Ralph Lauren and the missing icons at New York Fashion Week

The women’s ready-to-wear catwalk season is upon us, with New York fashion week opening in just two days on February 7th. Notably absent this season is Ralph Lauren, who is neither on the official schedule nor appears to be staging a runway show elsewhere.

A stalwart embedded in the roots of American fashion, Lauren remains a powerhouse of a brand. His absence from NYFW questions the relevance of the east coast presentations when many US brands are choosing Paris, Los Angeles, social media or direct to consumer initiatives to showcase their collections.

The New York calendar is noticeably full of gaps, missing key designers like Tom Ford, the current chair of the CFDA, who has opted to show in LA, and Tommy Hilfiger, who will show in London. Hilfiger has been on a global tour de force hosting event in different cities and is no longer a New York fashion week fixture. Maria Cornejo, the Chilean designer who’s contemporary collections are a refreshing force amid a languid fashion week, has canceled her show. As did St John. And Jeremy Scott.

While the New York schedule has retained plenty of its ‘regular designers’, like Proenza Schouler, The Row, Carolina Herrera, Brandon Maxwell, Tibi and Michael Kors, it is “the economic, cultural and technological conditions that made the Bryant Park tents a vibrant centre of US fashion that don’t exist anymore,” notes Vogue Business. American fashion is now far deeper and broader than New York and its runways.”

Buyers don’t attend shows

In New York, as in Paris and London, buyers are largely absent from the shows. Instead, they visit showrooms and the locales where designers and wholesale agencies present collections in order to see and buy. Instagram and a host of fashion apps livestream the catwalk presentations eliminating the requirement to see shows in person and make businesses decisions based on which collections to buy.

The core business of buying happens outside of fashion week

In the age of see-now-buy-now, many department stores and boutiques have larger budgets for the pre-collections, which is sold between November and January and delivered to stores months before the mainline hits the shelves in the autumn. The catwalk season may set the visible trend and general direction, but for many buyers the core business of fashion happens weeks before.

The general purpose of fashion week seems to have morphed into an outdated trade event for an industry that has evolved. For emerging designers and start-ups there are a myriad of less expensive ways to market a brand that don’t involve runway presentations. According to Vogue Business, “the month-long parade of fashion weeks isn’t sustainable, and New York holds the weakest position in that procession.”

When a runway show can easily cost north of 200,000 dollars, the ROI is difficult to quantify. Bloomberg, in an article published exactly two years ago, said apparel has simply lost its appeal and Americans are spending less and less on clothing. Why spend a fortune on a designer dress when for the same cost you can spend a weekend abroad?

Dying, dead and resurrected

Fashion week has been declared dying, dead and resurrected countless of times. Its purpose has been either heralded or deemed unnecessary, depending on whom you ask. What holds true is that the traditional fashion cycle no longer exists in the digital age of immediacy. The idea of buying winter coats at the height of summer and strappy sandals in freezing February is just one example of a skewed system.

If anything else, New York fashion week is a marketing exercise for brands that can afford the expense. The exposure will drive sales beyond apparel, like fragrance and accessories, or attract partnership with other companies, who look to a runway show as a measure of success.

According to Quartz, “for designers, shows at fashion weeks often feel like public unveilings that mark the culmination of all the work that went into a collection. It can be uniquely rewarding.” For others, the catwalk is no longer the only medium to be seen.

Image Sankuanz AW20/21, Catwalkpictures


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