N.Y. Fashion Week below The Center

On the 2013 New York Fashion Calendar there were nearly 400 shows listed over the course of seven days. The previous season, it was just over 300, the season before, just under.

by Rachelle Robinett
The calendar itself is kept behind lock and key, password protected and expensive to access, granted you’re granted it. This year, the calendar turned 65 years old. And not much has changed since its inception: a hard copy (paper) is mailed to elite editors and an online version is available for several hundred dollars. Nearly all of the shows listed are the majors, showing at Lincoln Center, or the newly added Milk Studios, and the rest often don’t include location details. New York’s fashion calendar is a charming instance of the industry’s poise for progression.

The quick increase of listings on the calendar is exemplary of fashion’s growth in general – a result of a combination of economic and cultural factors. Globalization, accessibility by youth and broader-income levels, and the permeation into mainstream media lead by celebrities, reality television and designer collaborations with mass retailers (read: Heidi Klum).

While the demand is greater than ever, this multitude of voices is modifying the ask. The call today is for access, translation, wearability, and immediacy: commercialism. The definition of fashion is being tried. The consistent competition between fashion and art is at an apex and designers today are beseeched to choose between the two – the sooner and more resolutely, the wiser. Fashion as art does have a place in our economy but it’s not hanging alongside the commercial successes that today’s industry can produce. Those sales opportunities are greater than ever before, but creatively more costly.

The art and commerce divide during New York Fashion Week is located somewhere around 14th street – the uptown/downtown meridian. During NYFW, an editor downtown in independent designer territory is a noteworthy event and one that oft sparks hope that a show mention will surface in one of the revered fashion publications, that the designer’s name appear alongside the ‘traditionals’, or that recognition be received from the community that’s lead fashion to where it is today. Though the current state of affairs urges reconsideration of the importance of gaining that favour. As the independent fashion community grows, so does its independence. In New York, and worldwide.

Historically, the fashion shows launched the season, announced the trends and dictated the direction of Fall, Spring, Fall, Spring … Those not privy to a ticket had to wait months to partake in the movement via a credit card, and those without the wealth to do so then could wait years for styles to trickle down to mainstream retailers. Today, the shows are live-streamed and imitations are available in H&M before the originals are out of the factory.
The shows, the “official” fashion weeks, and the system – is losing its lead.
For now though, showing at fashion week is still very valuable. Doing so proves presence and reiterates relevancy. To some degree, fashion shows have always been for spectacle, but where they used to serve the purpose of debuting a collection to buyers and editors, it’s now nearly entirely about publicity.
Traditionally, shows were just that. The length, number of looks and layout (a runway) has varied only slightly and occasionally. To deviate too much was to be disregarded as amateur. But increasingly it’s the traditional model that’s becoming passé. The acceptance of change makes it more feasible for new designers to show and earn respect regardless of the runway length.

During the down economy, presentations in place of runway shows became popular, and assumedly due to their practicality, have persisted. Technology and digital are now also front row providing less expensive show experiences (video) and exposure (international online press, look books and e-commerce).
Despite advances however, there is a great want of resources for young designers with talent to exhaust them. Incubator programs are few and far between and awards panels often play favourites. Designers regarded as new are anything but, and initiations into the echelons of establishment resemble a game of musical chairs.

Underground, or downtown, this season saw a dainty development that could (should) pressure the popular crowd’s position. Solving some of the most basic challenges facing young designers attempting to show during fashion week – namely the cost of doing so, which can be more than that of several collections – pop-up presentation spaces hosted by designers’ representing PR agencies offered comprehensively a location, production and publicity management.
It’s a small example of the artistic community evolving in spite of commercial pressures. Towing the lines of artisanship, innovation and individuality that characterize fashion, versus clothes.
Recognizing the divergent paths of artistic fashion and commercial success, and owning up to the appropriate may be one designers’ central, or at least initial, challenges today.

The path for Black Sheep is slower and wrought with unique bends, but its artistry aim is at the heart of a healthy body growing stronger each season. New York’s herd is aplenty – nooked in basements, Bushwick and below 14th street. If you’re hidden away in this, or any city, burning the candle at both ends and designing by its light, you’re in excellent company. An organic groundswell of garage bands became grunge; should fashion be so lucky, the independents are a poised gestalt.

P.S. "An audience is always warming but it must never be necessary to your work." - Gertrude Stein