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From micro-concerts to a pop-up pier party, New York Fashion Week was an exercise in buzz-building

From micro-concerts to a pop-up pier party, New York Fashion Week was an exercise in buzz-building
The Tommy Hilfiger label temporarily took over Pier 16 at the South Street Seaport for a two-day exercise in immersive branding to advertise its see now/buy now collection. (Tommy Hilfiger)

From Tommy Hilfiger's pier-a-palooza packed with carnival rides and an onsite tattoo parlor to Michael Kors' spring 2017 collection unfurling around a Rufus Wainwright micro-concert, this round of New York Fashion Week shows has seen fashion brands go to great lengths to turn the once cookie-cutter runway show presentation into something more along the lines of a once-in-a-lifetime, buzz-worthy fashion happening. Partly a bid for eyeballs in the era of the live-streamed runway show and partly a bid for the wallets behind those eyeballs in the era of consumer-facing, see now/buy now, fashion shows, it's resulted in some over-the-top, one-of-a-kind experiences unfolding over the last week and a half. Here are some highlights.

Pier Pressure

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The PVH-owned Tommy Hilfiger label set a pretty high bar in the fashion extravaganza department with its high-profile, two-day takeover of Pier 16 at the South Street Seaport. The temporarily renamed "Tommy Pier" was a massive, immersive exercise in steroid-level lifestyle branding that included a Sept. 9 see now/buy now in-season runway show (featuring Tommy Hilfiger women's pieces as well as a collaborative collection with model Gigi Hadid) set against a backdrop that included a 40-foot Ferris wheel and a Tornado ride, tattoo parlor, on-site pop-up shops selling new and vintage Hilfiger items, and an assortment of fairground food that included burgers, lobster rolls, hot dogs and deep-fried mozzarella sticks.

And, just in case a carnival-flanked, nautical-themed runway show with Taylor Swift in a front row wasn't enough to generate buzz, Tommy Pier was open to the general public for an eight-hour stretch the next day.

The Alexander Wang for Adidas Originals collection was launched on Sept. 10 with a memorable surprise party.
The Alexander Wang for Adidas Originals collection was launched on Sept. 10 with a memorable surprise party. (David X Prutting / BFA)

#Wangfest

It wasn't Alexander Wang's spring/summer 2017 runway show at the cavernous Pier 94 that took things to a whole new level as much as what happened immediately afterward — the surprise debut of his collaborative collection with Adidas Originals. It was revealed first in a grainy video projected on the wall, then by the all-black collection hitting the runway en masse and finally with the back wall of the venue disappearing altogether to reveal pop-up trucks crammed with merchandise, a stage (upon which a handful of acts — including Skrillex — would perform during the course of the evening), a mobile McDonald's mounted on an 18-wheeler, a 7-Eleven Slurpee truck pouring into custom plastic cups emblazoned with the hashtag #WANGFEST and an arcade-style claw game filled with products from Nars Cosmetics. The real genius of the #WANGFEST, though was that it not only created an indelible memory, but it did so in a way that organically included the bash's sponsor brands which, you guessed it, included McDonald's, 7-Eleven and Nars.

Carrie Brownstein, left, Natasha Lyonne and Fred Armisen at Opening Ceremony's Pageant of the People on Sept. 11 during New York Fashion Week.
Carrie Brownstein, left, Natasha Lyonne and Fred Armisen at Opening Ceremony's Pageant of the People on Sept. 11 during New York Fashion Week. (JP Yim / Getty Images)

Purposeful Pageantry  

Opening Ceremony was a pioneer in the fashion-tainment space two years ago when founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim commissioned Spike Jonze and Jonah Hill to write a one-act play to showcase the spring/summer 2015 collection. (The result, "100% Lost Cotton," was performed on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House.) This season they recruited the "Portlandia" duo of Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen to host a "Pageant of the People" at Javits Center.

Inspired by the American immigrant experience, the event consisted of asking a cavalcade of celebrity participants – among them Whoopi Goldberg, Natasha Lyonne and Rashida Jones – beauty-pageant-type questions like: "What is it to be an American?" or "What inspires you to be a participant?" interspersed with runway looks from the fall II/winter collection accompanied by Brownstein and Armisen's free-form badinage (things such as "This model is completely CGI" or "These dresses will be for sale in two years").

The evening ended with Humberto and Lim taking to the stage to urge participation in the political process — and pointing out that they'd partnered with Rock the Vote to provide on-site voter registration. (The only downside, from a practical standpoint, was that the clothes everyone was ostensibly there to see ended up overshadowed.)

Musician Rufus Wainwright, left, with Michael Kors at the fashion designer's spring 2017 runway show on Sept. 14.
Musician Rufus Wainwright, left, with Michael Kors at the fashion designer's spring 2017 runway show on Sept. 14. (JP Yim / Getty Images)

A Kors Micro-Concert

While Michael Kors' live-streamed spring 2017 runway show looked and felt like an old-school runway show, he had a little help in the soundtrack department thanks to Rufus Wainwright, who, accompanied by a six-piece band, performed a four-song set  to accompany the collection. Wainwright ended his micro-concert with a rendition of the Judy Garland classic "Get Happy" that had fashion editors tapping their toes and taking nearly as many photos of the Kors-clad crooner as they had of the clothes that came down the catwalk.

Where the exercise in experiential fashion branding ends remains to be seen, but based on the past week's experiences alone, we're pretty sure that if it can be Tweeted, Instagrammed or Snapchatted, some fashion designer somewhere is working on a way to sell clothes around it.

Tommy Hilfiger runway finale on Sept. 9, 2016.

For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me @ARTschorn.

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