Fashion Week

23 Jan

The Birth of Fashion Week

“With Paris Sorely stricken and All Possible European Successors in Like Plight, New York Has Thrust upon It the Honor of Designing Fashions, and So, in the Manner of Paris, Will hold Its First Great Fashion Opening” (Vogue, November 1, 1914 p. 35)

Fashion scholars have studied and written about the histories of the corset, the Mary Jane shoe, and the poodle skirt, but no one has yet written a definitive history of the fashion show. The fashion show is not only the promotional foundation of a multibillion-dollar industry, it was also pivotal to the development of the American department store, which then led to the rise of the American consumer culture.

It is possible to piece together the long lost tale of New York’s Fashion Week. Fashion Week in its earliest embodiment was a bid to overthrow the tyranny of the French. According to Valerie Steele, chief curator and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the event got its start in 1943, when an acclaimed fashion publicist named Eleanor Lambert organized an event called “Press Week,” which would later be known as “Fashion Week.” Lambert was a PR connoisseur who recognized that it was an advantageous moment for American fashion. Before World War II, American designers were thought to be dependent on French couture for inspiration. When the Germans occupied France in 1940, one of the ensuing calamities was that buyers, editors, and designers were not able to travel to Paris to see the few remaining shows.

World War II helped turn the spotlight on American designers when Paris fashion was not available. Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert saw the absence of French couture as the perfect opportunity to group American designers (many of whom, including Charles James, Adrian, and Claire McCardell, were among her clients) and start New York Press Week, a twice-yearly showcase of designer collections for press and buyers and the model for what is now known as New York Fashion Week. Lambert strengthened the American position in fashion and poised American designers to a level at which their names were recognized and they could finally compete with French couture for attention. She gave American fashion credibility.

With Press Week, Lambert hoped to give editors a chance to see and write about the work of American designers.

When Press Week first began, designers’ fashion shows took place in the Pierre and the Plaza Hotels. As the years passed, schools like Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons, or clubs and restaurants like the Four Seasons, became admirable venues.  By the 1980s, shows were spread out all over New York City, with younger designers trying to find hip and affordable venues, and this had press and buyers trekking all over the city for a week to see the collections. In 1993, prompted by the increasing hardship of having to race from show to show, which then led Fern Mallis, then director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (an organization Lambert started in 1962), to produce the shows in Bryant Park, which created a more organized and modernized show.

Fashion Week helped American designers reach a more international audience, as it allowed editors, writers, and buyers from abroad to come watch the country’s best work in one area.

Starting this year, Lincoln Center will be the new home of New York Fashion Week. Now, the fashion show belongs to Manhattan the way the movies belong to Hollywood; the spectacle exists elsewhere, apart from our everyday lives.



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