Exclusivity and Inclusivity: NYFW Strikes a Balance

Exclusivity, much like glamor and fame, is a value that has been embedded in NYFW – and for that matter all fashion weeks – since the years of its inception. Traditionally, only a tightly curated list of buyers, press, and VIPs were invited to the runways and then to join the party. In the last few years, however, a bevy of designers have been planning shows and events to include their consumers, presumably to bring their brand ‘closer to the people’ while simultaneously capturing further consumer attention on social media.

Pyer Moss Spring/Summer 2020 runway show in New York. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Let’s not forget, however, that this idea of a more ‘democratized’ NYFW – in part due to the advent of the internet and then smartphones – began without any planning, and without the direct participation or goodwill of brands and organizers. Now quasi-legendary fashion bloggers – such as Susie Lau, BryanBoy, and Tavi Gevinson – were invited to runways as early as 2010. Sitting front row alongside bewildered editors and buyers, they captured, analyzed, and shared looks within minutes after the show began. This was succeeded by another even more impactful evolution: social media. Instagram, for instance, unlike the very logic that defines fashion weeks, organically created a direct, open, and uninterrupted portal between brands and their customers. The shift was so critical that it’s been progressively reshaping the way major designers communicate with consumers, craft their collections, and present their products. After all, there is a good reason why the term “Instagrammable” has become part of business and mainstream vernacular.

The same can be said of fashion weeks opening up to the public. It might sound like a novel strategy, but top designers began focusing less on the industry and more on their consumer years ago. This became all the more noticeable once designers went from selling clothes to selling the brand’s story and the elements surrounding that story – think licensed goods galore covered in logos.

But if social media provided unprecedented access to NYFW – from live streaming on Instagram and Facebook, to front row influencers and celebrities sharing their favorite looks with their millions of followers – the real challenge for brands is still how to further engage directly with their consumers. This is especially true for luxury and premium brands. Events and runway shows continue to be the best way to showcase a brand’s personality. That’s what customers ultimately buy into, and the closer they are to the action, the better.

Several designers took it a step further this season, slightly loosening the dividing velvet rope. In some cases, they picked a more public setting for their show, making the participation more of an impromptu experience as those walking by got to see the runway and participate from afar. While New York’s Collina Strada presented her new collection along a street flanking Stuyvesant Square Park, Maryam Nassir Zadeh – a Solange favorite – showcased hers on a playground between Chrystie and Forsyth. In both cases, dozens of pedestrians spontaneously stopped to look over, comment, and take pictures.

Maryam Nassir Zadeh Spring/Summer 2020 runway show in New York. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Other designers, still opting for an indoor space – with the usual long lines, hectic check-in, and security get down – opened their shows to consumers. Some brands have been hosting consumers at their shows for several seasons now, almost as a logical extension of their identity. While VFiles is known for welcoming the public to fill in the seats at their ongoing Barclays Center seasonal extravaganzas, Pyer Moss’ Kerby Jean-Raymond gave away tickets to his show in Brooklyn. This season, Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty fashion show – which also took place at Barclays – extended tickets to the public using a lottery system. As part of the slick maneuver, no phones or cameras were allowed in the venue, which created in and of itself a sense of exclusivity for those present at the event. No one else but the attendees got to see the collection as the runway show-cum-live performance will only be available for the public to stream on Amazon starting September 20th.

Finally, other designers offered to open their shows to the public for the first time, even if in some cases for a steep price. Endeavor Experiences, the lead producer of NYFW, oversaw this ‘initiative’ and sold tickets that gave the public access to Rag & Bone, The Blonds, and Chromat’s runways. The tickets guaranteed a seat, access to the afterparty, and face-to-face time with the brand’s designer. Only Rag & Bone sold out by the end of the week with tickets being sold for $2000.

London Fashion Week, which begins today, is showcasing brands that are also inviting consumers to be part of the coveted fun. While Anya Hindmarch has been organizing consumer-facing events instead of traditional runways for three seasons, this time around Alexa Chung, Self-Portrait, and House of Holland will also be staging shows exclusively for ticket buyers at the British Fashion Council’s official space. Aside from getting a chance to sit front row, the attendees will also have a chance to attend talks from insiders Laura Brown and Eva Chen. Unlike Endeavour NYFW’s initiative, however, BFC’s fashion shows are truly reserved for the public, possibly giving buyers, editors, and VIPs a taste of their own medicine.

Chromat Spring/Summer 2020 runway show in New York. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION. 

In some ways, this approach – be it opening up shows to the public or organizing consumer-facing events instead – appears to be potentially promising; at least in theory. Industry experts predict that more brands – especially emerging and premium brands – will start to open their doors to the public and stage fashion week experiences. For the designers, ticket proceeds help offset the high cost of their shows, and gives brands the possibility to discover potential clients who are wealthy, outside of the industry bubble, and wish to be a part of it. 

It can also be argued that Endeavour is playing with fire (when considering the rules they play by and what defines the business they run). Aside from the fact that ticket price reinforces the element of exclusivity, it’s the exclusivity of NYFW that makes it so appealing. Isn’t exclusivity the very cornerstone of fashion, what drives its desirability? Is some mystery not necessary for NYFW to remain interesting and relevant? From a brand’s standpoint, democratizing shows could damage their public appeal, and, by consequence, their sales. Inclusivity has become a mighty buzzword these days, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to fashion. Perhaps it’s time to consider that making fashion inclusive and democratizing fashion weeks are two different things. While the former is bound to happen (and desirable), the latter is contradictory (and by historical definition, probably impossible).

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