it’s a personal presentation revolution at nyfw this season

Is the catwalk on the way out? Designers are rejecting the spectacle and opting for the intimate.

by Jeremy Lewis
18 February 2015, 9:45am

What is the role of a fashion show? Originally they were a means to present the collections to press and buyers; to be written about and sold later on. It was a matter of business, an obligation. They happened salon style, in parlors where they served tea and you made orders on a checklist with a nubby pencil. Slowly the shows became theatre and designers sought to dazzle not just with clothes but entertainment itself. One remembers the epic shows of Thierry Mugler in the 80s, the precursor to McQueen's fantastic productions. You couldn't find anything better on Broadway.

Over the years, the purpose of a fashion show has changed, becoming a marketing tool that broadcasts the designer or brand's message to an audience of millions online. But with so many designers and each one of them vying for that click of the trackpad, they can easily be dismissed. It's a competitive game, so designers spend fortunes on venues, castings, lights, hair, make-up and more to stage a show that lasts eight minutes tops. Bewildered editors ushered in and out without certainty of what it is they just saw. For younger designers it's not the best use of their resources.

But communication is necessary, and this season in New York there was a noticeable move away from the traditional catwalk format with designers opting for more personal and intimate experiences with the clothes. Rachel Comey, a fixture in the wardrobes of New York's independent and creative women, has for several seasons traded in her runway show for a private dinner in Brooklyn. Guests mingle over cocktails before taking their seats. During each course models come out and wind their way through the tables. She invites editors, stylists and buyers, but also artists and authors. She brings people together. After the dinner you can mingle and you can sit and share a glass of wine with Rachel, before leaving with a much better feeling about the clothes.

Adam Lippes, a designer who makes luxurious classics with a modern spirit does not want to do a fashion show. Ever! He turns his gorgeous townhouse at Washington Square Park into a showroom. A handful of models show the clothes in motion and you can peruse at your own pace while sipping bubbly and eating a mini quiche. It's a chic situation but, more importantly, it gives a much clearer understanding of Lippes's world.

Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony are no strangers to provocative presentations, but this season they dialed it down, showcasing the clothes in a West Chelsea gallery alongside photography by director Spike Jonze. They allowed the clothes to be the focus, and for good reason: it was some of their best work yet. Siki Im, a maverick men's designer and protégé of David Vandewal is doing a presentation with political artist Clayton Patterson. The collection is inspired by the hardcore punk scene and will undoubtedly give more insight on Im's work than any fashion show could.

Chatting with a buyer for an influential downtown store she told me, "If I were on their [the designers] side of the business, I would never do the show. People do shows to brand themselves but I'd want that to happen in the showroom, make that the experience." Of course it can't work for bigger labels who have to reach as broad an audience as possible. Catwalk shows aren't going anywhere, but there are alternatives, and they work. The best creative minds will be able to find a way to make the experience memorable, to make their clothes mean something beyond the fleeting whir of a catwalk. It's a personal approach, but these are clothes after all, and it doesn't get much more personal than that. 

Catch up with the rest of our fall/winter 15 coverage here.


Text Jeremy Lewis

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