Fashion Week Finally Feels Like It's About the Fashion

NYFW is usually one long networking party for the industry elite — except this year.

FASHION WEEK: Op-ed: Fashion Week Cliques Can Die
Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images/

The crowd rose from their seats (glorified bleachers with letters and numbers distinguishing the princes from the paupers) and slowly filed out through the front door from whence they came, a trail of paper pamphlets and Instagram geotags the only evidence of their presence. Like the protagonist in every teen movie who finally gets invited to hang with the cool kids after pining for their approval, I wondered, “That’s … it??”

Ten minutes after it had begun, Jeremy Scott’s fall 2016 show — the first “real” New York Fashion Week runway I covered as a fledgling fashion reporter in my early 20s — was over. There were no speeches, no questions from the audience fielded by Scott, no choreographed dance routine or Fergie performance (that was to come a year later, courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger). Just roughly 40 looks, a final walk, and a bow.

Perhaps because of the 45 minutes it had taken the squad of sharply dressed publicists in their black skirt suits, clipboards, and important-seeming headsets, to help seat the gaggle of guests, or because of the hours of preparation I had glimpsed backstage during an interview with makeup artist Kabuki, or simply because of what I had seen on social media, I had expected … well, more. Instead, I followed the attendees as they spilled onto the street outside of Spring Studios, a pressure valve finally released. I looked at my watch. The next show I had to attend was in 30 minutes, miles uptown.

In 2020, things look a little different. High-fashion brands are finally beginning to question the need for more and more seasons, and, for the first time, NYFW took place virtually. While “the end of New York Fashion Week” has been an ominous recurring headline, bubbling up after every announcement that another department store has closed, or another designer crying “burnout,” or another report of the fashion industry’s extreme waste problem (and its consequences), this time it feels real. And I, for one, am not going to miss it — and all the clique-y elitism it entails — when it’s gone.

I covered my first NYFW in 2015, at a time when the old guard of fashion — the department store buyers in their smart suits and Stella McCartney oxfords, the longtime fashion critics for the Times, the Post, and the Journal, who had cut their teeth covering Marc Jacobs’ infamous Perry Ellis grunge collection and loved to tell us millennials about it — were decrying the “disruption” of fashion week by social media influencers. Fashion shows had become a new form of entertainment for the masses; each show was bigger and better and presumably thousands of dollars more expensive than the last — “all for the sake of social media,” the critics mused. Cara Delevingne, Joan Smalls, and Karlie Kloss covered Vogue's September issue in 2014. They were “The Instagirls.”

At Scott’s show in 2015, chatter subsided for 10 fleeting minutes as his cowboy-meets-Barbie collection streaked before us in shades of Rugrats blue, purple, and orange. We, the audience, respectfully shut up and watched as Karlie Kloss came clomping down the runway in platform yellow rainboots and a beehive hairdo. It was, in all earnestness, a sight to behold. But fashion week wasn’t about those moments — not really. Interviews with designers and a closer inspection of the garments up close, with the privilege of sifting the silkiest silks and most buttery leathers between my fingers, were often required for the kind of reviews that I aspired to write — like those being written by Robin Givhan and Tim Blanks and Nicole Phelps. In 2015, fashion week was about all the moments in between. It was one long invite-only networking party that operated by who’s who politics. Your worth was your Instagram following.

A shy and optimistic misfit from a place where a Billabong tee passed for fashion cred, I imagined a day when I would rise through the ranks of New York fashion editors and finally feel as though I were a part of the elite. I would be gifted designer garb to wear to each show and I would tastefully decline in accordance with an ethical obligation to objectivity (the queston of whether journalists should accept gifts from the brands they cover is a sticky, very controversial subject). My closet would be a tasteful edit of Old Celine (at the time, just Celine), Raf Simmons for Calvin Klein, and vintage Saint Laurent blazers; I would have everything I needed. Including a fashion week posse.

Then, though, I was surrounded by men and women who didn’t know my name and didn’t bother asking. There were the young people, my age and younger, attending shows on behalf of their bosses, and who had borrowed sample size coats and dresses from their publications' fashion closets; they somehow knew all of the other interns and assistants and spoke of catching up over Soul Cycle classes in SoHo or overpriced vodka sodas at Le Bain. The bloggers also seemed to all know one another, and linked arms as they paraded past the street style photographers, putting their symbiotic relationship on full display. The older men and women pecked each other on the cheek and complained of their busy months ahead: London, Milan, Paris — and then a week in the Hamptons to unwind. And of course, there were the celebrities that were ushered in and out of back doors, guarded by publicists.

Two years and four NYFWs later, I was for lack of a better word, over it. When I left The Hollywood Reporter to edit the news at InStyle, I began to decline my fashion week invitations, no longer enticed by the appeal of the flashy clothing that no one would buy, and that I would see knockoffs of just days later in Zara’s window on 42nd street. I could watch the shows, should I please, on live streams, sans false cheer and influencers-as-walking-brand-billboards.

This past fashion week, there was far less fanfare, and, I would argue, far more attention paid to the clothing, the artistry, the creativity of the presentations. Collections are smaller, more digestible; though I haven’t yet seen any of the clothes in person, the collections feel more intimate, a truer reflection of the designers behind them. Rather than sitting by myself in the corner of a fashion week party, sipping a courtesy glass of wine and awkwardly seeking out the eye of a designer for a quick interview, I took in the collections from my couch, sipping a glass of wine I had poured for myself.

For a long time, I waited to feel like I finally “fit in” with the fashion crowd — but my priorities were misplaced. Fashion isn’t about the people you hang out with, the exclusive cliques and elite tier. It is, and always has been, about the clothes. This fashion week, it finally felt like it.

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