New York Fashion Week, which begins Thursday, is in full disruption mode. Darlings such as Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, Altuzarra and Thom Browne have abandoned New York for Paris, seeking more exposure and prestige by showing there.
Amid listless sales, some fashion designers are rethinking when to show their collections. Should they stick with a season ahead? Or shift to the same season so customers can buy the clothes right away? They worry that fans will lose interest after being barraged by images of new runway clothes they can’t buy for months. Some designers have tried see-now/buy-now runway collections with mixed results.
Alexander Wang, one of New York’s buzziest creators, plans to opt out of the New York Fashion Week timetable. After his presentation on Saturday, his house will show in June and December, rather than the next NYFW in September, he says, to “reinvent the fashion week timing” and be more in line with customers’ shopping habits.
There have been complaints from store buyers, designers and others that too many runway shows are jammed into Fashion Week, making collections blur together. A show, which lasts around 10 minutes, can cost anywhere from $100,000 to a few million dollars. For many houses, that’s a lot to invest for increasingly uncertain returns.
Some designers are trying to shake things up by mounting elaborate spectacles with entertainment. In September, Ralph Lauren hosted a fashion show and seated dinner amid the vintage-car collection in his sprawling garage in Bedford, N.Y. He shuttled guests from New York City to the event in town cars.
Others are turning to technology, showing collections in videos or on Instagram. Some are hosting lunches and dinners or holding presentations that are more like art installations. In December, Public School announced it would skip New York Fashion Week and adopt a direct-to-consumer model. The fashion label attempted a shake-up similar to the one Alexander Wang is now planning, and then went back to the traditional calendar and show format.
Misgivings about the week prompted some soul-searching at the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The organization commissioned a 2016 report by the Boston Consulting Group, titled “Examining the Future of New York Fashion Week.” The CFDA is encouraging designers to do what they think works best for their business and helping them explore ideas.
As questions swirl about New York Fashion Week’s relevance and future, we look at three designers with different approaches to runway shows.
Rather than pull back from New York Fashion Week, Tom Ford is doubling down with two big shows. On Tuesday night, he held a menswear show, his first during New York Men’s Fashion Week, which began in the summer of 2015. On Thursday night, he will roll out his women’s collection with a runway show.
In the past, Mr. Ford has experimented with how and where to show. He has tried private appointments, a video starring Lady Gaga in lieu of a fashion show, and a celebrity-spangled dinner followed by a runway presentation in the former Four Seasons restaurant in New York. He did a see-now/buy-now collection for just one season, telling Women’s Wear Daily that stores’ shipping schedules didn’t align with the new concept. He has shown often in London and once in Los Angeles. He even tried banning photographs at a show partly so shoppers wouldn’t be bored by the time the clothes arrived in stores months later.
“I’ve done a lot of different things—videos and this and that, and here and L.A. at Oscars week—and think it’s easier for people to watch what you’re doing when there’s a consistency,” the designer said backstage after his men’s show Tuesday night. “It’s ‘Here’s what he’s doing this season’ rather than ‘Where is he this season?’.”
Mr. Ford lives in Los Angeles and operates largely from there. On the hand-wringing over the fate of New York Fashion Week, he said, “Now that everything is on the internet immediately, does it really matter where you show? I don’t know. It’s a question I do think about.” In deciding where to show, he cited connections to New York, where he opened his first store and lived for a long time. In addition, the logistics for domestic shows are easier than for ones abroad, he said.
The designer known for fast-paced fashion shows with high-profile finales and raucous afterparties is quitting New York Fashion Week after this season and rejiggering his runway calendar, according to the company.
The new schedule means the next Alexander Wang show in New York after the one on Saturday will be in June rather than September. That will be followed by a show in December instead of February. In June and December, designers usually show “pre-collections”—the more commercially minded clothes that fill stores between the main spring and fall collections. Alexander Wang will combine its pre-collection and main collection in one show every six months, which means merchandise can arrive in stores earlier and be updated more frequently. Pre-collections enter stores a few months before main collections, so they are there longer before being marked down.
“The consumer is going to see more product earlier and more product when they want it in the store,” rather than on a traditional fashion week calendar, CEO Lisa Gersh says. Clothes and accessories shown in June will arrive between October and March rather than between January and March if Mr. Wang were still showing in September.
“We think New York Fashion Week is important, we’re really just changing the timing,” Ms. Gersh says, adding jokingly: “We’re big supporters of New York Fashion Week but we want it to be in June.” The rest of the industry is curious to see how the gambit plays out. “I do believe other designers are interested in showing in June too,” Ms. Gersh says.
rag & bone
After several years of arresting runway shows with soundtracks by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, contemporary fashion label rag & bone now eschews the traditional format. It “doesn’t feel original” anymore, says CEO and creative director
The house has sampled other options, such as private appointments with editors, and a photography project last year consisting of self-portraits of an eclectic group of models and personalities wearing rag & bone’s Spring 2018 collection. At editors’ appointments during the coming New York Fashion Week, clothes in the showroom will be on hangers rather than models.
Mr. Wainwright isn’t convinced fashion shows are the most effective way to draw attention to the label’s collections during New York Fashion Week “amongst 500 other fashion shows.” If other brands find them effective, “more power to them,” he said. “I just question that. New York Fashion Week has so much to offer. Is the best platform for American fashion the runway? I don’t know that it is. Could we be channeling our creativity into something else?”
In February, rag & bone held a premiere in New York for a short movie starring Kate Mara and Ansel Elgort. Members of the cast wore clothes from the label’s Spring 2018 collection—the same one highlighted in the photo project. The premiere was intended to show customers the clothes as they were arriving in stores. The label later posted the film on its website.