5 September 2013

The craziness of fashion week starts today, with cordons of designers showing their hard work on runways at New York Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York.

I don't wanna start the discussion and dirty battle arguing whether bloggers are journalist or not (which I think some of them are). But without doubt, the season of peacocking is  not just around the corner. It's up right there in front of our face. But where was it exactly begun?

The New York Fashion Week was all started by the negligence of fashion journalists (the real ones, the ones that once called black crow as a result of their tendency of looking like attending funeral) in France about American designers and, in general, American fashion. In the past, everybody who's somebody always wanted something 'the latest fashion from Paris', which obviated the attention from across Atlantic and just pointing fingers and bulging eyes on Parisian fashion.

Which was thought to be a bid to overthrow the sartorial dictatorship of the French, the event of something called "Press Week" started in 1943, when a renown fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert inisiated. Ms. Lambert was an astute PR maven who foresaw that it was a propitious moment for American fashion. Before World War II, AMerican designers were thought to be reliant on French couture for inspiration. When the war happened in 1940, with Germans occupied France, one thing was blatant that buyers, editors, and designers were unable to travel to Paris (who can shop under fire floating and shooting above you?) to attend a few remaining shows, and the fashion world fretted.

Caroline Rennolds Milbank wrote in her book New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, "Lambert hoped to give editors a chance to see-and more important, write about the work of American designers, who, freed up to create without the anxiety of French influence, were quietly making innovative strides with indigenous materials and techniques". Ruth Finley, publisher of the Fashion Calendar, was present at those early shows. Initially, Press Week was held at the Pierre and Plaza Hotels. Buyers, which hold really strong point in the modern fashion stage, were in those ol good days forced to visit the designers' showroom instead of the shows. Only journalists and editors satyed on-site, sketching and capturing as much as they could without anything but pen and papers. Even, in 1990s, it was strictly forbidden to sketch (Google fashion pirate and Elizabeth Hawes!).

Prolific fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, whose editors were besotted with French fashion, began to notice it and feature more work fom American designers and, most crucially, to credit them by name. In those days, many supposedly 'unknown' American designers had been existing for years, but their clothing usually bore the label of the retailer for which they were created, for example Neiman Marcuss or Bergdorf Goodman. American styles were praised as modern, streamlined, and flattering, and American ready-to-wear designers were finally garnering the respect previously reserved for European couturiers. Press Week, which continued through the late '50s, eventually featured work by designers like Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Mollie Parnis, and Pauline Trigere.

Long before Lambert entered the picture, however, there were fashion shows in America. William Leach writes in Land of Desire, his excellent study of the rise of capitalism, that in 1903, a New York City specialty store called Ehrich Brothers put on what was likely this country's first fashion show, in an effort to lure middle-class female customers into the store. By 1910, many big department stores, including Wanamaker's in Philadelphia and New York, were holding shows of their own. (American retailers had likely witnessed what were called "fashion parades" in Paris couture salons and decided to import the idea.) The events were an effective way to promote merchandise, and they improved a store's status in the eyes of its clientèle: Showing couture gowns bought in Paris, or, more frequently, the store's own copies or adaptations of these garments was evidence of connoisseurship and good taste. The irony, of course, was that the stores emphasized the exclusivity of French couture, even as they made it—or some approximation thereof—available to a mass-market audience.

By the 1920s, the fashion show had gone mainstream. Retailers throughout the country staged shows, often in a store's restaurant during lunch or teatime. These early shows were often more theatrical than those of today. They were frequently organized around themes—there were Parisian, Persian, Chinese, Russian, and Mexican shows—and often presented with narrative commentary. Wanamaker's 1908 show, Leach writes, was a tableau vivant styled to resemble the court of Napoleon and Josephine, and the models were escorted by a child done up as one of Napoleon's pages.

The department-store shows were wildly popular, drawing crowds in the thousands. According to Leach, the throngs were so disruptive to city life that merchants in New York City and elsewhere were eventually required to obtain a license for shows using live models. In New York, police threatened to put an end to the shows altogether. Indeed, the phenomenon became so widespread that in 1950 Fairchild published a book titled How To Give a Fashion Show,which begins with an appeal to the executive assistant: "Have you ever been called into the boss's office at the end of a hectic day to be greeted with, 'Miss Gordon, I've been going over the figures of the ready-to-wear division today, and I've decided that what we need to pep them up is a fashion show. I'd like you to go to work on one immediately'?" And in 1954, Edna Woodman Chase—former editor of Vogue and organizer of the 1914 "Fashion Fete," an event to benefit the war-relief effort that is often (apocryphally) called the first fashion show—complained in her memoir about the ubiquity of the phenomenon: "Now that fashion shows have become a way of life … a lady is hard put to it to lunch, or sip a cocktail, in any smart hotel or store front from New York to Dallas to San Francisco without having lissome young things … swaying down a runway six inches above her nose."

When, then, did the shows make their way to Bryant Park? During the '70s and '80s, American designers began to stage their own shows in lofts, clubs, and restaurants. According to Fern Mallis, vice president of IMG, the company that houses 7th on Sixth—the organization that produces New York's Olympus Fashion Week, as well as several other shows—the impetus for the event we are familiar with today was literally an accident. It was 1990 and Mallis, then executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, was attending a Michael Kors show in a loft space in downtown Manhattan. When the bass started thumping, a piece of plaster came loose from the ceiling and fell onto the models as they went down the runway. As Mallis remembers it, the girls strutted on, but plaster also landed in the laps of writers Suzy Menkes and Carrie Donovan, while the rest of the crowd nervously searched for fire escapes. During another show in the early '90s, this one in a Soho loft space that was "packed to the rafters," a generator blew, leaving the crowd of editors and buyers in the dark. The audience waited for 30 minutes, holding cigarette lighters aloft as though swaying through a power ballad, until the generators were restored. It was then, Mallis says, that the fashion set said enough with small, unsafe spaces. "The general sentiment was, 'We love fashion but we don't want to die for it.' "

As head of the CFDA, Mallis took up the cause and sought out a venue where all the shows could be held in a single space. Designers, she says, were reluctant to sign on; they worried that showing in a group setting would hamper their creativity. But they also realized it would allow their work greater visibility. After an experimental first run at the Macklow (now the Millennium) Hotel on 44th Street, the concept took off. Mallis then worked out a plan with Bryant Park to put up tents in the East and West Plazas. A year later, the Spring 1994 collections were sent down the runway, and Fashion Week as we know it began. The CFDA also created 7th on Sixth, a separate company with its own board, and this organization formalized a schedule, drew up a press list (which is harder to infiltrate than the Vanity Fair Oscar party), and sold sponsorship to various companies. Finally, Mallis says, the shows were "organized, centralized, modernized." (Of course, as anyone who has braved the suffocating crush at Bryant Park knows, "hectic, chaotic, and frantic" seem more appropriate designations.)

And  since 2010, when the occasion was moved to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, it has never been as messy as it is now.

So, when you all go craazzzyy about everything around fashion week, taking days and weeks (or months?) to just find the right outfits, at least your fashion-pedia are a little bit heavier with this knowledge.

 Signorfandi, aspirin anyone?