The State of New York Fashion Week: What's the Same, What's Different, and What's Next

MAC & Milk are upping their game, more indie designers are showing than ever before and Mercedes Benz will say goodbye to Bryant Park before landing i
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MAC & Milk are upping their game, more indie designers are showing than ever before and Mercedes Benz will say goodbye to Bryant Park before landing i
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MAC & Milk are upping their game, more indie designers are showing than ever before and Mercedes Benz will say goodbye to Bryant Park before landing in Lincoln Center.

New York Fashion Week is bigger than it's ever been. Will it get even bigger?

For Fern Mallis and her team at IMG, the company that runs Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, the answer is no. "We've always had between 60 and 80 designers, except for in February 2002," the first fashion week after 9/11. That'll remain the same when the operation moves up to Lincoln Center for the Spring 2011 shows. "For the most part, we like to keep it tight and neat and organized."

Over at MAC & Milk--which started putting on shows just last season--a little bit of growth is a good thing. "In the past, fashion week was seen as an incredibly inclusive series of events that was generally closed off from the public," says Mazdack Rassi, creative director of Milk Studios. He launched the event last year in partnership with MAC president John Demsey. "For next season, MAC & Milk would like to get all of the Meatpacking District involved by hosting special public events throughout the neighborhood. Even possibly live feeding shows and presentations off the Milk building so it can be viewed by those on the High Line."

If fashion week becomes even more democratized, will selling tickets to shows become a regular occurrence? Will, as Kelly Cutrone has said in the past, fashion shows turn into rock concerts?

Definitely not, says Mallis. "The shows are for editors and buyers. It's still a trade show."

However, the business--the reason the shows exist in the first place--has become less and less of a priority for some emerging designers. Many are putting on elaborate presentations and runway shows when they can't even afford to fill orders from retailers. "Some designers are too obsessed with editorial buzz," says Thomas Onorato, who co-owns public relations and events consulting firm OW!, Onorato Wixom. "If you're a newer designer or a smaller label, it's better to spend the money you have on a great lookbook or streaming beautiful images of your looks on the Web. There are other, more affordable, ways to build press and make sales."

Mallis says that, while IMG is very selective when it comes to who shows in the tents, she doesn't feel like it's her right to judge who should--and shouldn't--be showing elsewhere. "I don't want to be the one who plays god," she says. "Being a fashion designer is an aspirational dream for so many people, and you never know where you'll find the next new talent."

At Mac & Milk, it's about experimenting with different formats rather than forgoing the show altogether. "We encourage our designers to break out from the traditional molds," says Rassi. "Last season, Temperley London worked with the creative team at LEGS in creating a Zoetrope, which projected a short film based on their Spring 2010 collection. Band of Outsiders brought the beach to the city by bringing in 10,000 lbs of sand and creating a small pond right in Milk Gallery. ThreeasFour re-created Yoko Ono’s original 1964 performance ‘Cut Piece’ at their runway show last season as a tribute to the work." Creativity, in these circumstances, created buzz.

So there's a lot of exciting things going on. Maybe too many things. In some time slots there are three, four, five shows at once. When editors have to choose over two must-see shows, nobody's happy.

But has fashion week reached its tipping point? Don't be so sure.

Says Onorato: "Every time it seems like Fashion Week has hit critical mass, it seems to jump again."