the case for making fashion week public

From voter rights to nightclub door policies, in my experience, people who believe things are better when they’re more exclusive tend to be jerks. So it is with that bit of guiding wisdom that I’m arguing Fashion Week should be made public.

by i-D Team
Sep 1 2014, 3:35pm

Mitchell Sams

First I'll address what I imagine to be the least cringe-y logic behind maintaining the status quo: "Fashion Month is an industry event, composed of live catwalk shows across New York, Paris, London, Milan, and Paris, intended to give professional journalists, editors, and buyers an advance look at upcoming collections so that they can plan future press coverage and orders." To which I say: Absolutely. Let's continue to let them attend. In fact, the really important people can still sit up close, wearing their trademark sunglasses if it pleases them so. 

Fashion Week being an event at which professionals need to get actual work done is not a good reason to keep the public out of it. If you compared this line of thought to the music industry, you'd be arguing that live concerts should only be for industry folk, and fans of musicians should just be allowed to purchase their albums. All those cheering people! How would rock critics ever be able to hear the music?

If a great fashion show is art, then it shouldn't be a privilege to see it. 

Anyone who feels reverently about fashion, values its uniquely non-verbal language and its connection to culture and history, would have to agree that the experience of witnessing a top-notch fashion show first-hand should be shared. Great clothing is art, yes. And the fashion show is its own form, spectacles like Alexander McQueen's holograms, Rick Owens's step dancers, and Karl Lagerfeld's supermarket have shown us that over and over again. To use one more industry comparison, keeping the plebs out of Fashion Week because they don't "understand" (and therefore don't properly "appreciate" or "know how to behave around" fashion) would be like only allowing academics into the Louvre. Simply put, if a great fashion show is art, then it shouldn't be a privilege to see it.

Ok. So now we all agree that we're nice, art-sharing people who'd never allow our solid-gold hearts to be overtaken by the (false) sense of superiority that gaining access to a "private" fashion show could perhaps provide? Excellent, see you all in heaven. But you're worried about logistics. Perfectly understandable. Here's how we're going to make Fashion Week public: a ticketing system. Tickets are a time-tested way to make sure that an event's attendance is under control. It works for everything from movie theaters to tennis matches to ballet recitals, and it will also work for Fashion Week.

Actually, I have this fantasy that "Fashion Week" could morph into a touring structure for labels, with designers hitting major cities over the course of a week or two. Just imagine: The Céline and Saint Laurent "On the Run" tour! Five nights only; Paris, New York City, London, Tokyo, Sydney. Pallas and Études are the openers. Kanye performs at the end. The crowd. Goes. Wild. But perhaps more importantly the brands make some money and the non-professional attendees are exposed to a side of fashion that is less about consumerism and more about theatrics and creative expression.

The revenue part of that idea brings me to another, more strategic reason for making Fashion Week public. Shows cost designers a lot of money. (According to The New York Times, the expenses can run anywhere from 2 to 8 million dollars for a major brand, that's an average of $400,000 per minute for a 10-minute show.) If designers were able to charge non-industry attendees admission to their presentations, they might be able to make some of the money back. And on top of that, the more they're able to expose potential customers to the true artistry behind their work, the more likely it is that people will be willing to pony up the money to purchase their goods at full-price. It could be a great way to change the course of the steep discounting trend that's plaguing the industry.

Why shouldn't designers allow more people, especially the ones who obsessively follow the line, to attend and raise the energy levels surrounding the collection? 

Here's another thing about Fashion Week: the people who are allowed to attend look pretty bored! There's a reason why Tavi Gevinson, the world's coolest, most sartorially savvy teenager was like "meh" after going once. I don't think it would be the worst idea for an establishment that is in the business of being at the forefront of culture to shake things up. We're living in the age of the fan, after all, when success is less often determined by "which" people like your work than by "how many." Why shouldn't designers allow more people, especially the ones who obsessively follow the line, to attend and raise the energy levels surrounding the collection? Our culture has never been more populist than it is right now, and trendy fashion folk (of all people!) should realise that its time for the format of Fashion Week to evolve.

I wish I could wrap this up by waxing poetic about how I'll never forget my first show, the truth is I barely remember it. I'd been living in New York for about a month, after having arrived with only an overstuffed suitcase and a vague interest in fashion, and my new roommate hooked me up with a gig working as a dresser backstage. The bits I do recall are mostly tiny snapshots: A TV reporter giving her best "Kitty Potter for Fad-TV" type dispatch into a camera on the Bryant Park steps; A model nibbling a cookie near a snack table backstage; The sheet of paper attached to my rack illustrating how the garments should be worn. But the one image that will probably never leave me is of the designer just before the final model left the backstage area for the runway. As she disappeared, I watched his chest puff up with that helium-like combination of pride, fear, and exhilaration that comes with unleashing your art into a room full of strangers. My heart swelled for him, and then, for my own dumb luck at landing in the midst of so many hardworking and passionate people, despite the fact that I'd done pretty much nothing to earn the right to be there. I'm sure I would have agreed then, too, that it was a sight more people should be able to see. 


Text Mallory Rice
Photography Mitchell Sams

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mallory rice
mitchell sams