NEW YORK, United States — Full disclosure: I am the co-chairman of the public relations agency of record for the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). New York Fashion Week, which the CFDA organises, is a vital part of my company and integral to many of my clients. But anyone who knows me can attest to my impartial passion for championing a positive and healthy fashion industry in New York and beyond, and so I felt compelled to write this piece.
About a year ago, with much fanfare, a new kind of fashion industry voice emerged on this very site: the Watchdog, someone who calls out unethical or illegal conduct in the sector. It was the casting agent James Scully who drove this change, publicly naming his peers for violating the codes of model management.
Now, I have noticed a new industry voice on the rise: negative, angry, sometimes bitter. Nagging, even belittling its own as it incessantly calls out everything it sees as wrong in the fashion business. Champion, it is not.
Make room for the Backseat Driver.
By definition, a Backseat Driver is “a passenger in a car who offers unwanted advice to the driver” or “a person who offers advice on or tries to direct matters that are not his or her concern.” A Backseat Driver is often annoying and expresses opinions on topics he or she may not understand well. You may recall Bart and Lisa annoying Homer to no end in Matt Groening’s animated sitcom "The Simpsons" with the nagging question: "Are we there yet?"
I have noticed a new industry voice on the rise: negative, angry, sometimes bitter … Champion, it is not.
A Backseat Driver may also come in another form: the Armchair Professional. I encountered just such a person while travelling from London to Paris on the Eurostar one bright Sunday morning earlier this month. Lucinda. First name will now suffice. She was quick to tell me how happy she was despite just having left British Vogue and how eager she was to get to Paris to explore new opportunities with another fashion editor. Ha, funny that! This was the day before her classic Armchair Professional rant broke on Vestoj. I am just glad I am not her publicist.
Over the past several weeks, I have read and overheard — with one eyebrow arched — many such rants by persons in this industry expressing their dismay over the current state of New York Fashion Week. Boy, have the opinions been fast and furious. And I have often asked myself, why is NYFW such a target?
Perhaps questioning the validity of NYFW is something that is inherently American. Along the lines of: "Is Broadway too commercial?" or "Has the art world sold out?" Of course, the conversation on NYFW is decades old. Some may remember the question: should NYFW go first or last in the global show cycle? Questioning ourselves suits us, we are, after all, a country of democratic debate and now opinion. Trump! Would the global fashion industry ever so vociferously question the British Fashion Council, Camera Nationale della Moda Italiana or the Federation de la haute couture et de la Mode? Probably not. But we, American fashion, can take it and we welcome it.
I was surprised at the strong reaction amongst my New York employees to Bridget Foley's July 13 column "WWD Diary: The Exodus From New York." My gut reaction, because Bridget is one of the most tenured and important voices in American fashion, was, of course, to commiserate with her. But my staff of industry veterans and fashion millennials alike immediately responded differently. "Enough," they said. "Stop the negativity." They did not want to listen anymore to a discourse on the trials and tribulations of New York Fashion Week, but instead wanted to embrace the plethora of designers and brands who convene under this umbrella, the dual importance of creativity and business and the ever-shifting landscape of the week as uniquely American and truly their own to champion.
There is an elegance in positive thinking — not in rehashing negativity about what we think is wrong.
I also read with amusement Eugene Rabkin's Op-Ed on this site "Rethinking New York Fashion Week." Of course, I have a tremendous respect for Rabkin's creative vantage point as the editor of StyleZeitgeist. But to deny New York fashion's foundation in business is just wrong. To say some scale of commercial success is not a goal for the majority of designers or brands is, well, just not American. It is who we are and we should be fiercely proud of it. And there is no argument that a fundamental role of the CFDA is to support its members in achieving such success.
It is often said transformations of the global fashion industry start in New York and then move to Europe. Maybe rethinking New York Fashion Week could be the start of something Big and New and Wonderful globally? Should the four international governing bodies work together to create a new Global Fashion Shows? Is this the Age of Designers Without Borders? So, why not ask these more forward-thinking questions from the backseat?
And by the way, in all of this nobody has asked why the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode is strategically inviting American designers to show in Paris? This is another interesting shift in cultural attitude toward American designers. Bring it on, we have always opened our doors.
It’s time for change. It’s time to get out of the backseat and for us, particularly the American industry itself, to unify and become front-seat forces and champions of who we are, champions of our own. There is an elegance in positive thinking — not in rehashing negativity about what we think is wrong. Let's give power to the possibility of change and ideas that take us to new places.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.