October 08, 2020
New York Fashion Week, renowned for its exclusive runway shows, buzzing venues, star-studded parties, and flashing lights was greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. How would designers, promoters, and buyers adjust to this new environment? Just as fashion adapts quickly to new trends and a changing landscape, so too, did NYFW.
R. Scott French, a renaissance man of fashion, gives an inside look into how NYFW adapted with innovation and digitization to bring designer’s creations to the public. French, an active CFDA member, has extensive experience in the fashion industry from designing his own namesake menswear brand to co-founding The Fashion List and most recently the PR agency VERY New York.
New York Fashion Week often involves a hierarchy with a brand’s budget being king. Large brands often dominate on all fronts from securing big name editors, buyers, and celebrities to acquiring the optimal venues and time slots that allow for prominent media attention. This year, however, budget and brand name took a backseat while creativity, innovation, and brand messaging took the coveted front row.
I honestly believe that Anne Klein did a brilliant job of utilizing the digital NYFW to their brand’s advantage. The collection seemed wholly modern and vital, despite the brand being one who has had some difficulty maintaining relevancy of late.
Another true standout brand, and one that I have personally never heard of prior to this digital installment of NYFW, was Teddy Von Ranson. He’s a relative newcomer to the market under his own label. Prior to his own collection, he designed for Ralph Lauren and Frye Group. His video introduction was not only informative, but stunningly beautiful. Discovering this collection will live in my memory as the best part of NYFW Spring 2020. If the shows were live, I most likely would have never had the opportunity to discover the TVR collection, as I would have to have been invited and then felt compelled to spend the hour. Furthermore, I would have left the show without the backstory or supporting visuals that the intro video created for this season provided. This will be a difficult factor to replace once the collections go back to the live format.
In terms of traditional hierarchy, the paradigm has shifted in seismic proportions as a result of the digital playing field we find fashion on at the moment. Before, it came down to the budget in play, as well as the resourcefulness of the production team in order to deliver the best show possible, with the budget being the most important factor in formula. However, in the current format, cinematography, editing, lighting, location, etc. become factors. While all of these are at play in a live event, they are not nearly as important as they are in a virtual setting. For the designer, in a live runway show period, there are only so many venue possibilities due to capacity. However, in a digital format, the entire world is the stage. This is undoubtedly problematic as much as to be celebrated in the world of the creative mind.
NYFW during a global pandemic would not be made complete without brands using their platform to highlight social issues and movements. Anne Klein’s NYFW Fall 2020 Collection is noteworthy in that the brand honored Anne Klein’s legacy as a trailblazer and advocate for women empowerment relying on her statement that “Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.” Kim Shui’s SS2021 collection also stands out for its focus on the pandemic, trans-rights, and the model’s mental health. Christian Siriano, who spearheaded the movement toward utilizing production to create and donate masks, featured models of various sizes, ages, and ethnicities to promote inclusion in his S/S 2021 Collection. He also created a showstopper of a dress to promote every person’s right and obligation to vote. Digitization seems to have opened up a host of options in terms of conveying social messages and brand identity.
I too noticed that NYFW was the platform that many designers chose to convey messages of social conscience. From Christian Siriano’s “VOTE” dress to Negris LeBrum’s “Noir est Joli” (Black is Beautiful) t-shirts, so many of them used their runways as their billboards of conscience.
What I found most interesting are collections that truly diversified their casting for the season. In the past, collections were shown on clones of the fashion “ideal” figure of a size 2/4 six- foot tall White model with long blonde locks pulled back in a simple ponytail. It was formulaic. It’s also a formula that was the norm for literally decades.
For the first time, collections that stuck to the time tested casting formula seemed out of touch and stodgy. Even collections firmly rooted in tradition like Anne Klein or Ralph Lauren were cast in truly diverse ways. Diversity also is not simply having an African American presence. In fact, that’s a mistake. A true reflection of diversity would include models of a range of races, a range of ages, and a range of sizes. Collections like Anne Klein, Chrisitan Siriano, and Collina Strada did a brilliant job of portraying a diverse reflection of our times in terms of inclusion and diversity.
This is one element of NYFW that I think will remain in place following the return to whatever level of normalcy to which we are able to return in the near future.
One of the more difficult tasks for brands this season was figuring out how to attract people to view their collections. Formerly, people came to NYFW, but this year, fashion week had to come to them via their devices. With a host of shows at people’s fingertips, as well as all of the distractions inherent in the digital world, how to get your show noticed and viewed in its entirety was a problem that only skilled PR could solve.
No, in fact, I strongly believe the opposite to be true. Celebrities, despite what the celebrity publicists say, have NOT been a serious factor at NYFW for the better part of the last several years. Influencers and bloggers have taken on increased importance over celebrities, as have a return to a spotlight being once again shone on editors (fashion is cyclical…). This new format allows designers that may have never been seen in a live format week to be seen, as “attending” a show only requires a few minutes of an editor’s time versus an hour or more in a live show setting. In this new virtual reality, the Public Relations team takes on a new emphasis as getting the proverbial “word” out about a collection is a skill over which only they have command.
Yes, we were responsible for promoting two shows this season and both of them adopted a digital format. For our part, the digital format was quite the breeze. In both cases, with Negris LeBrum and with Thalé Blanc Statements, we simply had to step in when all the production work was done and get on with the business of spreading the word. Normally, the post show messaging is literally the half-way point, not the near starting point the way it is now. Yes, there was a bit of pre-show work with the media, but nothing more or less than that before a live event.
Negris LeBrum chose a traditional runway format for his show, so we had to wait until post-show to process the images and get them out to the editors. With Thalé Blanc Statements, designer Deborah Sawaf shot her “show” a month or so ago, so we had everything locked and loaded and ready to blast out the very moment the show passed. The traditional post show scramble was virtually (pardon the pun) non-existent.
The CFDA were agile in their solution to a digital fashion week with the creation of Runway 360. In a moment of what can only be considered divine inspiration, Runway 360 was created to house all relevant brand items from designer profiles and digital shows to collection information and press notes. This technology allowed for infinite creative possibilities and ease of viewing.
One MAJOR triumph this season was the newly launched home of NYFW, www.runway360.cfda.com. It’s the new site that the Council of Fashion Designers of America launched just ahead of NYFW as the official and ongoing home of the collections. It is an incredibly beautiful site that not only brought all of the collections together on one site, but made the collections look even better than they were in some cases. Kudos to CFDA for this feat and in the end, congratulations to American fashion overall, as this site does it proud.