With almost no live audiences and few major names, New York Fashion week, opened Sunday in a city that had been ravaged by the pandemic, but kept its fists up, trying to help American designers survive an unprecedented crisis.
High-profile brands like Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren, the regular heavy-hitters on the lineup, were nowhere to be seen, with the NYFW scheduled to last only three days.
The only fashion giant attending this week will be Tom Ford, who will show his new collection virtually for the closing event Wednesday night.
In-person fashion shows have practically vanished from the calendar this season, with a few (very rare) exceptions, including Jason Wu’s opening show on Sunday, or Rebecca Minkoff, whose presentation is on Tuesday.
The US has struggled to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, which explains the discrepancies with Paris, Milan or London fashion weeks, where live fashion shows were much more frequent.
Apart from health risks, “when trying to simply pay as many employees as I can and not have to make further cuts or furloughs, to spend several million dollars on a show makes no sense,” Ford said in an interview with industry publication Women’s Wear Daily.
In order to help American designers hang on, the CFDA invested in a new platform — named Runway360 — that is accessible to designers for free and lets fashion houses show their collections and create virtual events around their designs.
More than 50 of the 70 or so designers on the agenda for New York Fashion Week are using Runway360. Some of them have filmed their shows in New York in advance and will stream the videos at their appointed time.
Many young designers view this uncharted period as “an opportunity to get exposed,” said Geoffrey Owens, an African-American designer showing his very first collection for his label Zoonek at the Flying Solo show.
Just one year ago, Owens, also a minister, was cutting hair in his salon in Virginia Beach, dreaming of fashion.
Fellow newbie Fashion Week presenter Mohamed ElMadawy echoed the hope: “Those big brands are not showing as aggressively anymore, so I think I have a better chance” of breaking through, he said.
ElMadawy is Egyptian and has been living in New York since 2012. He is showing his first collection at Fashion Week for his brand Elmadawy on Sunday, also at the show by Flying Solo, a cutting-edge boutique in SoHo that scouts and promotes emerging designers.
For Owens, a designer’s role is to “set the bar” for society and “bring us out of… that dark place” of the past six months.