New York Fashion Week, which officially opens this Friday, may be denuded of several great American designers, but expect plenty of stylish activity and action during the six-day season, and one expressing the growing diversity of the industry in America.
The opening show on the official Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA) schedule is the Rodarte, Californian duo of sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, though fashion insiders will be out in force the night before at Christie’s. That’s when the auction house holds its viewing of the collection of André Leon Talley.
Few people opened more doors for people of color in fashion than the late great Vogue fashion editor, who rose from the post-war segregated south to become bureau chief of women’s wear daily in Paris and a champion of diversity in fashion.
In this coming season, 17 of the designers on the calendar are black creatives. There has rarely been greater representation of designers of Asian backgrounds, with 23, or Latinx designers, a further 8, in a New York catwalk season. While brands with women designers represent half of the upcoming schedule.
“I think it is important to note that in a very real sense this is a diversity and female led season,” argued Steven Kolb, CEO CFDA, American fashion’s governing body.
This runway week is also the first under CFDA president Thom Browne, who succeeded Tom Ford in October. Like Browne, Heron Preston is another American designer who had shown in Paris who is returning to the New York season.
“Thom himself is showing on Valentine’s day, so it will be kind of a love letter to American fashion. Heron Preston’s show will be his first in New York, a great testament to this town. While Rodarte are back on the schedule and opening the season for the first time. The Mulleavys are globally known and respected designers,” insists Kolb.
All in all, a total of 110 brands are listed on the official schedule, 76 of them due to stage runway shows and 19 to hold presentations. Additionally, a further 22 will unveil digital shows or show by appointment.
Unlike, any other of the Big Four fashion weeks, New York has two parallel calendars, the key CFDA schedule and NYFW The Shows, controlled by talent agency IMG. A decade ago, some seasons boasted almost 200 events, a physical impossibility given the sheer size of the metropolis and the fondness of New York designers for showing at the tops of skyscrapers, or across the East River in Brooklyn.
“There was a concern before that there were too many shows. We have gone for a tightly curated edit and less double dates on the schedule,” noted Kolb.
That said, committed editors and buyers should expect an endurance race, ranging across the city to see shows by LaQuan Smith on the 65th floor in the Rainbow Room of the Rockefeller Plaza; Gabriela Hearst in the Agger Fish Building in Brooklyn; Jason Wu in the Guggenheim Museum and several in the New York Public Library.
New York continues to throw up young and emerging talent, with many brands enjoying the support of the longstanding CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund.
“The program has been the engine behind so many brands in the early stages of their career. We were the first behind Proenza Schouler, Joseph Altuzarra, Rodarte and Prabal Gurung, to name a few. They all corner stone shows and must-sees today,” stressed the CFDA CEO.
Pointing to Raul Lopez, the American Accessory Designer of the Year in 2022; the House of Aama, from the mum and daughter team of Rebecca Henry and Akua Shabaka of California; avant garde knitwear specialist Judy Turner; and Sukeina by Omar Salam, as names to watch, who have received CFDA backing.
“It’s not so much about infrastructure or a show, it’s more about holistic investment and mentoring on how to build a business or sort out your supply chain,” Kolb stressed.
Future growth for fledgling American brands will “come from a passion and commitment to the business. And understanding what they are signing up for is not an easy path and requires determination, focus and hard work. The other thing I have noticed is how many young designers say they had wished they had spent more time on direct to consumer. Some are a little naïve. When you ask them their ambition, they respond they want to be a global lifestyle brand. Well, Ralph Lauren is a global lifestyle brand, but it is also a 60-year-old business and he really worked very hard to build that!”
However, the fact remains that many of America’s biggest brands are absent this week: no Ralph Lauren; no Tommy Hilfiger; and no Calvin Klein, who has not staged a show in five years. While Marc Jacobs staged off calendar last week.
“Honestly, I’m not really concerned about the roster, who isn’t showing and who is showing. There was a time back in US fashion history, where Bill Blass or Scaasi or Perry Ellis or Geoffrey Beene were big names, and the younger brands were Calvin, Donna and Ralph. We should look at today in the same way. It doesn’t mean that Tommy, Marc or Ralph are being negative – they just follow what is best for their business,” argued the CEO of CFDA.
An organization whose website has undergone a radical overhaul in the past several years. Like the fashion industry, which for far too long was an overwhelming white affair. Today the New York season and the CFDA’s own website looks a lot more like the amazing melting pot of culture that is America.
“I think our site reflects what America has become. That wasn’t always the case even five years ago. We realized that you cannot expect people to want to be part of an organization that doesn’t seem to represent them. So, we had to reach out to a lot of comminutes. And lead with diversity on runways. But more work needs to be done. We have had a conversion around makeup and hair. We need more people of color in backstage teams,” insisted Kolb.
All of which would surely have pleased André Leon Talley, whose long struggle for greater black participation in fashion is clearly bearing fruit these days.
With New York recently bombarded by arctic blasts, fashionistas will be praying for improved weather. Whatever happens, the City That Never Sleeps will certainly fete its designers. In none of the fashion capitals does music play such a key part in the fashion season as New York. Beginning with the viewing of Talley’s collection. A devout Christian, André regularly attended Sunday services in the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem. Its choir will perform at Christie’s on Thursday night.
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