Fashion / Style

The Strangest New York Fashion Week Ever Battles COVID and Racial Inequality

How The Show is Going On in Very Different Ways

BY // 09.11.20

The show will go on, but New York Fashion Week promises to be radically different as designers come up with unconventional ways to cope with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “This is an unprecedented Fashion Week. In the history of New York Fashion Week there has never been one like it,” says Council of Fashion Designers of America CEO Steven Kolb.

The biannual fashion extravaganza, which begins on Sunday, has been pared down to five days, with only around 70 designers on the official calendar. (In February, before the pandemic had spread extensively across the United States, more than 200 designers showed their collections at New York Fashion Week.)

Many big-name designers — including Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, Brandon Maxwell and Michael Kors — are skipping fashion week altogether. But a host of prominent designers, including Tom Ford, Jason Wu, Christian Siriano, Nicole Miller, Bibhu Mohapatra, Naeem Khan, Anna Sui and Badgley Mischka, will have a presence.

Almost all shows will be in a virtual format, which will be available for anyone to view on the new digital platform Runway360, created by CFDA, and online at NYFW.com, from the marketing behemoth IMG.

A handful of shows will be presented in front of a live audience, under strict regulations in an outdoor setting with fewer than 50 spectators. Each model will have an individual backstage hair and makeup station and only a limited number of photographers will be allowed to shoot the event.

In an out-of-the-box idea, the home improvement chain Lowe’s is sponsoring the collections of Wu, Siriano and Rebecca Minkoff. Patio furniture, lighting fixtures, pillows, lamps, chairs and other offerings from Lowe’s will serve as backdrops during the runway shows and sold online at lowes.com. Siriano will unveil his collection from his Connecticut home.

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“The intersection between home and style has never been more prevalent than it has this year, and partnering with some of the world’s most modern and visionary leaders of fashion to demonstrate how everyone can bring fashion ‘home’ is very exciting to us,” Marisa Thalberg, Lowe’s chief brand and marketing officer, said in a release.

New York State of Mind

Wu, who will kick off fashion week with a live show in front of 36 mask-wearing spectators in a rooftop location, told USA Today the theme for his collection is his “home away from home” in Tulum, Mexico. The collection will be accessorized with woven baskets, eclectic stoneware and a leafy Majesty Palm plant from Lowe’s.

“As a native New York designer, I feel like it’s very important that the energy in New York Fashion Week is preserved,” Wu said.

Other designers are utilizing their usual fashion week slot in a more intimate way. Rather than showing a collection, Carolina Herrera will feature a unscripted conversation about the past, present and future of fashion between creative director Wes Gordon and founder Carolina Herrera, filmed by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland.

Wes Gordon, Taylor Tomasi Hill, Lisa Moore
Wes Gordon, Taylor Tomasi Hill, Lisa Moore

Proenza Schouler designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez will take part in a similar live stream conversation with Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Samira Nasr, discussing their longstanding friendship and favorite collaborations.

Up-and-coming designer Christian Cowan will debut his collection via a fashion film in partnership with a “very famous celebrity,” with 100 percent of the profits from sales going to a trans rights charity. The film was shot by neo-pop photographer Vijat Mohindra, who most recently directed Miley Cyrus’s “Midnight Sky” music video.

Also on the schedule are a number of topical discussions on racial equality and how to foster more diversity in the fashion world, as well as fashion’s power to create change and involve more people in the political process.

The unusual fashion week comes amid a growing consensus that the current system is broken and the covid crisis provides an opportunity to rethink how to fix it. When things eventually return to normal, larger brands will likely continue to present lavish shows, mainly as marketing opportunities, while smaller brands will increasingly look to different ways to showcase their designs.

“This is a moment where we can redesign what fashion means,” Off-White and Louis Vuitton menswear designer Virgil Abloh said during a recent New York Times online fashion discussion.

Dressing for a COVID-19 Reality?

Perhaps one of the biggest questions during fashion week will be how COVID-19 actually affects what is presented on the runway. Matching masks are a given, but will styles be dressed up, for a hopeful future, or dressed down to reflect today’s reality?

Designers say that clothing choices have evolved since the lockdown in March, when fashion consisted mainly of sweats and T-shirts for stay-at-homers. Now, many people are looking to expand their fashion options, even if its still in a judicious way.

During the New York Times fashion discussion, Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow touted the company’s recent successful launch of easy-to-wear dresses while Tory Burch said that her customers are looking for “special things” in addition to staples.

“They still want to dream,” said Burch, who plans to showcase her collection later in the year with a look book photographed in a Shaker-style home.

TORY BURCH RUNWAY SHOW New York FEBRUARY 2020
Tory Burch lambswool sweater, stripe-pattern silk dupioni top and skirt. (Photo courtesy of Tory Burch)

Wu says his upcoming collection will have a more casual vibe with fewer red carpet clothes, but will still be glamorous.”It’s just kind of like living in the moment right now, and how do you create something that’s desirable and also something that fits in with the time?” he told Yahoo Entertainment. 

While New York Fashion Week remains in flux due to the continuing coronavirus crisis, fashion weeks in London, Milan and Paris that will follow in the coming weeks are adhering to a more traditional path. More than half of participating Milan fashion houses are making plans to present in-person shows as are many of the big name labels in Paris.

Social distancing and mask requirements will be enforced as will some travel restrictions and limited seating at the European shows.

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