New York Fashion Week ... what's the point?

Written by Sara Bauknecht on .

I mentioned to some people at a recent yoga class that I would be covering New York Fashion Week on behalf of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  This sparked mixed comments, such as "what exactly is fashion week anyway?" and "I never heard of New York Fashion Week until I watched 'Project Runway.'"

I put these responses to the test by asking some co-workers and friends with a so-so knowledge of fashion about New York Fashion Week and why it exists.  They, too, came up short on answers. 

These conversations inspired me to write an article about the history of New York Fashion Week and its purpose.  Fashion, particularly high-end fashion, has a tendency to seem out of reach to the average person.  But if even if someone never purchases a designer outfit, the looks featured at New York Fashion Week trickle down and inspire the types of clothes produced for and sold at mainstream stores.

Here's some more background on the bi-annual event:

What's the point: New York Fashion Week welcomes designers to showcase their upcoming collections for media and merchandisers. Clothes are featured in runway shows or presentations (where models stand wearing apparel as guests walk around them).

For buyers, Fashion Week is a chance to see what colors, patterns, silhouettes and other trends will be popular so they can incorporate them into the next season's merchandise. Fashion journalists attend so they can share trend reports with readers, as well as begin to plan major fashion shoots and spreads for coming months.

How it started: Historically, Paris has been regaled as the world's fashion capital. In 1943, however, many American buyers and journalists were unable to make it overseas to view collections due to World War II, so a fashion week was started in New York City.

"That was the opportunity to get everyone to look at American designers," says Stephanie Taylor, department chair of fashion retail management and fashion design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert, often called the "Empress of Seventh Avenue," was a leading figure in fashion week's infancy. Back then, it was called Press Week, because it was exclusively for media and buyers. There were no cases of celebrities snatching front row seats from industry insiders. Why twice a year: Fashion week is held each September and February. In the fall, looks for the following spring and summer are on display. Fall and winter fashions for later in the year are spotlighted in February. The preview format allows store buyers to plan merchandise six months to one year in advance. Plus, many fashion magazines work up to three months ahead.

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