As highlighted in Vogue – social media, influencers, the cult of celebrity and an increasingly relevant focus on the ‘experience economy‘ have all led to New York Fashion Week shifting its approach. It’s not just (or even primarily) about the runway shows anymore.
The catwalk – always the bread and butter of the couture world, and always intentionally exclusivist – has lost the ‘special’ tag due to public access online, and the democratic attitude this engenders. In response, designers have upped the ante, turning runways into fantastical stages more akin to movie sets.
Selling a more ‘experiential’ package to millenials takes brand appeal beyond the catwalk, although it’s not exactly new. Ralph Lauren and Nike are expert at selling a lifestyle as well as a product and many brands pitch exclusive members clubs as upstairs buy-ins for loyal customers. In some sense we’re all buying into a ‘world’ when we purchase our label of choice.
NYFW this September was an example of this phenomenon writ large; an indication of the public’s desire to get more than they can access via shopping sites or nyfwallaccesss.com, as well as an acknowledgement of the demands and buying power of the new, young (largely Asian) ‘experiential’ generation.
Ralph’s Club experience at a New York ballroom featuring Janelle Monet was a natural extension of the (now multinational) Polo ideal. Tomo Koizumi‘s surprise success on Friday owed as much to the performance of Ariel Nicholson as the fashion-as-costume creations, and Zendaya’s collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger was ALL about the Harlem 70’s lights/cameras/action vibe.
These kind of events can quickly slip into a form of high-conceptualization that – in their way – are just as exclusivist as the runway shows they transcend. Thom Browne and Pyer Moss engaged socio-political issues that (some would argue) are at odds with fashion’s expensive/exclusive image. Others would say these shows are a diversion from the job of appraising what’s actually being worn. But fashion for most designers (especially at the couture end) has always been about impact. Creating an experience that enhances this impact also augments our conceptualization of the clothes, their context and the minds of those who makes them.
For relatively unknown (and many Asian) designers who do not garner instant customer recognition, a shift towards the experiential creates a new set of expectations. Koizumi’s success was warranted because the dresses were a colourful explosion in a largely conservative week, but she and others (Tadashi Shoji and the designers showcased in China Day and Indonesian Diversity) don’t have the budget to close down parts of Manhattan or hire concert halls and stars to promote their wares.
This is not to say fashion shouldn’t be glamming it up by whatever means possible. Of course, in a perfect world the clothes should talk for themselves regardless of the stage, which is exactly what Vietnamese label Cong Tri managed – one statement dress after another at Gallery 1 Spring Studios off Sixth Avenue...