More Than A Runway Show

By Constance White


Timing, format, entertainment, what’s the best step?
Throw all you’re resources into a consumer-facing show? Or focus on wooing retailers and editors? What’s a designer to do.

The final shows of New York Fashion Week included 93Punx with a performance by its Chicago co-creator Vic Mensa and a runway romp of Sonja by Sonja Morgan, a Real Housewife of New York. The after-show party was replete with frothy cocktails, photo ops and guests in shiny frocks and camera-ready makeup.  Because not surprisingly, BRAVO TV, which airs the blockbluster Housewives franchise, was there to capture every moment of the goings on.

No doubt we’ll see the fashion moment in a future episode of the hit TV show.

Officially, by edict of the CFDA, New York Fashion Week closed on Wednesday with Marc Jacobs’ lauded show. But since no one is the boss of fashion week, just like no one’s the boss of an unruly 3-year old, designers kept showing and fashionistas kept trekking to see collections well into Sunday, the day “the people” decided would be the close of New York Fashion Week.

Noted as the last show on the expansive NYFW calendar was Harlem Fashion Week, not a week at all, but a day-long series of events which included fashion shows and fashion vendors. They offered see-now wear-now fashions and those available for retail order for spring 2020.

Whether it was high profilers like Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford or strivers like Hope Wade and Ikaikai’s Dominque Bones-Lark, two names at HFW, designers grappled with how to connect with a changing consumer. Shoppers are inordinately interested in two things: social issues and buying clothes when the need hits them.

Do you throw your weight into an appeal to retailers and editors or do you shift tactics with outreach aimed directly at the consumer? Seems like an easy decision, right? Here’s how difficult it really is. In a 2016 report from New England’s Boston Consulting Group, it summarized that designers should consider a bilateral approach. 

That is, present to designers and media four to six months ahead of the season. Meanwhile, activate marketing campaigns to build awareness and stimulate sales to consumers who are ready to buy. Secondly, switch to smaller, more intimate events to get retailers, and mediatrix a preview on the coming season.

This, for whatever reason, is not happening.

Should American fashion go back to the end of the season in order to be more relevant to the consumer? Almost 20 years ago, a Belgian designer joined by Calvin Klein, forced a dramatic change to the global fashion calendar. Instead of going last – following London, Paris and Milan, New York would go first.

But changing the timing of New York or eliminating shows is not part of the solution. Shows are a necessary part of the creative process. And this isn’t only for designers. Stylists, photographers, editors – all the industry’s creatives get ideas from a show. Even a bad show can inspire.

With the rise of Instagram invitations to runway shows, the sphere of influence has now widened to the actual consumer. Designers such as Pyer Moss and The Blondes posted their runway shows’ location on IG and created a mob scene in Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively, for shows that would influence not only fashion trends, but culture. The shows were a visual and aural lesson in toleranceTommy Hilfiger also served culture at the Apollo Theatre and Rihanna put on what could only be called an entertainment event that bled feminism. Carmelo Anthony complemented his Melo Made presentation with a live installation of a painting by South African Artist, Nelson Makamo. Indeed, one of the unifying themes was political or cultural moments.

Another was sleeveless jackets at Tibi, Dion Lee, Zero + Maria Cornejo and exaggerated collars at Tory Burch, Chocheng and Marc Jacobs set the pace. Dennis Basso, Collina Strada and Khaite used embellishments like fringe, sequins or rhinestones.

Relaxed silhouettes were popular and made surprise appearances at Tom Ford and Brandon Maxwell.

Polka dots were everywhere (Elie Tahari, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Carolina Herrera).

Proenza Schouler and The Row drew maximum sophistication from their plays on black and white and several designers dabbled in shades of chrysanthemum red (Tahari, Coach, Michael Kors) sunny yellow (noted at Marc Jacobs, Coach 1941, and Pyer Moss) and acid green (Aliette by Jason Rembert). However, this is not just about the clothes. It is about the experience.

Seeing Drake in concert or experiencing an all-female mosh pit at a Rico Nasty show is not the same as watching it in your friend’s Instagram story. A work of art in close proximity, be it clothes, music, or a painting, affects the five senses in ways the virtual world does not.

It’s not that one is better than the other, but the latter is a distinct experiential event, which you share with all who are in attendance. You read each other’s facial expressions and body language and ask silently: “Do you and I feel the same way about what is coming down the runway”?