The Changing Landscape of New York Fashion Week

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By Dominique Hanke

Last year I had the opportunity to attend New York Fashion Week for the first time. It is something I will take with me forever. The experience was incredible, but even in my heady, loved up state it was hard to miss the murmurs of dissent.

Industry insiders were becoming vocally frustrated by Fashion Week, and the majority of the complaints focused on the over-crowded venues filled with people, who in the words of Oscar de la Renta had “no direct connection to the clothes”, creating  poor visibility and an uncomfortable setting. Another complaint was directed at the growing celebrity circus that caused distraction and delays.

The organizers responded swiftly, announcing late last year that they would be and trimming the fat of the bloated guest list, in the hope of cutting down on the crowded venues. Headlines proclaimed that bloggers would be the main axe. Was this the change that NYFW needed to rebuild its exclusive brand?

Whilst in New York I was lucky enough to connect with fellow Vancouverite Sonya Prasad owner of Prasad Productions, both a event and runway producer and NYFW Veteran. I had the chance to sit down with her and talk about her experiences in the changing landscape of NYFW and get her view on what is going on.

To say Prasad is passionate about the industry would be an understatement, with 15 plus years in the industry and having worked with some of the biggest names including the likes of DVF,  Kenneth Cole and Vivienne Westwood. She has got to where she is off her own drive and determination, as well as a huge amount of work and talent. She started out in the heyday of NYFW, when the supermodels and designers were the big names that people came out to see. These exclusive shows were only accessible to the fashion elite, and they ran to schedule or you risked loosing key critics and buyers who would not wait.

Prasad shared with me many of her fond memories, and I couldn’t help but be drawn in by her animated descriptions. She asserted that etiquette and exclusivity dominated, and showmanship, exuberance and excess were all part of the mystique that was NYFW.

 

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Sonya Prasad front of house putting the finishing touches to the Argentine Designers SS2014 show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

 

She would be brought in to help tell the designers’ stories. All elements of the production, from the lighting, to the sound, to the staging, to the models – all of it had to be cohesive to the collection, and be a part of the story. The audience had to be transported and play their part. Sets would be decorated with everything from extravagant ice sculptures, or in the case of one of Vivienne Westwood’s collections the runway was strewn with piles of used clothes (500lb of used clothes to be precise). No detail could be missed. This was the stage for the designer’s masterpiece. As for the collections themselves, editing was key. Each design had to make it’s own statement and be defined, and most importantly, noticed and remembered.

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A well-edited collection by emerging designer Marcelo Giacobbe for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Argentine Designers SS2014.

 

So what changed? Was it simply down to the Blogger Boom? Prasad believes it played a role in breaking down the well guarded towers of the exclusive world of fashion, but that other factors have played their part.

The devastating 9/11 attacks that took place in New York undoubtedly  had a profound impact on NYFW. Fashion Week was in full swing at the time. After the attacks, NYFW S/S 2012 hastily came to a close whilst people grieved, and uncertainty for the market took hold NYFW would become a more somber affair. Exuberance in the wake of the atrocities seemed in bad taste. Shortly afterwards, another huge blow to the industry hit: the financial markets crashed, creating huge financial uncertainty. As the money dried up, the extravagance that was already inappropriate was now also not an option. However from the ashes of the booming 90’s and early 00’s came a new culture, that of the celebrity. If we could not revel in the glory of excess, we would have to get our fix from watching those who could. With the invention of Social Media we also had a new way to create celebrities, and feed the insatiable public appetite for them. Designers quickly picked up on this and threw their weight behind celebrities that embodied their brands and the new fashion celebrities, the bloggers, were soon used as a key marketing tool. Numbers became priority, sales drove design, most markedly as Prasad says “It became about the bottom line, not the top line”. Editing ceased to be a high priority and getting as many pieces on the runway became the main objective in the hopes of remaining noticed by buyers, editors and the public.

 

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Assignment Fashion checking out the preparations at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Argentine Designers SS2014. Thanks to Prasad Productions for the invitation.

Now there are probably more photographers in Lincoln square than in tents themselves. It seems that NYFW has just adapted to the times. The circus outside appears to have equal production value to the performances inside. Arguably this is something that needs to change for the good of the industry, if designers and fashion are to remain the focus.

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Prime spots in the photographer’s pit at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Argentine Designers SS2014.

So with the latest season in full swing, are the latest changes alone enough to secure the future of NYFW and rebuild it to its former glory? From Prasad’s assessment, probably not, however she excited to see how NYFW will grow, and whether the industry  can embrace the changes and continue to evolve.  She believes fashion has always existed in conversation and she remains open and curious to see where the conversation takes the industry next. Attitudes are changing and those behind NYFW are making the first move.

 

To learn more about Sonya Prasad and Prasad Productions head over to her site here