Even as a style-obsessed teen growing up in New York City, I had no idea when it was fashion week, the twice-a-year occasion when designers roll out their collections for a season hence for select store buyers and influential editors. But now, it's impossible to ignore. There are banners on lampposts announcing the event and features on the taxi TV video loop promoting it. On Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg even renamed the No. 1 subway line "The Fashion Line" for the week.
Which is all to say that this fashion week belongs to the city.
And why not? Fashion is one of the largest industries in the city, and it is everywhere — on TV, where the shopping extravaganza known as Fashion's Night Out is a plot line on "Gossip Girl"; in film, with J. Crew outfitting the cast in the upcoming Katie Holmes film "The Romantics"; at the Museum of the City of New York, where the exhibit "Notorious and Notable: 20th Century Women of Style" opens Tuesday; in bookstores, where "Project Runway" star Tim Gunn's new title, "Gunn's Golden Rules," is making a splash; and all over the Internet, with bloggers now being tapped to style shows, model in shows, host parties and even design collections.
The move of this Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center, home to the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera, underscores fashion's rising profile in the worlds of arts and entertainment. Last weekend, I was sitting on the steps of the plaza at the fine arts complex, watching the opera "Carmen" live on a big outdoor screen as part of the opera's free "Live in HD" series. Forty-eight hours later, I was watching "Fashion's Night Out — The Show," the largest public fashion show in New York City history, which was taped for broadcast on CBS on Sept. 14. (Imagine if the regular runway shows were screened in HD on the plaza.)
Being at "Fashion's Night Out — The Show" was almost like being in a music video. Produced by Vogue magazine and Spec Entertainment on Tuesday, the event drew 1,500 ticketed guests. The world's top models (Gisele, Karolina, Chanel, Naomi — first names are appropriate for this bunch) were there, 150 strong, some descending from a double-decker bus on Columbus Avenue and others mounting the steps from the sidewalk to the strains of "Empire State of Mind."
They hit the runway fast, a blur of full skirts, fur purses, bias-cut gowns and painted finger-wave hairstyles. In just 15 minutes they walked the crowd through this fall's top trends, those available in stores now — including '50s flair, go-global and Jazz Age cool — represented by mix 'n' match looks from designers A to Z: Ann Taylor and Celine to Yves Saint Laurent and Zac Posen. Then the dance party started; Pharrell Williams took center stage and got the crowd to its feet.
The usual fashion show hierarchy was largely absent. For starters, the ring-shaped runway made all of the seats either first or second row. (This was about being accessible, after all, bringing fashion to the people and jump-starting retail sales with in-season styles, not those that will hit stores months from now, as in the usual catwalk drill.) Still, there were enough familiar faces to satisfy a craving for eye candy — fashion designers, including Diane von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, Thakoon Panichgul, Phillip Lim, Tommy Hilfiger and Donna Karan, and celebrities representing a generous cross section of New York notables.
But the "real" people were there too, and happy to be. Nicole Gale, a 15-year-old from Manasquan, N.J., likened her luck at seeing the show to scoring concert tickets. For her, the models and celebrities were as exciting as the clothes.
Designers have upped the entertainment factor during fashion week in other ways too: opening pop-up shops (Elizabeth & James and footwear label Florsheim, to name two) and allying with music acts, both for Fashion's Night Out events and for the designers' shows and parties —Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa with Bryan Adams, Ralph Lauren with Janelle Monae, Cynthia Rowley with Nick Cave and Tommy Hilfiger with the Strokes.
The real challenge is how to capitalize on it all.
"Fashion's Night Out — The Show" has a lot of potential. It was conceived as a companion to Fashion's Night Out, the international global shopping event held Sept. 10 this year. But the broadcast that will take it into homes across America is not scheduled to air until after the fact. How much more powerful could it be if it were aired in advance, as a teaser?
Another idea: Since the show features in-season styles, why not incorporate a shopping element for viewers at home, perhaps with some kind of point-and-click mobile technology?
Wherever it all ends up, there's no doubt that what we're seeing with "Fashion's Night Out — The Show" and Fashion's Night Out, the event, is the beginning of a new fashion cycle, one that is oriented toward the subway-riding public rather than the chauffeured editor.
It's a good thing for the industry because the more consumers watch, read and hear about fashion, the more they are going to want it — in a New York minute.