Thursday, September 4, 2008

A New York Fashion Week primer Part II

on-schedule: diesel SS08 backstage, new york sep 07

It’s perfectly understandable that some people are confused about how New York Fashion Week is run. That’s because, in fact, noone runs New York Fashion Week.

New York Fashion Week is not Milan Fashion Week. It’s not London Fashion Week. And it most definitely is not Paris Fashion Week.

The hubs of the latter three events are the runway schedules coordinated by those countries’ peak industry bodies: the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, the British Fashion Council and the Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode.

Some off-schedule runway action does take place in London - in several smaller spinoff schedules - but London overall is the smallest of the four weeks.

In both Milan and Paris there is a frenzy of off-schedule activity in showrooms. In Paris, a number of separate fashion and accessories trade shows are also staged concurrently to the collections shows.

In Milan and Paris there is however negligible off-schedule runway activity. Rare exceptions to Milan’s runway rule include Marni.

In each of these three cities, centralised venues in the following locations provide the backdrops for the runway collections: London’s Natural History Museum, Milan’s (old) Fiera and the Paris Louvre.

Some shows each day take place in show tents at these locations.

The remainder of shows are on-schedule, but off-site. They are very well organised. For those media reps whose jobs don’t afford them the luxury of a private car and driver, there is now a fleet of media shuttle buses in each city.

In theory, no on-schedule show should start before the previous show has finished and the caravan of buyers and media has wound its way to the next presentation.

In practice, with shows running late, this is sometimes impossible to manage.

diesel SS08 backstage, new york sep 07

New York Fashion Week differs from all three other major fashion weeks by virtue of the sheer volume of shows - and the fact that no one central organization coordinates them.

First-time attendees may be totally bamboozled when they discover that the IMG show schedule, 85 shows this season as I mentioned yesterday, potentially represents merely one third of all shows that are on in town that week.

How can anyone possibly cover 250+ shows? For a solo operator, the answer is simple: you can’t. Large editorial and photographic teams have the ability to divvy up show coverage. But even large teams could not possibly attend every single show that is on in New York during fashion week.

Finding out what’s on the IMG schedule is easy - the shows might be invitation-only, but the schedule is freely available online.

tight security outside bryant park during a politician's visit

Getting to the IMG shows is also easy. Most take place at Bryant Park in mid town, right on top of a subway station - with bus transport even provided to the off-site shows.

Some off-schedule shows, eg Calvin Klein, are within walking distance of Bryant Park.

One Australian who is switching from off-schedule to on-schedule this season in NY is Ray Costarella, who reports that the costs involved in the two show options are comparable.

Costarella told me:

“We wanted to be in the hub of the media and buyers this season. Being on site at Bryant Park can only work in our favour given that it eliminates the need for buyers/media to travel from venue to venue. Last year there was a taxi strike which caused huge transportation issues”.

According to Costarella, applying for a slot on IMG's schedule is "a process" because IMG receives a large volume of requests each season.

According to an IMG spokesman, IMG usually turns away "10 to 15" companies each season.

How do you find out what's not on IMG's schedule? There is a free online service called which is OK – but not infallible. Some publications also compile their own lists. Beyond the subscriber-based WWD, here's a show listings rundown just-published by New York mag.

off-schedule: marchesa SS08, new york sep 07

Which brings me to the Fashion Calendar.

The Fashion Calendar is a stapled, bi-weekly, subscriber-based newsletter which purports to list every fashion presentation in NYC, be it runway show, trunk show or showroom presentation.

By all accounts it does not list every single event that is on – merely the presentations of those companies who have paid a fee to be listed.

Published “every other week” since 1941 by a now 88 year-old independent called Ruth Finley, the Fashion Calendar’s mission statement, according to its website is to provide:

“a tool for designers and manufacturers to keep them up-to-date on market weeks and to help them avoid potential conflicts when scheduling shows”.

That may have been the Fashion Calendar’s attainable mandate in 1941 - and even up until the 1990s. But today there are so many shows on in New York, it’s impossible to avoid schedule conflict.

In his February 2007 story, 'Help, We're drowning in a sea of shows', The New York Times’ Eric Wilson reported that New York’s FW9798 season boasted just 91 shows – compared with 221 for the FW0708 season a decade later.

In the same story even Finley conceded, "Frankly, it's too many shows".

Seven months later, in a story about Finley - in which she revealed her plans to keep on publishing the Fashion Calendar until after she has turned 100 - Wilson reported that New York's SS08 season boasted some 257 shows.

With some big name US designers not seeing the need to take part in the CFDA-initiated, now IMG-operated core schedule, it must certainly be handy for other companies to have a record of the big names' show times. Because who in their right mind is going to show up against Marc Jacobs, Narciso Rodriguez and even new stars such as Proenza Schouler and Rodarte? All show off-schedule.

On this interim Fashion Calendar draft recently posted by COACD, you’ll notice those and other major shows – both on and off-schedule - tend not to have any competitors in their time slots.

off-schedule: marc jacobs backstage, new york sep 07.
The collection, both finished and unfinished, gets wheeled in at 9.30pm - half an hour after the show was supposed to start and one and a half hours before it actually did.

As for the lesser-known brands however, it’s Rafferty’s Rules.

There are five other fashion shows listed in Alice McCall’s time slot of Friday 5th September at 6pm: Nicole Miller, Victor Glemaud, Rachel Comey, Iris Loeffler and Cecelia Perez/SaraRose Krenger.

Taking into account show delays and the awkward half hour time slot for Willow’s show - 1.30pm on September 11 – Willow could be competing with up to seven other brands. They include high-profile New York-based Kiwi Rebecca Taylor and hot newcomer Julian Louie, who works on the Calvin Klein design team and was mentored by Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa for Australian Wool Innovation's recent Protegé Project.

“I’m over there trying to fly the Australian flag, but I’m working more for international publications and their wishlist in situations like this when there are three different choices.... they’ll say, [for instance] ‘We want you to go to Unconditional and United Bamboo’” says Belgian-Australian backstage-specialist photographer Sonny Vandevelde, whose clients include New York’s Hintmag’s first preference in McCall’s time slot is apparently Victor Glemaud.

Curiously, I have noticed a sensitivity amongst some local designers and their (local) publicists when I have reported that the designer in question is showing off-schedule in New York. On several occasions my reports have prompted snippy emails or SMS messages suggesting that I “check my facts”.

Presumably these parties feel that there is some element of 'exclusivity' attached to the process of paying a fee to the Fashion Calendar - and then being jammed into the same time slot as a half dozen other companies who have coughed up for a listing.

At least if you show on IMG's schedule, you can be guaranteed that your show won't conflict with anyone else on that schedule. Problem is, you don't have any control over who chooses to show elsewhere at the same time. And nor, evidently, does anyone else. Not the CFDA, not the Fashion Calendar and not IMG.

"Who's going to tell a designer that they can't show?" noted IMG Fashion senior vice president Fern Mallis in New York last September.

New York Fashion Week seems at times like one great big ambush marketing exercise.

As Eric Wilson noted in the NYT:

“In reality, it [New York Fashion Week] is so inclusive that the field of designers has expanded beyond a reasonable threshold of interest for its intended audience”.

a flag flies at bryant park on 11th september 07

I have to assume that the terms “democratic” and "classless" are much bandied about in New York fashion PR circles vis-a-vis New York Fashion Week, because both Karen Walker and Josh Goot dropped them when describing how the event operates.

That was before either designer had actually set foot in the event.

Before Walker found herself showing directly up against Australian Toni Maticevski one season - and wondered why some Australian media didn't make it to her show.

And it was before Goot decided to up stumps and head to London Fashion Week because, as he told me in May:

“I felt like we were getting lost in the crowd”.

Yes, New York Fashion Week is democratic. Apparently anyone can show there - if they've got the money.

The roster of names showing has included retail brands such as Miss Sixty and labels designed by celebrities including Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani. These labels would be unlikely to get a guernsey on the Paris schedule, irrespective of how much money was thrown at the Chambre Syndicale.

The incredible irony of course is that, in spite of all this fashion democracy and unfettered scheduling freedom that goes on in the Big Apple, few genuinely new ideas actually come out of it. New York Fashion Week remains a supremely commercially-focussed event which worships sportswear - and the local industry has a tendency to dismiss anything that's not commercial sportswear as "unwearable".

There is far more creative freedom showcased on the runways in Paris – which rules its schedule with an iron fist.


sonny said...

what happened to Belgralian ?

Patty Huntington said...

If I used that without qualificiation, some might assume I am referring to a country called Belgralia.

Although I am quite fond of the term, for the purposes of clarity in this specific instance, I called a spade a spade. Or rather, a Belgralian a Belgian-Australian.

(You and I both know of course that Belgralia is a real country, that is equidistant between Antwerp, Bowral and Bowraville).

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