Fashion week, explained.

The language of style.
Sept. 13 2004 7:01 PM

Fashion Week FAQ

Your nagging questions answered.

(Continued from Page 1)

As for the shows of young designers, fashion professionals are creative people who are inspired by and supportive of creativity, and personal relationships—with publicists, salespeople, or the designers themselves—go a long way toward filling seats. Plus, fashion people move in a flock—if a few of the heavy-hitters support a young designer, the pack will follow.

5) How are the shows scheduled to avoid conflict? Is there a particular night/time slot that is the most coveted or a time slot that the heavyweights usually win (say, Marc Jacobs)? If you're a small designer, how do you make sure there are no bigger shows scheduled when you schedule yours?

Designs by Sarah Blumenthal
Designs by Sarah Blumenthal 
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An industry firm called the Fashion Calendar has long managed the tangled problem of too many designers trying to show over too few days (approximately 150 designers over seven days); the service is run by subscription and produces a weekly schedule of international fashion-related events that buyers and editors look to throughout the year. Conflicts do arise with overlapping shows. Editors and buyers must choose whose show to see, and the little guy generally loses out.

6) Do designers choreograph the show? Do they pick the music for their show, or do they work with a DJ? Is there a dress rehearsal?

Most designers are quite actively involved in selecting show music. They work with a DJ—many, like Michel Gaubert who mixes music for New York design darlings Proenza Schouler, specialize in runway tracks—with the idea that every detail of a show makes an impact on its success. Designers are often inspired by a particular song or band while conceiving their collections, and that plays into the music selection. Shows are staged more than choreographed, with the outfits carefully placed in a particular order to be shown on particular models and timed to hit the runway at certain points in the music. Shows are, after all, shows, and everything is carefully planned for effect.

7)Is this why the clothes are so ridiculous? Do the designers think that the overdoneness of the models (both clothes and makeup) looks good, or are they just doing that for effect?

While it's true that much of what is shown on runways is crap, this is often owing to a lack of talent on the part of the designer, rather than a meretricious reaching for effect. In fact, there are too many shows, particularly in New York, where the clothes are not ridiculous enough, if ridiculous means imaginative. Fashion is not simply about utility, especially on a runway, where ideas are on parade. Do we really need to see a tank top and trousers trotting down a runway and masquerading as fashion? (Remember that fashion and clothes are not the same thing: Clothes keep you from being naked or cold, and pockets provide a place for your house keys. Fashion, when it's good, sends the imagination racing and speaks for the wearer's dreams in a way words can't.)

So, why do designers go for what might seem over the top? There are two very basic answers to this question; one gets to the heart of everything that is right about fashion, and one to everything that is wrong.

Fashion is both democratic and exclusive. Some fashion is meant for broad audiences—New York showman-extraordinaire Isaac Mizrahi, for example, has revived his defunct high-priced label by designing clothes for Target—and some—like the extreme styles of Nicolas Ghesquiere's work for Balenciaga—is frankly not intended for uneducated eyes. The opinion of the man on the street is irrelevant when it comes to clothes designed for connoisseurs. When great designers such as Rei Kawakubo at Commes des Garcons or her protégé Junya Watanabe propose extreme—what some might call ridiculous—style, it is because they are working with the formal properties of fashion (cut, fabrics, complex finishing techniques) in an innovative way. Their client base is intentionally small because a larger business would require responding to mass market demands, and the influence of their innovation is felt primarily within the industry. But so what? Fashion is a community as well as a business, and communities have their own language. A unique use of lace or a well-cut dress are nuances that might be lost on your average shopper but provide secret thrills to fashion insiders.

On the other hand, it happens all too often that runway shows are filled with high jinks for high jinks' sake. Fashion has become entertainment, and so the thinking of many designers goes like this: Zany looks will get the attention of TV producers or stylists with celebrity access (and getting the name out there equals business success). Shenanigans like silly hairdos, exaggerated makeup, or overzealous styling can also hide a lack of skill or true ideas.

The larger issue, however, is that fashion is a big business, and it has suffered from overexposure. What was once the province of an elite and limited audience is now scrutinized on the red carpet and in tabloids at a rate that forces cheap attempts at keeping up with news cycles that move faster than fashion's own natural seasonal reinvention. The industry, of course, has invited the attention. Hype, the theory goes, means profit. But when there are hours of fashion television that need programming and costly tents to fill, no serious fashion professional would deny that much of what gets shown is an embarrassment.

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