New York Fashion Week will be more democratic, thanks to the pandemic – AdAge.com
On the second day of Fashion Week, Queens-born designer LaQuan Smith, known for his “3D leggings” that celebrities love, plans to show his collection at the Empire State Building.
Although admission to the Sept. 9 runway show is by invitation only, fashion lovers around the world can stream the event and then shop Smith’s collection online because of the Fashion Alliance, a partnership forged in the spring between a group of city designers, talent agency IMG and fintech firm Afterpay.
“Designers have tested the waters with ‘see now, buy now’ technology in the past,” said Noah Kozlowski, director of global designer relations at IMG, which is leading the alliance. “Coming out of the pandemic, it’s great to have opportunities to engage with each brand and each show—which we see as a critical marketing opportunity and consumer entertainment.”
That the public can shop for goods online immediately marks a momentous change for New York Fashion Week, which—in spite of media hype, exclusive parties and sidewalk photo shoots—has been at its core a trade show at which retail buyers ordered inventory to stock in the upcoming season.
But months of shows canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated a trend already underway, in which regular consumers are able to access top designers by interacting with them on social media or placing orders on direct-to-consumer platforms.
Even so, this year’s Fashion Week will consist mostly of in-person shows and presentations between Sept. 8 and 13. It is scheduled to culminate in a rescheduled, downsized Met Gala at the Costume Institute, focusing on American designers.
There are 91 designers with shows this year, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, down from around 500 in previous years. The presentations are following a strict safety playbook, which includes proof of vaccination for everyone involved and mask-wearing for most participants except when eating, drinking or walking the runway. Each show is operating at limited capacity in similar square footage.
But the smaller audience size will be offset by technology allowing far-away viewers to partake in the moment—and to shop.
That’s where IMG’s involvement comes in. The company has contracted with 11 designers for the next three years, supporting the business side of their shows. The designers are Altuzarra, Brandon Maxwell, Jason Wu, LaQuan Smith, Markarian, Monse, Prabal Gurung, Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, Sergio Hudson and Telfar. IMG’s involvement allows them to try out technology advances without having to build their own internal capability.
For independent designers, participating in Fashion Week can be an expensive hurdle, involving renting space, hiring models and stylists, finding sponsors and making sure reviewers and buyers show up.
A relatively small event can cost up to $40,000. The return on investment, especially for lesser-known brands, has not always been clear. Perhaps a designer can create enough buzz among consumers that they might remember to buy something in six months, when the season’s wares are out of production, and hopefully orders from buyers from department stores and boutiques.
For small designers, having the support of a massive firm such as IMG to create new forms that either cost less or deliver more can be instrumental in finding their footing in a post-pandemic New York.
“We have always been a city on the cutting edge of innovation, and I commend all of the designers and production teams for their creativity,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who often has advocated for the city’s fashion and garment industries.
In the past, Fashion Week has welcomed more than 230,000 attendees, according to a 2017 report from Maloney’s office. That translated into $865 million in economic impact, including dollars spent at hotels, restaurants and stores.
Even this year’s smaller shows can bolster the fashion industry in a city that is home to 40% of all American designers and supports 900 industry businesses generating 180,000 jobs and $11 billion in wages, according to Maloney.
Rachel Rothenberg-Saenz, onetime director of product development at Oscar de la Renta, said the feeling in the industry is celebratory, that Fashion Week has been revived and that the push toward hybrid events and technological innovation could save it in future years.
“I think it’ll be interesting to see what emerges,” Rothenberg-Saenz said. “We are beginning to witness long-overdue change in fashion toward more inclusivity.”