A beginner’s guide to Fashion Week: Art and commercialization collide in New York

By SHARVARI JOHARI ’17

Contributing Writer

Starting Thursday, Feb. 6, designers, models and buyers descended on New York City to witness the new trends of the coming year. While Fashion Week is the big chance for couture designers to feature their fall collections, it is also a chance for mid-range retail companies like J.Crew and Madewell to show off their higher end designs and their themes for the spring and summer retail seasons. Sixty-nine shows and non-runway presentations will be shown at the traditional Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, including the shows of famous lines like Anna Sui and Carolina Herrera.

New York Fashion Week is an important event in the New York social scene. Even Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced himself to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, where he gave grants to local manufacturing businesses and rubbed shoulders with important leaders of the industry, ingratiating himself in the fashion scene of New York.

The intense media coverage of Fashion Week turns the presentations in celebrity sighting events and takes attention away from the clothing being introduced. Recently many famous designers complained that Fashion Week has become too commercial, resembling a trade show rather than an art show. As a result, there’s been an increased focus on interesting street fashion during this eight-day period rather than the fashion of the runways. In fact some of the most prominent trends of the year have come out of the street fashion outfits of the week rather than the runways themselves. The New York Times has a special online street fashion feature while more pop-culture focused outlets, like E! News, focus almost exclusively on street fashion and celebrities.

In fact, the street fashion culture at Fashion Week is almost the best indicator of what’s considered stylish and on trend at the moment.  For instance, “music festival” trends that include tribal patterns have become popular in the last year, as music events like Coachella began generating tremendous attention. High-low dresses were incredibly prominent during September’s fashion week and found their way to fast-fashion retailers like Forever 21.

Some designers want New York Fashion Week to be more exclusive and stick to its tradition of showcasing high fashion. Yet the glamor of events like these has also attracted people who are unaware of high-fashion trends.

While the eight-day event is traditionally held in tents at Lincoln Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, many designers are flocking to less traditional locations in Chelsea or on Wall Street, to  better match their design aesthetics and refocus attention toward their clothes. Designers like Oscar de la Renta and Herrera have voiced complaints about the cramped tents at Lincoln Center, which don’t properly accommodate the hustle and bustle of a fashion show backstage.

This year, the Lincoln Center space has been configured to include an area called the Theater, which creates more backstage space in addition to a special section for emerging designers. However, IMG Fashion, which runs Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, noted that seating would be reduced by 20 percent in order to make the event an exclusive one reserved for people truly passionate about fashion. There is also an extra viewing space, named the Hub, at the Hudson Hotel five blocks away.

Despite these changes, many designers are fleeing the cramped and unaccommodating Lincoln Center for more flexible spaces. Oscar de la Renta, one of the main critics of the growth of Fashion Week, has started showing collections in his West 42nd showroom for the past few seasons, actively trying to  emphasize the clothes over the culture.

Calvin Klein inaugurated a new space in TriBeCa. Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, announced in January that she was moving to TriBeCa for her brand’s 40th anniversary. Alexander Wang truly broke the mold by showing across the river in Brooklyn.

Wang’s move has caused controversy in the fashion editorial world. In light of an increasingly popular and commercial fashion week, editors understood moves within Manhattan, because such moves not only put the spotlight on the clothes, but also allowed for fewer scheduling conflicts between designers. Though Brooklyn has risen in profile in recent years and is becoming a trendy spot, many editors of fashion magazines feel that it is not yet up to the standards of New York’s Fashion Week.

However, as far as the collections go, it is still too early to tell what the trends of 2014 will be. The shows go by and then trends are usually determined by magazine editors or celebrities on the red carpet.

Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Lanvin, among other designers, have focused primarily on nude and earth/neutral tones with slouchy fits in their pre-fall collection.

Oscar de la Renta and Altuzarra’s pre-fall collections both featured colorful checkered fabric, while 3.1 Phillip Lim and Wang used color blocking. While these descriptions seem vague, it is the execution and highlights of these collections that often lead to the clothes we see months later in retail stores like Forever 21, Zara and American Apparel.

Fashion Week in general is not about the most artistic fashion. Couture shows are traditionally shown in Paris or independently in New York. Fashion Week is about designers showing higher end versions of what will eventually be in their stores. It has always been a trade show with an artistic edge and remains that, despite some of its more recent changes.

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