NEW YORK, United States — Rebecca Minkoff can normally count on as many as 800 people passing through one of her presentations at New York Fashion Week. Suffice to say, the numbers will be lower this year — but the show will go on.
"There’s an ecosystem that needs to be fuelled," she said. "It's not just about one fashion week, it's about 'let’s get back to creativity, let’s get back to business.'"
The designer is one of a handful who will be showing their latest collections to live audiences at Spring Studios and other locations around the city next month. Spring, which typically hosts a wall-to-wall crush of shows during fashion week, is being made over to comply with strict health guidelines laid down by the state of New York. The venue’s elevators will be limited to four people per ride (impatient editors will have the option of taking the freight elevator or the stairs). Shows and presentations will be capped at 50 people. The entrance tent, where crowds of well-dressed ticket holders and gatecrashers usually elbow their way inside, is being scrapped entirely.
That fact that New York Fashion Week would include physical events at all wasn’t a sure thing until recently. IMG, which organises fashion week along with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), only got the go-ahead from the state of New York to hold events at Spring Studios late last week. New York has reopened at a slower pace than much of the rest of the US, which as a country has lagged far behind Europe in bringing the pandemic under control.
So while brands like Versace and Prada announced their triumphant return to the Milan runway weeks ago, many of New York Fashion Week’s big draws, including Tory Burch, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Gabriela Hearst said they were skipping the season or showing elsewhere. Most remaining brands have opted for digital content, like streaming on Instagram or the CFDA’s new platform, Runway360. Relatively few are holding physical presentations or shows.
Minkoff said her initial inclination was to skip the week entirely, then decided to plan a digital event (her brand operates under the see-now-buy-now model, and past fashion week presentations were shoppable to an online audience). About six weeks ago, she began working with IMG on a physical presentation. The company is also working with Christian Siriano and Jason Wu to stage in-person presentations and shows, with all three designers sponsored by the home-improvement chain Lowe’s.
Minkoff said she expects no trouble filling the room (to its tightly limited capacity, at least). The event will also be streamed, and shoppable, on Instagram.
“I don’t think every editor has been able to decamp to the Hamptons,” Minkoff said. “Enough things are happening that people can make an event out of it. And don’t people want to get out at this point?”
Getting people to pay attention to a mostly-digital fashion week may prove to be a challenge, however.
Even before the pandemic, New York Fashion Week was struggling to attract the sort of global brands that can draw an international crowd of editors, buyers and celebrities. In February, CFDA President Tom Ford showed in Los Angeles, while other American designers have opted for Paris or to stage shows in different cities each season (or none at all).
The pandemic has also wreaked havoc on many brands’ finances and forced some retailers into bankruptcy, sparking calls to end the practice of showing seasonal collections.
Digital presentations and films, initially seen as a promising alternative while in-person audiences were off the table, have received a lukewarm reception in Europe and Asia. Many, though not all, of the brands that found the biggest online audience tended to be those with the biggest production budgets.
Both the CFDA and IMG are launching digital hubs to support brands that opt for virtual shows. The CFDA’s Runway360 will host brands’ fashion week content, including more overtly commercial elements, such as digital showrooms where buyers can place orders. IMG plans to post more consumer-facing content on NYFW.com, which it owns.
“Collectively we came up with a plan that we think will work,” said Leslie Russo, executive vice president of fashion, events and properties at IMG. “It won’t be the exact same thing. I don't think of it as being less.”
For the majority of designers staging virtual events, the challenge is “collecting the RSVPs and getting the coverage,” said Amanda Carter, founder of the public relations firm Modeworld, who has worked with Eckhaus Latta, Collina Strada, Sandy Liang and other independent designers.
She said most of her clients on the CFDA schedule this September will be presenting collections digitally, either via Instagram Live or on websites that specialise in “movie-like” event screenings that can only be viewed live. One, which she declined to name, will be staging a “guerilla-style” in-person event in New York and Los Angeles.
For both physical and digital shows, the plan is to send out invitations and count on preexisting relationships with buyers, editors and influencers to ensure people pay attention.
“It’s business as usual when it comes to fashion week, contacting [editors] and saying ‘hey, this is what we’re doing, are you interested in covering?'” Carter said. “It’s a pitch like anything else.”