From the outside, Fashion Week is a seven-day party for the city's most stylish. On the inside, however, it's an industry event plagued by scheduling woes and high production costs. So what still makes it relevant?
There's strength in numbers: To take a phrase from Lost, for many in the fashion industry it's long been a case of "show together, die alone." It's easy now that New York has a vibrant bi-annual fashion week to forget that it wasn't really until the '90s, when the city's top designers gathered at Bryant Park to show in one place, that New York started to earn its stripes as a member of the global fashion community. Now, New York's fashion week shows are on par with any other city in Europe. As much as we stand by our diverse, incredibly talented pool of "indies" that the city has begun to foster, none of their skyrocketing success would have happened if not for the global attention participation in Fashion Week can bring a young designer. As expensive as staging a show or presentation may be, it's really the price of entry into an event that provides more international exposure than any desinger could ever hope for.
Fashion Week is a citywide moneymaker: Fashion (including retail and manufacturing) is one of the top industries in the city, and Fashion Week draws over a hundred thousand people to Manhattan, creating a week-long frenzy of spending at the city's best stores, restaurants, and more. Taxi drivers love fashion week because women clad in heels pay for 15-block rides; Stores love fashion week because editors come in advance and during the week to amp their wardrobes (full disclosure: we always over-spend leading up to the week); Restaurants love fashion week because their reservation lists are suddenly filled with some of the global community's most stylish denizens.
It's an inspiration, trend-setting explosion: In terms of streamlining business for profit, fashion fashion brands like H&M and Forever 21 have the fashion industry's more traditional enterprisers beat. What's more, the fashion calendar is in need of a serious facelift as new "seasons" like Holiday and Pre-Fall run designer ragged. That said, the bi-annual convergence of talent at fashion week is something that makes fashion unique among industries, and provides the inspiration bedrock for an entire season of retail: As much as you may feel that a gorgeous leopard coat on a runway is over-the-top and incredibly expensive, it's no coincidence when you suddenly see modified leopard jackets, bags, and shoes in H&M a few months later. Even if you don't "care" about this insider-only event, it's going to affect what you can buy and what you'll end up wearing.
Runway shows are inordinately expensive: While the fashion industry generates billions of dollars each year, even spectacular sales and revenues don't justify the stratospheric costs to put on a fashion show, which can run upwards of $500,000 (that's more than $30,000 per minute, considering most shows are only about 15 minutes long). And when you consider that most designers show twice a year, it's amazing they haven't started charging for tickets to help recoup their funds, which could no doubt be more usefully-directed towards other areas of their business.
Shows and presentations may be fun events to watch, but they are exhausting affairs that don't sell collections anymore: Somewhere between Anna Wintour and Taylor Momsen, the purpose of a fashion show as a business endeavor collapsed. The shows themselves seem less useful to buyers and editors, who usually have other opportunities to view the collections—either as a preview before the catwalk presentation, or afterwards via private showroom appointments. In addition, the shows themselves are often delayed and an ever-expanding lineup of shows has created a truly exhausting schedule for everyone involved: Lincoln Center may be the official home to NYFW this year, but as more designers opt to show their collections off-site in favor more unique settings, everyone's running around ragged. There are smarter, more cost- and time-effective ways to present a collection: live-stream or video presentations, for example. Not only do these twenty-first century innovations keep production costs and wasteful production resources at bay, they're also vehicles to further the democraticization fashion, both for the viewer and the designer.
The fashion industry runs on an ineffecient, outdated schedule: For an industry that thrives on change and trends, the fashion world's slowness to, shall we say, get with the program and embrace a more real-time schedule is a mind-boggling one. Retail-timed shows would meet the demands of consumers by satisfying those "wear right now" urges. While some designers might be reluctant to modernize the age-old schedule, members of the new guard are pushing for change: "What’s the point of showing these clothes so early on and having them on Style.com and having them on the Internet and having them worn by celebrities and this whole thing so quickly, when you’re promoting a product that’s not even available to buy?" said Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. "That doesn’t make sense. If this entire machine was happening and these clothes were actually available to be bought at that moment, that would revolutionize things."