story by Seth Friedermann
photo by Aeric Meredith-Goujon
In 1943 Eleanor Lambert organized something called “Press Week” which was held in New York City two times per year to give the fashion press access to the newest designs from the likes of Vera Maxwell, Claire McCardell, Norman Norell and many others. This was primarily due to the fact that U.S designers no matter how brilliant were barely covered by the fashion press of the day. This press week was renamed “Seventh on Sixth” in 1993 when the shows begun to be held in Bryant Park. Now as we close out our first full year in the new tents at Lincoln Center I’ve begun to wonder if Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in 2011 still does what Mrs. Lambert wanted it to do when she founded it almost 60 years ago.
The title of this editorial presupposes a fact. The fact is that New York Fashion Week has in the past had a specific purpose, and that was to help expose and promote American designers. To be sure, there are certain things that Mrs. Lambert might have found troubling that are simply a reflection of the changing times. Some of these might be the inclusion of non-American designers and the preponderance of brands that are really not created in any way by whom this publication would call “designers.” Keeping a narrow focus though, I want to explore solely if New York Fashion Week still creates effective press for American fashion designers. I use the word, effective, to a singular sense, and that is; does press that is generated from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center and New York Fashion Week across the city create demand that in turn influences buyers to buy from the designers who were covered and positively reviewed. That causal relationship is the engine block of the fashion industry. A designer’s designs are reviewed and featured in magazines and on sites and this creates awareness of the brand, individual pieces, and the talent of the designer, which in turn leads store and site buyers to seek out that brand during market week and write orders. That, in a sentence is what all of it is about. The sponsorships, the shows, the hair, the make up, the crazy costumes, the P.R, the blogs, the videos, the parties, the unrelated celebrities, the interviews, all of it is to make buyers buy clothes. The question then is this, do buyers still pay attention to any of it?
Buyers are a very secretive lot; they don’t talk to the press very often and they generally don’t reveal why they buy and who, until of course it’s on the racks. Based on the circumstantial evidence of season after season though, the answer to the question I pose seems to be both, “yes, and no.” Hold those boos and let me explain. When Mrs. Lambert started Press Week it was as a reaction to the stubborn blindness of the American fashion press and their blinkered coverage of Paris and French fashion. She desired American designers be recognized because of their talent. She was successful, and like California wine growers after the 1976 Judgment of Paris, American designers have been considered world-worthy ever since. Nowadays though, we have a new but similar problem. The fashion press has jumped the tracks and become a conferrer of status rather than a confirmer of talent. There are many designers who in plainest fact are not that talented, but for reasons passing sanity are considered to be “top American designers.” This is because the primary requirement to get noticed in fashion has become money rather than talent. The press is for sale, figuratively and quite often literally. The top fashion media outlets often only feature designers who pay to advertise, and only recognize the emerging talent that comes with a bank roll attached. The cost of this way of doing business is enormous. We are leaving dozens of talented young American fashion designers to scratch out a meager existence for a few years until they are forced to quit or starve to death. The fashion media has lost sight of the fact that before they were kings and queens, the current superstars of the fashion world were unknowns. With low to no budget to attract the talent and attention it takes to properly present a collection, the risk of the best of the next going unnoticed and unfed is too great. It is the fashion media’s job to seek them out and welcome them in and elevate them so that the public and buyers notice. We are failing far too many in the next generation of American fashion. New York Fashion Week still works, it still exposes and promotes American designers. It is the fashion media that is a failure.