Starting with the Sneak Peak offered up by Christina Binkley for the Wall Street Journal, Fashion Week seems pretty predictable. But below the surface, it's hard to put a handle on New York Fashion Week, what is means, and who it's for. What used to be a trade week for buyers, designers, critics and editors has become a source of entertainment for millions of onlookers who see through the eyes of insiders, although experiencing it all from behind a screen.
Fashion Week not only involves more and more people, but it also produces more and more content. Over the course of a few days, or 15 minutes, in the instance of a designer's runway show, a brand can generate a year's worth of content to engage with their audience. Because their audience is creating content for them.
Much of that content creation is all about the clothes: images, videos, who-wore-whats, reviews, conversations, and trend analysis. The pros who used to experience this week as a private trade show now share the dialogue with the millions of amateurs, some of whom, namely bloggers, have made their way from clicking through the pages of style.com (now wrapped into vogue.com) to the front rows. That democratization leapt forward at Givenchy in New York, where 1,200 tickets were offered first-come-first-serve to the public.
Is fashion week about entertainment? Or is it about business? According to Binkley, "Fashion weeks exist so that designers can put forth the ideas they hope will drive styles for the coming years, while selling these concepts to stores and magazines." But it's not just about the clothes. It's the people, the media, the technology.
For example, Steven Kolb, director of the CFDA, sees an opportunity for impact regarding the controversial issue of well being in the model community. We're at rock bottom of the "come back when you loose 10 pounds" cliché, with a generation of models taking that trope too seriously especially after the late 90s wave of heroin chic glorification.
To combat the harmful influences on body image, it's not enough to regulate designers, we need to create a new norm and actually enact it. Kolb encourages the introduction of "A global programme or a global campaign across Milan, Paris and London Fashion Week would be a powerful thing, to encourage a broad industry commitment to the notion that 'health is beauty'."
The trickle down effect of fashion is also in the portrayal of beauty vis-a-vis advertising and runway presentations. As more and more access is granted via social media, and so many other digital tools, there has never been a time when more of the public so closely identifies with the fashion industry, and the people who operate in it. So isn't it the responsibility of the fashion industry to make sure the message it's sending is a positive one?
Technology is a way of life these days, and there is nothing exceptional about fashion using hashtags the way a sporting event or a political debate would to engage their audience. And because so many people are now tuned in, to the degree that media companies like Twitter and Netflix are actually crafting strategies around fashion week, there is a direct line to the public.
Fashion Week comes and goes, and with it many opportunities for change. As industry stakeholders, it's up to us to determine what that message is. How can we use Fashion Week for progress rather than content creation?
It comes back to the fundamental questions: What is fashion week about? And who is it for?