As we enter into February, one of the largest production events in New York City that happens around this time of year is the semiannual Fashion Week. For an event that is and has always been so industry specific, it’s remarkeable how much public attention the Fashion Week gets. New York is not the only city in the world that has fashion weeks of course, though we did invent the concept. There are 4 major fashion week cities in the world that do these events each year, with London, Milan, and Paris being the other three.
The essence of the concept of fashion week can very much be likened to an elaborate trade show. It is a trade show for the fashion industry, but given the fashion industry’s practice of doing displays as runways instead of booths, the trade show for this industry has gotten scaled up to be citywide and over the course of a week, instead of the typical trade show format of being held in one convention center and over one or two days.
The first Fashion Week in the world took place in the summer of 1943. Up to this point, Paris had been the well established world leader in womenswear fashion, but unfortunately during these first years of the ‘40s, they were too busy getting occupied by the Nazis. The global fashion industry had largely come to a halt during these years. Among other things, cloths and dyes and labor had to all be rationed with the war effort in mind. Amidst all this, it was a young New York fashion publicist named Eleanor Lambert — who went on to become regarded as one of the most legendary PR figures in the fashion industry — who dreamed up the idea that a media event showcasing New York womenswear would be a nice and much needed distraction for America from the grims of WWII.
The first New York Fashion Week looked like what many of today’s legendary brands of events looked like in their inaugurations: just a few dozen people meeting in the basement of a hotel. The event was called “Press Week”, and took place at The Plaza Hotel (if you’re not from New York: it’s that hotel from Home Alone 2…), and debuted the works of 53 American designers. Unlike today’s Fashion Week where anyone can attend, this first event was called Press Week because it was an invitation only event held exclusively to a fashion-journalists audience.
Only 56 journalists showed up to this inaugural fashion week event, but it ended up being more than enough to launch American fashion into the spotlight of the world. In the following season’s issues of these fashion magazines, for the first time in history it was American designers whose styles filled the pages of pictures and reviews. The show was such a success that just six months later, Eleanor Lambert produced a second Press Week, thus establishing the practice of the semiannual event representing the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer seasons of fashion.
Today, the New York Fashion Week is still considered the biggest and best in the world by the fashion industry, and a mega event by the New York City events industry. Each year’s event attracts over a quarter million attendees to the city and is estimated to contribute some $2 billion to the local economy. As the event concept has now lasted for the past 7 decades and spread to hundreds of cities around the globe, fashion weeks have today become the backbone of the global fashion industry’s operations.
See you at the next exploration!