Jean-Marc Chauve is currently a Fashion Consultant, Director of the Imane Ayissi brand and Artistic Director of IFA Paris. He studied marketing, fashion design and socio-semiology of fashion, and used to work at Nelly Rodi and Maison Martin Margiela.
While it had managed to become one of the leading fashion weeks of the past few decades, the fact that some of New York's most interesting brands take part in Paris Fashion Week instead, weakens the importance of New York Fashion Week. How do we explain this situation? How can New York Fashion Week renew itself in order to maintain its' influential position?
While the 2018 Spring-Summer fashion weeks marathon ended at the beginning of October with Paris Fashion Week, one of the four main fashion weeks seems to be in a crisis: the one held in New York. Actually this season, the most popular fashion shows in New York were those that didn’t take place. Thome Browne, Altuzarra, Rodarte and Proenza Schouler decided to exhibit their 2018 Spring-Summer collections in Paris. The most creative brands in a city so important to fashion, these few were the ones to defect. How do we explain this situation while New York expressed its hegemonic ambitions in fashion only a few seasons ago?
First of all, it illustrates the fact that the fashion industry is in a state of flux and that there are no longer any acquired positions for the brands or the major fashion capitals, while some fashion weeks that were considered as secondary (Tokyo, Tbilisi, Shanghai, Seoul, Lagos, Johannesburg, etc.) are beginning to draw the attention of the press and international buyers thanks to their innovation.
This also shows that American brands do not fully understand the role of fashion weeks in the contemporary fashion industry. If fashion weeks were born in Paris, along with the Haute Couture, to organize the presentation of new collections to customers since the 1970s, with the emergence of the luxury ready-to-wear clothing and fashion designers, they became a kind of rite that renews the desire for fashion by creating strong images and innovative ideas. This is even more true today with the the internet and social networks: in a context of visual supersaturation, the live broadcasted fashion show must maintain its’ creativity and attraction for the brand, even if the products sold afterwards are for the most part simpler and easier. This strategy is the one responsible for Gucci’s actual revival and has allowed independent brands such as Rick Owens, Thom Browne and Apparel to establish themselves.
In general however, the American vision of fashion which is widely supported by American fashion schools, is that of a business like any other, where each product designed must be quickly sold and on a large scale. That is what makes the New York Fashion Week, with a few exceptions, a succession of fashion shows featuring common clothes that recycle the trends of the moment. Although these brands have, generally, a commercial presence on the American market, they do not export much and their interest in spending large budgets, to exhibit fashion show collections that could be easily sold in showrooms, seems uncertain. International buyers, bloggers and journalists point out the worthlessness of traveling to discover clothes that can easily be found in shops around the world.
So, how should New York Fashion Week be revitalized?
- First of all, the Council of Fashion Designer of America (CFDA) could be inspired by the Federation de la Haute Couture and Paris Fashion for its’ selection of the brands registered on the official fashion week calendar. The selection is drastic in Paris but guarantees a minimum level of creativity and therefore the highest interest of all the fashion shows of the calendar. The New York Fashion Week’s calendar, the longest of the four major fashion weeks, therefore requires real "editing" work; but this requires the redefinition of the editorial positioning:
- The United States is the home of sportswear, so New York could legitimately become the capital of creative sportswear which is on a roll at the moment: the latest Fenty X Puma fashion show is a good example. But sportswear brands also need a creative environment, as shown by Tommy Hilfiger, who chose London this season or Lacoste who decided to exhibit in Paris after being loyal for 13 years to the New York Fashion Week.
- New York could also draw inspiration from the American "entertainment" tradition and become the capital of megashows, like that of Philipp Plein this season; with dancers, singers and VIPs, which is perfectly calibrated for social networks. But the risk would be to attract only brands with enormous financial means and to put fashion, which remains the foundation of a fashion week, in the background.
- The image of New York City still benefits from its "underground" culture from the 70s and 80s that has been so fertile in terms of art. This underground culture still lingers in fashion, creators like Shayne Oliver or brands like Eckaus Latta or Vaquera are the best representatives. By better assisting the emergence of these types of independant brands, the CFDA would give New York Fashion Week the creativity and innovation it lacks.
- One of the major interests of Paris Fashion Week is, that it attracts the best creative brands from all over the world, and New York being the archetypal cosmopolitan city, it has all the legitimacy to welcome the emerging creators of the South American or even Asian countries, who could also generate new interest thanks to the novelty of their fashion proposals.
Through the size and dynamism of the US fashion market, New York undoubtely remains one of the leading fashion capitals. But critics of its’ fashion week show the necessity, even for the leaders, to a constant strategic adaptation to rapid changes in the globalized fashion industry. New York as a fashion capital, must either renew itself now or become a second-tier fashion city.