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Why Does Fashion Week Still Exist?


Proenza Schouler’s fall 2017 show.
Proenza Schouler’s fall 2017 show.
Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

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I should, or could, be at fashion shows right now. It’s the Saturday of Fashion Week — Alexander Wang day! — but instead I’m at a coffee shop writing this and editing Racked’s new political style guide because times are weird, but also because in the past week at least five people have asked me why Fashion Week still exists and I have no idea.

Caroline de Maigret walked past me on the quick walk over here, validating the question. We’re on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, far from the closest runway, and if the striking French street style star, a Chanel ambassador, is in jeans and sneakers with a kid carrying a pizza box, my decision to play hooky has been blessed by a totally chill fashion goddess.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: The world is a mess and everything is questionable right now. If you aren’t having moments of “Why does this matter?” you probably aren’t reading the news. But even putting that aside, Fashion Week is due for a gut renovation — a complete leveling, even. In lieu of what was an electric, vibrant celebration of creativity is a panicked rush to sell a thing, to cling to a crumbling, outdated structure that doesn’t appear to work very well for anyone. And let me add that I love fashion, I have cried at fashion shows, but something is broken.

There’s never been a greater gulf between what happens in New York, London, Milan, and Paris over the next four weeks and how people who shop shop. To bridge this divide, dozens of brands have hopped on the “see now buy now” bandwagon, which is basically three extra words for “shopping.”

Some, like Rebecca Minkoff, have been doing this for years, while others, like Alexander Wang and Ralph Lauren, have been experimenting since last season. Still others, like Mansur Gavriel, have just decided to give it a try now, which means they are going to show the same collection they showed last season. And then there are calendar hoppers and city swappers: Opening Ceremony showed at the ballet during menswear week, Proenza Schouler and Rodarte are moving to Paris, and Tommy Hilfiger went to LA.

Confused yet? Or, as Vanessa Friedman writes in the Times, “Does it matter?”

Much like magazines — which could acknowledge that newsstand sales aren’t going up, seize the opportunity to do something radically different, and stop trying to make print pages that mimic the internet — the entire concept of Fashion Week is due for a revolution. This could be thrilling, if everyone weren’t so whipped into a frenzy trying to do the thing they heard worked well for someone else.

blonde salad tiara new york fashion week
A blogger in a tiara.
Photo: Getty Images

Because — and I know this sounds jaded if you’ve long dreamed of attending Fashion Week — it doesn’t appear to be much fun for anyone anymore. For decades, Fashion Week was exclusive and elite. In the mid- to late 2000s, there was a brief magical window of time during which the curtain was pulled aside and Fashion Week was accessible. Thanks to the internet, and then social media, the average Joe could see what it looked like, even watch the shows in real time. There were a few street style photographers outside snapping creative, exciting looks, and an enjoyable fever to the whole thing, instead of a whiplash.

And then just as quickly, the constant documentation (among other things) ruined it. Suddenly everyone was wearing the same pair of gifted shoes and I was getting crushed by a photographer trying to get a shot of an Italian fashion blogger wearing a tiara in the middle of traffic on the West Side Highway at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday.

I knew the shift wasn’t just me when, one by one, all of my friends dropped out of one of the most anticipated shows of this season. The idea of having dinner before or after the show turned into during the show, and without much more than a shrug. “Really ripping NYFW a new one this season,” one editor texted of her revised editorial strategy (on day two).

Cathy Horyn, brilliant as ever on The Cut, writes that the best show of the season, Calvin Klein, “didn’t just raise the bar for New York Fashion Week; it exposed fundamental weaknesses. The lack of talent and ambition. A show schedule that is drawn out, zapping energy and heightening the impression that NYFW is diluted.”

I say dilute it even more. Go crazy! Today, when mainstream stores are dizzying in their sameness, it’s almost a safer bet to do something radically different and earn your own headline instead of trying to make your way into a roundup, which, at the end of the day, is kind of what Fashion Week has become.