Every season New York fashion week gets bigger and bigger. When Ruth Finley, who is the keeper of the Fashion Calendar (aka your hard copy fashion week bible) started planning and putting out the New York fashion week calendar 65 years ago she estimates there were, at most, five shows a day, no more than one an hour. This Friday alone, on the second day of Fashion Week, there are 34 shows.
“When [New York fashion week] started there was only one show an hour and now we have almost 300 in eight days,” Finley says. “There's quite a bit of overlapping and there used to be no overlapping.”
While New York fashion week’s exponential growth is undeniably a sign of its health (and that's a good thing!), that “overlapping” of shows that Finley refers to--when you have five or more shows crammed into an hour--can also hurt the designers who’ve put in all that effort and money to show their wares. As more designers flood the New York fashion week schedule, it becomes more challenging for designers to make sure their collections are presented the best they can be. Top models and styling teams go to bigger labels with more pull and more money. Editors and buyers--though they might not always look it--are human, and can only make it to a limited number of shows per day.
Designers are feeling frustrated.
"Staging a fashion show in New York is a very big commitment for a small company and there is no other place where an emerging brand can possibly receive the amount of support and nurturing I have been fortunate to get,” says Sophie Theallet. “Strangely, however, all this can be put at risk by a scheduling conflict and it is very peculiar that there is no system that allows you to feel secure in a time slot. An organized schedule guarantees you can construct your show properly, obtain the visibility that comes with such an investment and subsequently grow your business."
Whereas in Paris or Milan, fashion week schedules are set in stone with the same labels showing at the same time on the same day year after year, New York is more democratic and the schedule is subject to change.
"It is unfortunate that there is no system in place which is respected,” says Narciso Rodriguez. “Designers showing in NYC are often faced with the problem of conflicting time slots, call times, casting overlap, etc.”
Lela Rose agrees. "I think there are scheduling issues every season, this being one of the most challenging," she says. "We have had girls show up as the music starts and somehow have to get them in hair and make-up before their exit."
It’s a headache for publicists, too, who are tasked with making sure those show seats are filled with the right editors (and celebrities) even when four other shows are happening in the same hour. “Paris is a well oiled machine--the schedule is very clean,” says a prominent fashion publicist who wishes to remain anonymous. “If you look at our grid versus their grid it's shocking--you almost never have two designers in the same hour...so many things in the same hour that are worthy of [an editor’s] time and coverage and we constantly have to play that game.”
Even Marc Jacobs, arguably one of the biggest (if not the biggest) show at New York fashion week shifted his show from his usual slot on Monday at 8 p.m. to Thursday night after hurricane Irene threw a wrench into prep time. Marc Jacobs’ CEO Robert Duffy explained to WWD that the company took pains to move the show to a time slot when it would ruffle the least amount of feathers, but it still puts international editors and buyers who have to make it to London Fashion Week (which starts the next day) in a tight spot. "Everyone has to float around his access," says the fashion PR.
So what’s the answer? Expand New York fashion week beyond a week? It seems that's already happening--several designers, including Rachel Comey and Steven Alan are showing today. What about creating an official calendar that would limit the number of designers allowed to show?
Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA, says they’re looking into it. “We are constantly in communication with IMG, Made and the Fashion Calendar and have worked successfully with them to resolve conflicts and to assist in finding slots for designers,” says Kolb. “More often than not designers are respectful and accommodating to other designers – they work together.” Though Kolb concedes, “there are rare occasions when problematic or ‘less than ideal’ circumstances are unavoidable, such as overlapping model call times or shared slots, but the shows still go on with a different cast of models or editor in attendance.”
According to Kolb, the CFDA has discussed “vetting who is on the official calendar,” and added that the organization “has been developing with Fashion GPS an electronic scheduling process that could add additional structure if embraced by the industry.”
But an “official calendar” for New York fashion week that would exclude designers from showing risks being undemocratic, un-American. “It is part of the American spirit that anyone can show,” says Kolb. “[An official calendar] has been talked about for years but I don't think it can work,” adds Finley. “You can't tell John Smith that because he's a new young designer that he can't show. We'll see what happens but I personally don't know how that could work.”
It's a sticky situation with no easy answer. The fact that anyone can show in New York is part of what separates New York fashion week from Paris and Milan and even London and that's what makes it great. But when designers can't present their collections with the models and styling teams they'd like because bigger more powerful brands have snagged them, and editors can't see the clothes because they have obligations to the shows that advertise with them, well, that doesn't quite seem fair either.