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One of the Weirdest Fashion Weeks

The wide range of formats and approaches on display in New York seemed to underscore the underlying uncertainty of an industry in flux.
Diane von Furstenburg Autumn/Winter 2016 | Source: Courtesy
  • Imran Amed

NEW YORK, United States — This New York Fashion Week will go down as one of the weirdest fashion weeks in recent memory. As one senior executive put it to me, there was a sense of apprehension and uncertainty in the air, almost as if the industry was asking itself: "Why are we all here doing this anyway?"

Of course, everyone was talking about the shift to fashion week as a direct-to-consumer spectacle. It's something the industry could avoid no longer and, just one week into 'fashion month,' this has already become the defining theme of this season. But exactly how is this going to work, operationally? What will consumer-facing fashion experiences be like? I got the sense that brands are scrambling to figure it out.

The wide range of formats — some focused on the consumer, others feeling like relics of fashion's dark ages — seemed to underscore the underlying uncertainty of an industry in flux. Walking into Diane Von Furstenberg's fashion week "experience" in "the house of DVF" (which the company staged in lieu of a regular runway show) was like walking into a giant DVF-themed party. It-models Karlie Kloss, Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner snaked through the party in a conga line, all dressed in DVF, of course, while others pranced on mini-sets in vignettes peppered throughout the store.

It felt a little like Fashion's Night Out, the global shopping-cum-party event first initiated by American Vogue that drew hundreds of thousands of consumers all over the world into stores to celebrate fashion and shopping at a time when the global economy was in the doldrums (though, of course, most of the attendees didn't actually shop, coming instead for the entertainment value).

I chatted with power publicist Karla Otto about her thoughts on DVF's event format. She seemed to think the party-cum-fashion show would earn a lot of coverage — and she was right. No doubt, having Karlie and Kendall and Gigi in the house of DVF boosted the event's social media reach. At the time of writing, Jenner alone has almost 50 million followers on Instagram.

Our very own editor-at-large Tim Blanks absolutely loved the chaos and contagious energy of DVF's presentation. "Taking the collection off the catwalk and bringing it all back home to HQ was a smart move on DVF's part. It's attitude she's selling, the more attitude the better," he wrote in his review.

But the attitude-infused, made-for-social media moments did not work for everyone. Some industry participants wanted to see a collection, meet the designer and move on to their next appointment. The respected fashion critic Bridget Foley of Women's Wear Daily was particularly incensed by it all. "What ensued instead played almost like farce, might have been amusing at a more leisurely moment, and in the end, crystallised that which many of us in fashion have long known, and some of us have resisted: The fight is over, and spectacle slayed fashion," she wrote.

Most of the people I spoke to were not that bothered by it, but the difference of opinion highlighted one question for me: in the longer-term, are events geared for both industry and consumer audiences really workable? We've been striking a balance for some time now, of course, embracing the legacy of an industry-focused runway format that also excites consumers, in part because of its long-standing insider credibility. But now that the focus of fashion week is shifting, how designers will engage with the industry to showcase their brands and collections is far from obvious.

One thing's for sure, to show collections to consumers in sync with retail drops, brands will need to develop more intimate formats for engaging the industry months earlier — which could mean that access will again be limited to elite core industry powerbrokers. Bloggers, consumer media, social media stars, celebrities — these constituents will likely attend consumer facing spectacles (it's what the people want to see, after all), but the industry will probably need its own format for seeing a collection. Yet another thing for us to sort out in the coming months.

At Ralph Lauren's show on Thursday morning, old school industry showgoers would have been more at home. On a single, long runway in a studio space on Washington Street, Karlie Kloss opened the show, emblematic of the aristocratic American lifestyle that has turned Ralph Lauren into one of the biggest fashion and lifestyle brands in the world. But like Armani shows in Milan, it also felt very out of step with the way fashion is going — almost as if from a bygone era.

I'm excited about all the changes afoot in fashion at the moment and curious to see where it will take us. The next couple of years will undoubtedly continue to be full of uncertainty, but transitional periods like these present big opportunities for brands like DVF which are willing to take a risk and evolve. More than ever, today, the spoils will go to those who aren't afraid to change.

Imran Amed, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Enjoy our top stories for the week gone by:

The Digital Iceberg
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The Growth Conundrum
As key global markets continue to cool, business growth in the luxury sector will be hard won in 2016. But, here are three levers that fashion's luxury megabrands can employ to drive growth.

Ed Filipowski, Fashion Catalyst
The co-president of fashion PR powerhouse KCD talks exclusively to BoF about public relations in the digital age and the firm's new entertainment and tech division.

Remembered: The Game-Changing Martin Margiela Show of 1989
As talk turns towards a future of consumer-facing fashion shows, we look back on the 1989 Martin Margiela presentation, which set a new paradigm for the fashion show as a public spectacle, in an oral history with contributions from Margiela's closest collaborators and biggest supporters of the time, courtesy of The Gentlewoman.

How Newspaper Supplements Took On Fashion Magazines
While commercial success among fashion magazines is uneven, supplements are a steady oasis of profitability. How are they doing it?

North Korea's Fashion Secrets
Fashion is an increasingly important tool for North Korea's 'black market generation' to make small but significant changes to the culture and economy of the secretive state.

The Missed Opportunity: China's Neglected Internal Travellers
While outbound Chinese tourists attract the most attention, holidaymakers shopping inside China are a consumer market that is growing too.

At NYFW, Different Faces of Female Empowerment
The resurgence of feminist spirit in society — the so-called 'fourth wave' — was evident at DVF, Karen Walker and Zero Maria Cornejo.

In New York, the Challenge of Cultivating Desire
Fashion brands are increasingly focused on courting consumers with their shows, but are they succeeding at creating product people actually want to buy?

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