After two seasons of digital shows, New York Fashion Week is set for a bold in-person return.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), in partnership with IMG, released the preliminary schedule, which runs from Sept. 8 to Sept. 12. Ulla Johnson is slated to open, while the closing slot — normally reserved for Marc Jacobs, who showed in July — will go to Tom Ford. In addition to the roster of usual brands that show in New York, Rodarte is returning from Los Angeles, while Moschino, Dundas and Peter Do are also hosting runway events in New York during fashion week for the first time.
“I very much believe in the power of runway and the significance and beauty of having women walk collections into life,” Ulla Johnson said. “There is a reason people have been doing runway for decades —there’s no other way to achieve the aggregate energy of a live experience.”
Christian Siriano, Collina Strada and Harlem’s Fashion Row will show a day earlier than the official schedule, part of the CFDA’s American Collections Calendar initiative meant to embrace off-calendar events. Alexander Wang remains off the schedule (the brand has opted for shows that align with events like its 15th anniversary.) Brock Collection is also not included in the schedule.
“Great fashion is about storytelling and there is no format or medium that can compare to the magic of being able to see a collection live in movement as the vision is brought to life,” said Wes Gordon, creative director of Carolina Herrera. The brand’s show this season coincides with its fortieth anniversary, bolstering the case for an in-person event.
This season marks the first time the CFDA, the American fashion system’s governing body, is working in an official capacity with IMG, the Endeavor Group-owned business that organised its own schedule of shows held simultaneously with the CFDA schedule. The CFDA sold IMG the rights to stage and operate fashion week in 2001, which became NYFW: The Shows, though the CFDA maintained the “official” industry calendar. IMG hosts its own events — including runway shows and panel discussions — during the week, monetising them with the help of financial sponsors. Over the past year, many CFDA member designers have looked to IMG for financial backing for both their runway shows as well as for their broader businesses.
“The truth is, we’ve always worked very closely with IMG and spend days on end ahead of Fashion Week interacting and communicating and organising and partnering,” said Steven Kolb, chief executive of the CFDA. “But I think externally, there has been some confusion around that in terms of schedule, and we just wanted to give clarity ... so that when people are looking to navigate or plan their week, they’re clear on what those resources are.”
Leslie Russo, president of IMG fashion events and properties, said that partnering with the CFDA to create a streamlined calendar was “a no-brainer, and it’s one of the many initiatives we’re implementing to rebuild a stronger New York Fashion Week post-pandemic.”
In addition to the jam-packed schedule of shows, fashion week will be punctuated by the Met Gala on Monday, Sept. 13.
“I am most excited about returning to New York in support of Andrew [Bolton’s] show at the Met,” said Thom Browne, who is returning to the New York schedule this season after showing in Paris since 2017. “My collection and the pieces that I am designing for the Met will be a true celebration of what I see as the strength of American fashion.”
Ahead of the schedule announcement, some in the New York fashion community expressed worry that due to the high volume schedule as well as events like the Met Gala and MTV’s Video Music Awards, which will be held on September 12 in Brooklyn, coverage surrounding a brand’s show may be drowned out. The Tom Ford show will be held at 8 PM the same night as the VMAs.
A Vogue spokesperson refuted that claim and told BoF, “the September Met Gala date was chosen carefully, in consultation with Tom Ford and the CFDA, to put a spotlight on American designers, build on the excitement around New York Fashion Week, and support the return of the city’s artistic and cultural life. As always, Vogue will dedicate extensive coverage across platforms to both the runway shows and the Met Gala.”
Of course, many of the shows will also live online, on a brand’s social media channels and websites, as well as Runway 360, the CFDA-owned open-access platform. Many designers, including Peter Do, who is hosting his first runway show this season, said they will offer hybrid physical-digital events.
Even in the face of a return to an in-person NYFW, digital will still play an important role, particularly because there will not be much international attendance at the shows, due to ongoing travel restrictions as well as budget constraints, said Kolb.
With that in mind, the CFDA is ramping up Runway 360, which offers a place for brands to share their collections with augmented and virtual reality capabilities, live streams, social media and e-commerce integrations. The platform launched last year in response to the pandemic and in-person event restrictions.
Although Runway 360 is largely an industry platform, the CFDA is building on its existing relationship with American Express to build up its consumer-facing muscle, offering American Express cardholders special access to designers as well as exclusive shopping opportunities, Kolb said.
This season, the CFDA will also release brand collections on Runway 360 in daily batches — as opposed to hourly in accordance with the schedule. The change was made after studying how industry professionals and consumers used the platform in its first year.
“They like it more like a Netflix thing,” said Kolb. “They don’t want to be pegged to a computer to watch something with their busy schedule, not knowing what that might be, and they can just watch [the shows] later.”
The heightened attention on NYFW this season is also a boon for brands looking for financial sponsorship opportunities. A handful of brands turned to unlikely sponsors over the last year, like home improvement store Lowe’s, a deal that IMG helped broker, to scrap together whatever financial support they could. This season, new partners with deep pockets, like buy-now, pay-later app Afterpay, are dedicating marketing budgets to NYFW.
“There has been incredible interest in the return to live fashion events and we’re working with several new partners who share our vision for Fashion Week’s future,” Russo said.
The excitement around this year’s event is a shift, as the narrative around NYFW has skewed negative in recent years. Many labels helmed by American designers — like Off-White’s Virgil Abloh or Thom Browne — flocked to Paris and billion-dollar American brands opted to show off-calendar. Meanwhile, young and independent designers reconsidered the value of a runway show altogether. Some created bombastic productions with musical performances in venues more likely to host concerts or awards shows, all in an effort to break through the noise on Instagram, while others opted to invest limited resources elsewhere. As the American department store continues to dwindle in relevance, the calculus behind spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) to court buyers no longer made sense.
Still, all of those worries seem to have been quelled ahead of this season — at least temporarily.
“Heading into this September season, the most common concern we’ve heard from designers has been the lack of venue spaces,” Russo said. “NYFW is at full capacity, which we see as a happy problem.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Leslie Russo is the president of IMG. That is incorrect. Her title is President of IMG Fashion Events and Properties.