THE BIG CATWALK: A LOOK AT NEW YORK FASHION WEEK
Twice a year, the streets of Manhattan are flooded with a who’s who of the world’s style set. Sure, your Wall-Street-broker-types, bankers, and aspiring writers are all here still – but for one week at the start of September and again in February, models, designers, and celebrities are everywhere. The reason? New York Fashion Week. Officially dubbed Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, the eight-day-long event gives designers and brands (well, the good ones at least) an opportunity to showcase their latest work to top fashion industry insiders. It is the single largest media event held in New York. But while today NYFW is a must-attend affair for stars and press, it wasn’t always that way.
Seventy years ago, American designers couldn’t pay their way onto the pages of fashion magazines. France ruled the style scene, and it was Parisian designers and houses that dominated the glossies. This meant American journalists had to head to Paris if they wanted to see the latest fashions. But then, World War II happened. Suddenly, journalists couldn’t make their twice-a-year treks to Europe – and renowned publicist Eleanor Lambert saw a golden opportunity. Lambert began working with American designers to produce full collections, and then organized a showcase for which they could be presented to the national media. That year, 53 American designers presented collections at the Plaza Hotel during what Lambert christened “Press Week.” Soon, American creations could be seen on the pages of Vogue and mumblings of New York as Paris’s successor of fashion capital of the world could be heard.
UNDER ONE TENT
Over the next thirty years, fashion shows took place all over New York City. But in 1990, chatter of centralized catwalks began. That year, after a loft ceiling collapsed during a Michael Kors runway show, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (a non-profit organization created by Lambert) decided a safe, unified location was necessary. So CFDA Executive Director Fern Mallis set out to find one, and in 1994 she did: Bryant Park. Situated mere blocks from a number of designer’s studios (Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera) and a short distance from the Condé Nast headquarters, the lush green space made sense as the chosen location. Clothes were being shown in close proximity to where they were actually created and journalists could quickly get to the tents – even in sky-high stilettos. The best part? With a central locale and more organized schedule, Fashion Week was able to secure sponsors like Mercedes-Benz, for which the event is now named.
Having finally put down roots, New York Fashion Week’s popularity soared, as did the amount of shows. Soon, the tents at Bryant Park could no longer accommodate the growth and when complaints of the invitation-only event hampering public access to the park started rolling in, the CFDA and IMG Fashion (who produces the shows) were forced to consider a move.
THE LINCOLN CENTER YEARS
After 17 years, Fashion Week bid adieu to Bryant Park, moving further uptown to Lincoln Center in 2010. Home to The Metropolitan Opera, The New York City Ballet, and The New York Philharmonic, Lincoln Center has long been the arts and culture epicenter of New York City. So as an art form, it only made sense that Fashion Week should, too, call Lincoln Center home. The extra space and updated venues was simply a bonus.
In recent years, what’s happening outside Lincoln Center’s spacious tents, however, has become just as important as what’s going on inside them.
Bloggers, socialites, editors – pretty much any who’s anyone in fashion – flock to the cultural center during fashion week, where they’re as highly photographed as the models on the catwalks. Why? Two words: street style. Outside Lincoln Center’s tents, it’s all about how fashion heavyweights are putting together pieces from the past season. So while tickets to the actual runway shows inside are by invite only (with invitations harder to score than an open taxi during a downpour), there’s a street style show going on each and every day outside; no invitation required. Simply post up on the central fountain and watch as people from all walks of life dress their version of “to the nines.” Editors can be spotted in chic all-black ensembles, while bloggers and socialites are apt to be seen in last season’s risky right-off-the-runway pieces. An added bonus? You can score freebies – from granola bars to teeth whitening strips – as you walk up the grand steps to the fountain.
Between and after shows, head over to Chelsea Market, where the style set and big-name celebs have been known to go for farm-to-table food, free WiFi, and pop-up shops. Other celeb eatery favorites include Ed’s Chowder House (right across the street from Lincoln Center), Beauty and Essex (146 Essex St.), and Bryant Park Hotel’s Koi. And don’t forget about the nightlife. While fashion, both on and off the runway, may take center stage during the day, guest DJs and models dancing on tables rule the after-dark scene. Hit up Bar Nana (63 Gansevoort St.) where designer Prabal Gurung held his Fashion Week after-party in September, and then make a late-night stop at The Electric Room (355 W. 16th St.) for some serious celebrity sightings. Jennifer Aniston, Mick Jagger, Scarlett Johansson – yep, they’ve all been there.
FOLLOWING THE RUNWAY
For the past four years, Lincoln Center has been the mecca for all things Fashion Week, but that may soon be changing. Recently, designers like Diane Von Furstenburg, Oscar de la Renta, and Vera Wang have opted out of showing at Lincoln Center, choosing instead to show in off-site lofts and warehouses for their small price tags and large creative potential. With this migration, editors and buyers have been left sprinting across the city from one presentation to the next, swapping their sky-high stilettos for more travel-friendly flats. But bigger than a shoe change, this rapid departure of designers means the end is near for people-watching at the fountain, celebrity sightings at Ed’s Chowder House, and, most importantly, Lincoln Center’s sole claim to the runways.
In hopes to once again bring the shows of Fashion Week under one roof (and save editors from painful blisters), it was announced last fall that NYFW would again be moving. This time around, it’s to the Culture Shed at Hudson Yards, a yet-to-be-built, new development on the West Side. The Shed, as it’s been nicknamed, won’t be fully operational until 2017, but when it is, it will house four runways, plus studios, an exhibition space, and a 140-foot-high canopy to provide designers with the option of outdoor presentations. So could this be Fashion Week’s final resting place? That’s what designers are hoping – but only time will tell.