When people from the media and fashion worlds assemble for the first show at this year's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City, they'll check in and get their seat assignments by scanning the bar codes on their confirmation e-mails at a kiosk. The shift from printed invitations and name-dropping to a digital-based registration process is a small but significant shift in an industry in which many magazine editors still have trouble opening a PDF. And the change is just one part of the transformation New York Fashion Week has undergone for this season's gathering, which runs Sept. 9-16 in its new home at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
The move from Bryant Park, in midtown, to Lincoln Center comes after years of disagreement between park management and the fashion industry over the continued expansion of the biannual event, which brings together fashion editors, celebrities and buyers to view spring/summer and fall/winter collections. It was not a decision taken lightly, considering how much Fashion Week has come to be identified with Bryant Park since 1993, when Fern Mallis, then executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, sought to bring all the city's designers under one roof. "The Bryant Park shows forever changed the fashion industry," says designer Tommy Hilfiger, who is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his eponymous label this year. "They united designers in an unparalleled situation." Located just blocks away from the garment district, where the majority of designers house their studios and craft their collections, the "tents" (as the industry referred to the space) were a symbolic rallying point for a struggling industry that had been crippled by cheaper, faster production options in the third world.
Some designers have already expressed nostalgia about the tents. "It's sad that the tents are moving, because they do validate the garment center," designer Nanette Lepore told the New York Times. "The tents give you an image of strength." But the majority of the fashion community is upbeat about the event's new home, where there will be 30% more space than at Bryant Park. "New York Fashion Week is the most important fashion event in the country, and to have a home that is as elegant and as true to that history that's Lincoln Center 100%," says Zach Eichman, vice president of communications and marketing at IMG Fashion, the producer of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. "I don't think there's another place in the city that speaks to those elements that Lincoln Center could and could host an event like ours that needs technical logistics."
Some of those technical logistics include digital capture for photographers and designers and improved cell-phone reception as well as wi-fi connection inside the presentation spaces. "As much as I loved Bryant Park, it was kind of antiquated," says Lauren Sherman, editor of the fashion blog Fashionista.com. "There was no wi-fi, so if I wanted to tweet something in one of the tents, a lot of the times it just wouldn't work. I would have to wait, and it kind of ruined the point for people who work online."
IMG has also revamped the event's Web site to allow for live-blogging, real-time event news and live-streaming of certain shows and presentations.
Approximately 100 designers will show at this year's Fashion Week, with presentations running from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in four main venues at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park. Attendees to the invitation-only shows will enter through a newly designed facade located between the Metropolitan Opera House and the David H. Koch Theater. Still, just as many designers if not more will show collections away from the "official" shows, preferring more intimate spaces such as the Chelsea Art Museum (Marchesa), Milk Studio (Vena Cava) and the Armory (Marc Jacobs). Norwegian designer Elise Overland whom Steven Tyler handpicked to create costumes for Aerosmith while she was still a student at Parsons the New School for Design will show her collection at Exit Art, a nonprofit cultural center located on Manhattan's west side. For her, it is a matter of both convenience and social ties. "I have nothing against Lincoln Center, but I think for me, it just made more sense to show at Exit Art," she says. "It's closer to my studio and easier for my friends to get there. I know ultimately the show is for editors and buyers, but I have a really big social crowd that I would lose if I were to show at 9 a.m. [on the Upper West Side]. I feel like they are all part of my brand, they are part of who I am, so to edit them out is like cutting my brand in half."
Another change to this year's New York Fashion Week includes an expanded version of Fashion's Night Out, the brainchild of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, which launched last year with the help of some of her most powerful friends, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Originally conceived as a one-night shopping event to boost retail sales in New York, this year's festivities will include a Fashion's Night Out merchandise line, to be sold at various online retailers, and a CBS special airing Sept. 14 at 10 p.m. E.T. The shopping event itself will be held on Friday night, with celebrities, socialites, models and designers store-hopping from SoHo to Fifth Avenue.
"Fashion's Night Out is proof that fashion has kind of become much more part of the pop-culture story," says Sherman. "And that has a lot to do with television, and it also has to do with the Internet." And that online factor including social-networking tools like Facebook and Twitter as well as online retailers like Gilt Groupe and Polyvore is what Sherman thinks the inaugural season at Lincoln Center will be remembered for. "Ten years from now, we'll be looking back on how it brought fashion into the digital age," she says.