For several seasons running, major American designers have defected from New York Fashion Week in droves, choosing to show in other fashion capitals, on a different schedule or abandoning the runway altogether. This has lead to many claims that New York Fashion Week is dead (guilty), something which clearly drives CFDA CEO and president Steven Kolb crazy.
"You have four brands that have decided to show in Paris for different reasons, at different times, and each one of them made that decision not because there was a problem with NYFW or something was wrong with NYFW, but there was an opportunity for them in Paris," Kolb told Fashionista regarding the departure of Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra, Rodarte and Thom Browne last summer. "I think it's part of the changing landscape of fashion weeks in how designers are experimenting with different things."
But Kolb was more than prepared for the latest change: When Alexander Wang, one of New York's last remaining marquee designers, announced he, too, would be dropping out of the traditional New York Fashion Week calendar to show on a June/December schedule, the CFDA shared that it was considering an official summer/winter show schedule. That possibility was a hot topic at a panel hosted on Thursday by the CFDA and Launchmetrics, "Front Row to Consumer: The Voices Driving Fashion Week in Today's Digital Era."
"The consumer is the number one reason we did it," said Alexander Wang Chief Strategy Officer Stephanie Horton. "But it was also about the production and supply chain: How can we do more drops? How can we diversify product? It's about reaching the consumer and getting more product out there."
It's a reasoning offered by labels like Proenza Schouler and Rodarte; facing a fashion industry in complete flux, brands are looking to consolidate the main runway with pre-collections, condensing the amount of work to two seasons instead of four and giving clothes a longer shelf life. Horton says this change will give Alexander Wang the ability to integrate more seasonal options into regular drops — think coats delivered in January when it's actually cold, or swimwear in summer — as well as adding in capsules or key partnerships. It will also help Wang's brand go more global, as it will be able to deliver seasonally-relevant choices to markets outside the traditional Northern Hemisphere schedule.
Unlike those other brands, however, Horton says that Wang is "really, really set on staying in New York, which is why we had a lot of conversations with the CFDA about it." And the brand has no intentions of scaling back the show format — so don't worry that you've experienced your last #WangFest.
"For Alex, the show is to communicate the brand DNA to the consumer; there's always going to be a big consumer element, and as a result, a big social media, content-driven strategy behind it," Horton said. "We'll still do something big in June, and the same in December. We're not switching our strategy, we're switching the timing."
According to Kolb, the CFDA is equally intrigued by the possibility of a summer/winter calendar. There are already other brands interested in showing — Kolb didn't name names, but said they're "the younger generation brands" — and Kolb believes this could lure those New York ex-pats back to home turf. If enough marquee brands showed interest, it could lead to a complete upheaval of fashion month as we know it.
"If that business model holds true, more brands will migrate — I wouldn't be surprised if you see them come back to New York and line up with Alex — and those who don't will stop showing; they'll transition to market appointments," Kolb said. "This is the first time that possibility seems real to me."
The implication seems to be that a major shift in the New York Fashion Week calendar could potentially lead to a complete change in fashion month altogether; if other brands see that New York designers can build more successful businesses on a different calendar, cities like Milan and Paris could follow suit. Of course, that's leaving aside the fact that these legacy cities have historically been resistant to change; Paris and Milan both largely rejected the "see now, buy now" phenomenon that gripped New York and London for a few seasons, and each has presented issues in the past regarding flexibility in their own schedules.
Kolb insists that wouldn't be a major problem, noting that he's in regular contact with his counterparts abroad and that everyone is in agreement that something needs to change to catch up with the changing market. "I don't think Milan and Paris are as stubborn as it comes across sometimes," he said. "Perhaps New York and London lead the way, but there's certainly an open mind." As in New York, there are major brands which dominate local calendars which would have to be amenable to a summer/winter switch. There's also the issue of timing; CFDA hasn't officially landed on firm dates, and of course, a December schedule would line squarely up with the holiday season, presenting conflicts for both editors and buyers who have to travel and for design teams which often work without breaks until show day.
All that to say: The conversation is in its very early stages, and there are kinks to be worked out for it to function, but there's a lot of optimism around the potential changes.
"It will be a period of chaos, maybe," Kolb admitted, adding that those chaotic times are necessary to create change. He referenced the "Helmut Lang factor," the now-famous fashion calendar shift initiated by Lang moving his show to open fashion month, eventually bringing the rest of New York Fashion Week with him. It would just take a designer bold enough to break from the pack — in this case, a designer like Alexander Wang.
"This is a risk, of course, but it's a risk worth taking because the business model has to change," Horton said. "The consumer has changed."
New York Fashion Week is dead; long live New York Fashion Week?