Ever since I was a kid, I’ve imagined what it’d be like to go to New York Fashion Week (NYFW). The creative clothes, the hoards of photographers, the sweet smell of elitism coating the air, where do I sign up?
The glory that we all now know as NYFW had to start somewhere, so let’s take a deep dive into how it all began and what it may become.
NYFW has a long and interesting history. New York took a lot of inspiration for its fashion week from France, which is presumably where the first fashion show was ever held. Charles Frederick Worth, a Paris-based designer, was the first to have models show off his designs to an audience. These live shows were called “fêtes,” and later “fashion parades,” and spread across Europe through the 1800s and 1900s. The shows were private, high class and focused on selling the product. In 1903 New York City, there was the first-ever fashion show held by the Ehrich Brothers.
By 1943, the first ever NYFW was held, originally named “Fashion Press Week” by publicist Eleanor Lambert. These “press weeks” took place in the fall and spring of each year and were held in multiple locations over the city so editors could attend to write about the designer’s upcoming release for that season.
As one could imagine, holding shows all over the city and at overlapping times was hectic and all-consuming. But I like to think that the chaos was very “New York” or at least fit right into the image New York wanted to present to the world: A city that is obsessively involved and is always on the move. Regardless of whether the chaos was entertaining, eventually NYFW organized shows all operating in one location.
In 1993, Fern Mallis, former executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, wanted to centralize shows to make it easier for buyers, models and editors to attend as many shows as possible. For the next 16 years, the shows took place in tents in Bryant Park. By this time, New York had established itself as a fashion capital, alongside London, Paris and Milan. Organized shows changed everything as it formed a united front and unified the fashion scene in New York City.
Still the phrase “New York Fashion Week” hadn’t been officially used, even though the average person often referred to it as such starting in the mid-’90s and other cities, like London, had been using the words “Fashion Week” for years.
Instead, it was called “7th on Sixth” after the event management company 7th on Sixth. The name of NYFW changed depending on who was sponsoring the event, which caused what we now know as NYFW to previously been titled Olympus Fashion Week and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
As fashion week grew in popularity, it became overwhelming for Bryant Park tents to contain all the shows and guests. By 2010, celebrities frequenting the shows became common which only made the event more prestigious — and unfortunately, very crowded. So the shows moved to Lincoln Center in the same year. Companies even started streaming shows online or made them available to view at a later time, perhaps due to people’s rising interest in fashion week.
Slowly, with the rise of accessible technology, the scene of fashion week began to change into what it is today. More and more influencers are attending, which takes away from fashion week’s reputation of being exclusive. It’s even possible for anyone to buy tickets within a package called NYFW: The Experience.
The shows became decentralized once again, with many held in beautiful and unique locations like St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue which housed Rodarte’s fall 2020 fashion show.
While the purpose of fashion week was originally to persuade viewers to buy styles immediately, with models of the past even wearing numbers on their outfits so people could easily find the exact look later, now the shopping world is completely different.
Many of us do our shopping all online and all the time — we aren’t waiting for the seasonal drop. To make matters more complicated, fashion week carries a certain message about society. It feeds off of people’s desires to be trendy and a “good consumer.”
Yet, we live at a time where overconsumption and emissions from the fashion industry are dangerously affecting the environment. So, even with all this history, is there a future for fashion week?
Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s something I’ve glorified for basically all of my life. Yet, there are so many parts that are perhaps not ethical or useful about it.
One thing I do hope for fashion week is that it takes on sustainability as these designers could contribute greatly to reducing emissions and promoting sustainable fashion. I also hope there is more focus on creativity rather than consumption — I felt this shift after reading about the most recent NYFW in February, where designers continued to drift away from traditional runway shows and focused more on performing by incorporating dances or artwork alongside the clothes and models.
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