I know that it's pretty much old news to anyone in the fashion world, but I've recently been contemplating the upcoming uprooting of New York Fashion Week from it's original home at Bryant Park to Lincoln Center. I hear the move itself stemmed out of some political scuffle between the park association and the fashion mafia. However, I believe this move has a lot more to do with the state of fashion in NYC than it does the fact that fashion people can be difficult to get a long with. To understand what this move truly represents to the industry, one must understand the story up to this point.
The tents at Bryant Park
For the large part of the 20th century, nearly all styles of clothing sold in America were based off of garments observed at Milan and Paris fashion weeks. The collections shown in Europe would dictate which silhouettes, fabrics and colors would be popular for the season. At that time, fashion shows were equivalent to trade shows, attended to by industry insiders and haute couture clientele - very little press.
In the 1970s, when American textile and clothing manufacturing was at its peak of production, a few manufactures began to support American designers and their own brand of fashion. The center for the garment industry in America consisted of the few blocks from 34th to 40th streets, between 9th and 6th avenues in New York City. Thus when a collective New York Fashion Week originated in 1993, it made perfect sense for it to be held at Bryant Park - It was an event for the industry, hosted by the industry, held in the neighborhood where the industry conducted all of its business.
In the past decade, manufacturing in the garment district has declined at an alarming pace. Very few of the pieces shown during New York Fashion Week are even made in America, much less New York. Fashion Week itself is less and less an event from which buyers around the country and world stock their stores with orders of garments seen on the runway. Stores like Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman purchase nearly 80% of their stock for the upcoming season directly from designers before Fashion Week even begins. Reportedly, designer L'Wren Scott sells out her entire collection before her runway show.
Fashion Week has become more a place to see and be seen than to buy clothes. It's a press frenzy, with front rows stocked with the latest "It" girls and their tight t-shirt wearing boyfriends. Everyone's running around trying to be photographed by The Sartorialist, and it's not unheard of for a designer's after party to be better populated than his presentation.
In this sense, it is quite fitting that New York Fashion Week move to Lincoln Center - a performing arts campus. Might as well just go ahead and admit that it's all spectacle and entertainment. That's not to say that there is no true artistry in the shows - Maybe being in the same space as the Metropolitan Opera will inspire designers toward more elegant and avant garde fashions (Spoiler Alert! I see lots of ballet-inspired collections for Spring 2011!). But this signifies a huge step away from the original design of Fashion Week - it's no longer a trade oriented event, but a publicity program.
I also find the move uptown interesting in another way. Suddenly Fashion Week is nestled in one of the most chic locales in Manhattan, making the event seem more exclusive than ever. In the past few years, young designers have chosen to show their collections at off-site locations, many of which are much further south. But they've chosen to move the tents north???? Furthermore, the New York fashion style has increasingly been described as young, cool, hip and specifically downtown. So why would the 'powers that be' choose to move Fashion Week to a location that speaks to more of a conservative society crowd? Maybe that is the new target audience. It's no secret that it's uptown ladies who account for the large majority of Bergdorf's sales. Maybe this move is designed in part to further promote that salable uptown aesthetic.
The Lovely Lincoln Center
It will be interesting to see what happens next season when New York Fashion Week moves to its new home. Frankly, I believe that this will spark a further disintegration of a nuclear New York fashion society. Over the past several years, more and more designers have chosen to show off-site, and I believe that at least some of the designers who remained loyal to Bryant Park will opt out of showing at Lincoln Center. Because the event venues will now be even more scattered press, editors, and buyers will have to zip around the city like crazy people, and will become more selective about which shows they choose to attend - making it harder for lesser know designers to have their work seen.
Now, I could be completely wrong about all of this. Maybe the move to Lincoln Center will prove to be a complete boon. But in a time when the NY fashion industry is splintered and vulnerable, this feels like the wrong play.