Olympus Fashion week has become bigger than fashion - not better, just bigger, louder, and much noisier. The stage has become more important than the players so to speak. What was originally an attempt by the CFDA 12 years ago to create a venue where designers could show their collections to buyers, retailers and fashion press in a unified and convenient arena has now morphed into a sponsor driven media circus. In many ways, the situation mirrors what has happened to the Oscars in recent years. More and more the media is interested in reporting and promoting what the stars are wearing, the back stage gossip, what is in the goody bags -- and almost anything else that can be associated with the awards. The 7thonSixth shows are now being promoted the very same way by IMG --first to advertisers as an entertainment vehicle and not really as an industry event.
Is there any wonder that many of the best known New York designers do not show at the Tents? Why, because they realize that the Tents are really not about them first. For those designers whose brand names are already household words, what is the benefit to them? They are just one of many designers who get one hour on stage and then are gone.
Over the last 10 years the purpose of a fashion show seems to have undergone a radical change . The shows are now becoming more about branding than about the actual presentation. Many designers believe it is more important to get a 20 second spot on a national TV news show than to have a informed editor actually write about the quality of the collection he or she is presenting. Consumer demand is being driven by the hype the media can generate for a designer which then pushes the buyers into carrying the collection. And more and more the pressure increases on quickly exploiting a designer's brand recognition garnered on such publicity into licensing agreements for perfume, underwear, paint cans and God knows what else.
And speaking of hype, celebrity worship is not just running amuck in the fashion industry, it has become a joke that no one in this industry will laugh out loud about. Fashion and the entertainment media are not just feeding off each other big time, they are in bed together. Just look at the cover of any American fashion magazine and you see the same faces that are also appearing on covers of our entertainment magazines and tabloids. Only a handful of our best know designers today have the cache and "star power" to successfully market their lines . A designer's reputation earned over years for the quality of their work is not enough to drive sales in an over crowded market place. These days an actor/celebrity who is widely enough know can become a "fashion designer' without ever knowing how to sew a button on. He or she has no talent? No problem; with enough money one can buy the talent to design the clothes and with the help of a good fashion PR firm and a million dollar budget can pack the house with the press.
Even the supermodels no longer demand respect and most of them are now looked at as so many fashion dinosaurs. How can they compare to the likes of a Sarah Jessica Parker a grade B actress who, playing a slut on "Sex and the City" , can become a fashion icon with three covers of Vogue to her credit. And what about the likes of Paris Hilton? It is sad that even Vanity Fair must struggle to remain "relevant" by putting Hilton on the cover of their current issue. What PT Barnum said a hundred years ago is still true, "you can never underestimate the bad taste of the public" and that goes doubly true to those editors who pander to that taste.
Fashion is not pure or noble or even honest. It is a business true and like any business must answer to the bottom line. However, fashion is also a creative enterprise. But when you go to a show, you want to see a designer's vision cut in cloth and presented as he wants it to appear, and not how he or a stylist thinks the media would like it . There is a difference! When the lights go down, and the music begins, and the models first appear, there is still the expectation that something beautiful might come down that runway and take our collective breaths away. Take that away and the magic is gone. The celebs will then leave, the sponsors go elsewhere, and Paris will pack her bags and head back to the West Coast.
-Ernest Schmatolla, publisher