By Fern Mallis
Do Fashion Weeks matter anymore? Are they relevant in this new media age? Do we need any more clothes? Who are all of these designers anyway? What season are we in? Why can’t I buy what’s on the runway now? These are just some of the questions that are being asked more and more often by everyone in the fashion business and beyond.
But then again, most people in this business are always questioning what’s going on, and if there is one thing I’ve learned over the 40 years of my career — it’s that you can never make everyone happy … so I just try do my best and do what feels right.
I organized what was originally called 7th on Sixth, which morphed into General Motors Fashion Week, then Olympus Fashion Week, and for the longest tenure, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week… and now it’s just called New York Fashion Week. And YES, I can safely say…Fashion Weeks matter.
There are roughly 200 fashion weeks in cities all over the world… and approximately a dozen more here in the US. The fashion world clearly identifies the top four as the ones that matter and make a difference. Each of the big four global Fashion Weeks has its own distinct personality, making each city unique in the type of talent that’s presented. For many years there was a general consensus and description that defined the “Mount Rushmore” of Fashion Weeks.
New York has always been known as the most commercial, featuring wearable sportswear and clothes for professional women to wear to work.
Although, clothes for “working women” have begun to change considerably over the past decade as clothes have become more casual and “athleisure” has taken over. New York is also known for supporting emerging talent, and up-and-coming designers were always a highlight of the shows.
Paris has been an important center for fashion since time immemorial. It is the home of couture, and Parisian designers make full use of the skilled hand craftsmen in their ateliers who are masters at intricate tailoring, fine beading, and lavish embellishments. Milan has the money brands. It’s where the textile mills and factories are. It’s the home of Armani, Versace, Prada, and Gucci, and these companies were always the big advertisers… you’d often see all the publishers sitting in the front row.
And then there’s London, which is dominated by Central Saint Martins, the fashion institute that trained John Galliano, Stella McCartney, Zac Posen, and Alexander McQueen. It’s become a think tank for edgy, provocative style and has helped London and its High Street remain a style destination for editors and buyers.
This past September, after a very hectic and busy New York Fashion Week, I was extremely pleased to head to London Fashion Week for three whirlwind days, as I usually do not go to the European shows and haven’t for several years.
I took this trip at the invitation of a good friend, a designer from Mumbai, Rocky Star Last May, while in Mumbai for business, I ran into my old pal Rocky at the opening of a new restaurant. While catching up with him, he graciously asked if I’d attend his show in London and extended an invitation for me to be there.
A native of Mumbai, Rocky Star is known for his sexy evening clothes, which are highly embellished with beads, fringe, and other accouterments.
Rocky has a huge business in India — he’s a darling of Bollywood’s red carpet — and has also designed the clothes for over 300 Bollywood movies. By showing in London, he is testing the waters for an international expansion. This was his fourth show, and he continues to generate lots of press among the fashion bloggers, influencers, and editors.
His runway show was absolutely stunning. Dresses had an overall print based on the scarab and were very metallic with iridescent beading and embellishments — as only the Indians can do. The models had dramatic metallic make-up and sexy hair with shiny beads and other decorations sewn into loose braids. Rocky is a master of the dramatic and manages to be dazzling and yet wearable at the same time. I was so happy to be in London to support Rocky and his collection, and I also brought a special guest with me to see Rocky’s show: the true icon of the London fashion scene, the legendary designer and my good friend Zandra Rhodes.
Needless to say, Rocky was thrilled to meet this pink-coiffed legend.
One of the other shows I was fortunate enough to attend was Molly Goddard, one of the most talked-about London designers. In full disclosure, she is also one of my niece’s very best friends. The BritishFashion Council named her the top “British Emerging Talent” in 2016, and this year, you can’t open a publication without seeing her featured. Goddard’s profile on social media recently exploded when Rihanna posted a clip of herself in a lilac Goddard dress at the London launch party for her Fenty Beauty line, which generated over 1.2 million Instagram “likes.” It’s not hard to understand why Rihanna is a fan. Goddard’s cheerful party dresses are bright, frilly, and sheer, earning their creator the nickname “The Tulle Queen.” In a few short years, Goddard has done what every young designer dreams of: she has created a signature look. The minute you see one of her dresses, you know it’s Molly Goddard. With her strong feminine aesthetic, she is taking a risk and doing what no one else is doing, especially at a time when the fashion world is dominated by “athleisure.”
Her show was spirited and fun with lots of loose silhouettes, and she was clearly moving her collection forward. She had Mayor Sadiq Khan of London in her front row.
The third show I attended in London was Simone Rocha. The daughter of another legendary English designer John Rocha. Her show was held at the historic Middle Temple in central London, a truly beautiful space, which was one of the ancient inns of the Court. Her collection was romantic, feminine and elegant, long and layered mostly in white with lace and ruffles, her work was a favorite of the fashion press.
Social media has changed absolutely everything we do in this new world, and its impact on the fashion industry has been phenomenal. Models aren’t just booked on their look or their walk anymore. It’s about how many followers they have on Instagram. They no longer need Vogue covers to make them a star; they go right to their fans and tell their story the way they want it to be told and create a dialogue with their followers and fans. A model’s repost of herself in a particular garment puts a designer’s work directly into the hands of consumers, totally superseding the fashion establishment. Sadly, attendees at fashion shows no longer look at the clothes directly — they watch the action on their phones, recording pictures and/or video, which they instantly upload to various social media outlets, letting the world know “they were there” and saw it before anyone else.
The fashion industry/social media/consumer love triangle is still in its “Wild West” phase. Social media has given ordinary people the opportunity to speak directly to industry leaders about what they want, but the take-away message isn’t always clear. A lot of designers are still figuring out their social media strategy. They are trying to figure out if hiring an “influencer”— a job I didn’t know existed when I was starting my career — is better than taking an ad in a leading fashion magazine.
And as consumers have so much instant access to all this imagery, it’s important for the fashion industry to address the question of who the fashion shows are really for. As far as I am concerned, the internet (and by that I mean an iPhone or iPad or desktop computer) can never substitute for the experience of being present at a live fashion show.
Even with a live-stream, you can’t hear the swish of the garments as the models strut by or note the details in the tailoring or feel the hush fall over the room when a particularly striking design emerges.
It’s like watching a television broadcast of a professional sporting event. The sound of the crowds at Madison Square Garden or any major league baseball or football stadium when the hometown team scores – and hopefully wins – is never really conveyed or felt on the screen.
There will always be a mandate for live fashion shows whether they are sensational multimillion-dollar spectacles or smaller, intimate shows or casual presentations. Through all the turbulence, I am constantly reminded that fashion is an industry built on innovation. It’s in our DNA. While social media has revolutionized our world, one thing holds true: we all need to get dressed every day before we leave the house. So I’m sticking to the mantra that I’ve always given to emerging designers that I mentor: it’s all about the clothes, but a fabulous show can’t hurt.
— About Fern Mallis —
From 1991 to 2001, Fern Mallis was the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Under her leadership, the American fashion industry got “organized, centralized and moderninized,” as the first Fashion Week was established in fall of 1993 in New York’s Bryant Park. After 10 years, the event known as 7th on Sixth was sold to IMG, and Fern came with the acquisition until 2010. IMG Fashion then created, managed, or purchased Fashion Weeks in Los Angeles, Miami, Mumbai, Berlin, Mexico, Moscow, Sydney, Melbourne, Australia, Singapore, Tokyo, Dubai, and more…
In 2010, Fern re-invented her career and performed in an off-Broadway play “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” by Nora and Delia Ephron, started a collection called “Fern Finds” for HSN, hosted a radio show “Fashion Insiders” on Sirius XM, and consulted for a wide variety of lifestyle companies. She also launched and continues to host “Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis,” a live interview series that takes place at New York City’s 92nd Street Y. She has interviewed designers and fashion icons such as Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Diane Von Furstenberg, Andre Leon Talley, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, Victoria Beckham, Iman, Leonard Lauder, Angela and Rosita Missoni, among many others. Her first 19 interviews are featured in a book FASHION LIVES published by Rizzoli. In her consulting business, she works with Charleston Fashion Week among others, and she mentors many emerging designers. She works with start-ups, numerous companies, and organizations. Fern is on the board of directors at the FIT Foundation in New York and has been instrumental in supporting many charitable causes, including the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, as well as spearheading Fashion Targets Breast Cancer while at CFDA. She has also been the recipient of numerous accolades, including the Pratt Institute Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 (presented to her by Calvin Klein) and FIT’s President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement, Business of Fashion Hall of Fame in 2014. You can follow her on Instagram at @fernmallis.