYFW handle. Entertainment giant Endeavor owns IMG, which in turn operates its own version of fashion week, “NYFW: The Shows.” Between them, IMG and the CFDA co-ordinate so poorly that the dates don’t always align. An IMG representative tells me they’ve been working on this. IMG also disagrees that there are too many fashion shows, arguing that a stellar show can launch a young label.

Yet smaller brands often waste valuable funds marching clothes up and down a catwalk when what they really need is a closer relationship with customers. “Are we failing new designers by telling them they have to have a show, and they’re not ready?” asks Keith Baptista, co-founder of event producer Prodject. “We have to teach designers to build their business before they’re forced to have huge social media strategies and splashy shows. There’s too much pressure to be a star. Too much pressure to be social.” The month-long parade of fashion weeks isn’t sustainable, and New York holds the weakest position in that procession. Should New York cancel its week, like Stockholm did? That’s a bit radical, but this is a good time to swing for the fences when it comes to new ideas, and also a moment to acknowledge that fashion shows aren’t the heart and soul of fashion. Paying customers are.

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