NYFW has been noticeable for a number of reasons this season, some of them obviously related to the pandemic (the utilization of big, empty spaces) and some of them corollaries of it: irrespective that bigger designers and fashion houses always have more money to spend on lavish shows with impressive locations, what’s interesting now is how much difference the lack of a huge crowd makes in neutralizing ambience, ‘importance’ and a sense of occasion.
Other art forms have suffered similar modifications to the platforms and environs in which they are presented (film is the most obvious case in point – it was exclusively absorbed as a recorded medium and premiered in the public sphere) and pandemic restrictions have affected the communal aspect of much ‘artistic’ appreciation and validation.
The obvious point to take from this in fashion is that the ‘show’ experience is lessened, but also that the lack of an audience creates a more level presentational playing field, and draws the online viewer’s attention more directly to the clothes being presented.
Of course, a crowd, music and good lighting can help embellish and clarify themes that the designer wants to draw attention to. A lack of a crowd is also detrimental to those designers who don’t have a fortune to spend; smaller intimate venues (like studios or converted shops) need a throng of onlookers to create atmosphere in the absence of pricey production.
There’s also the argument that some designers – like Prouenza Schouler – are better suited to a pared-down presentation because their clothes have an austere or simple vibe and/or because they’re more work-oriented. This is actually the case with a lot of New York designers.
Elsewhere this week, Bronx and Banco delivered a black-and-silver take on a girls-night-out that a Las Vegas Raiders cheerleaders’ party would envy. There was a sexy glad-rags element to the whole affair that would have been missing had a crowd been present.
So in general, I think that crowd-free egalitarianism is a good thing. But the absence of ‘external stakeholders’ (the press, buyers and public) poses additional questions about fashion in the digital, pandemic and environmentally conscious era: We’re moving into an era when many forms of travel for business and pleasure are becoming undesirable or unecessary; If we’re staying in more, and if nothing but a camera is physically present when we dress, then who are we dressing for? Eventually designers will grapple with this question through their clothes; until then, enjoy the show.