The holiday season is still about three months away, but for fashionistas everywhere, right now is the most wonderful time of the year: New York Fashion Week has begun. The city's biannual celebration of all things sartorial will see top fashion designers from Tory Burch to Marc Jacobs unveil their Spring 2019 collections to the public. (Not to mention Rihanna is set to present the latest from her lingerie line.)
Since its inception, Fashion Week has become synonymous with such iconic New York happenings as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the New York City Marathon. It has endured a multitude of venue and name changes over the years, which makes its historical timeline a little murky. But, there is no doubt that 2018 marks an auspicious year for the fashion industry, because it is the 75th anniversary of the event that would eventually morph into NYFW.
Whether you're a casual fan of couture or follow Anna Wintour's schedule to the minute, the best way to appreciate fashion's future is to tip a hat to its past. Before viewing the latest collections, read on for our roundup of 12 things you might not have known about New York Fashion Week.
1. WORLD WAR II WAS THE IMPETUS FOR THE FIRST STATESIDE PRESS WEEK.
In 1943, overseas travel to Paris, home to most fashion shows and the crown jewel of the industry, was nearly impossible for American journalists due to Germany's occupation of France. But, in a stroke of patriotic genius, an enterprising fashion publicist named Eleanor Lambert decided to create a series of fashion shows in New York featuring American designers instead.
In July of that year, Lambert—who also later founded the International Best-Dressed List—staged something called "Press Week" in New York City. Journalists were invited to view the latest fashions from—gasp!—American designers, rather than from those based in Paris (up until then, Parisian designers held the monopoly on what was considered couture). This groundbreaking move resulted in American designers getting plenty of ink in the pages of reputable fashion magazines, and it helped turn New York into a fashion hub.
2. FOR THE FIRST TIME, AMERICAN DESIGNERS HAD THEIR TIME IN THE SARTORIAL SPOTLIGHT.
No longer beholden to Parisian influences, American designers could present home-grown American fashion to the public. Not only were the looks created by Americans, but the clothes were made in the U.S.A. as well. Most importantly, Lambert's Press Week resulted in magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar highlighting American designers by name, finally giving them a platform that had until that time mostly eluded them.
3. THE FIRST PRESS WEEK WAS HELD AT A SINGLE LOCATION: THE PLAZA HOTEL.
Norman Norell, Claire McCardell, and Valentina were among the 53 designers who showcased their fashions at New York's famed Plaza Hotel. It was a far more relaxed experience for the journalists in attendance, because all of the fashion shows were held in the same location. Over the next several decades, Fashion Week would evolve into a logistical nightmare; with no home base, it became not uncommon for reporters to run around the city from show to show.
4. UNLIKE TODAY, WHERE NYFW ATTRACTS EVERYONE FROM JOURNALISTS TO BUYERS TO CELEBRITIES, LAMBERT'S PRESS WEEK WAS JUST THAT—FOR THE PRESS ONLY.
In the beginning, Press Week was closed to buyers, who were forced to view upcoming lines via scheduled showroom visits instead. Lambert was also integral in opening up the fashion world to non-New York City America: She offered to pay the expenses of any out-of-town reporters who wanted to cover the event. It was a serious win for budding fashion journalists, because prior to Press Week, the only way regional reporters could view New York collections was if they tagged along with local store buyers on their showroom visits.
5. RALPH LAUREN'S FIRST FASHION WEEK SHOW WASN'T MUCH TO SNIFF AT, BUT HE LIKED IT THAT WAY.
It wouldn't be NYFW without mainstay Ralph Lauren, but as he recounts in the 2018 book American Runway: 75 Years of Fashion and the Front Row, by Booth Moore, the now-icon wasn't exactly a draw in his early years. "We set up chairs in my office at 40 West 55th Street," Lauren said of his first women’s collection for the Fall 1972 season. "There were only 10 or 15 editors and about 10 models. They strolled in one at a time, and I talked about the clothes. Looking back, I loved that intimacy."
6. FASHION WEEK'S BREAKING POINT CAN BE PEGGED TO A NOTORIOUS MICHAEL KORS SHOW IN THE EARLY 1990S.
The decades following the first Press Week saw fashion shows moving from the stodgy Plaza and Pierre Hotels to lofts, galleries, nightclubs and restaurants. (These incredible Betsey Johnson shows from the 1980s are a great example of Fashion Week's "anything goes" attitude at this point.) But it was an accident at a Michael Kors show that necessitated a revamp of the entire Fashion Week experience. When the bass kicked in during the song "Use It Up and Wear It Out" by Odyssey, plaster from the ceiling came loose and started falling on both editors in the audience and models as they walked the runway. "I vividly remember the dust clearing and seeing Anna Wintour picking lumps of plaster out of Suzy Menkes's hair," recalled Barney's Simon Doonan in his 2013 book, The Asylum.
7. EVEN BEYOND THE MICHAEL KORS SHOW INCIDENT, FASHION WEEK'S FLIMSY PRODUCTION STANDARDS HAD BEEN AN ISSUE FOR A WHILE.
Fern Mallis, then the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, decided something needed to be done after that Kors show. "There were seasons where editors were getting pulled out of freight elevators or had to wait for hours for power to go back on in Soho lofts," Mallis told Racked. "People were putting their lives on the line to see fashion shows—it was frightening." Plus it was a fatiguing ordeal just to see the shows, with no main hub for any of them: "If there were 50 designers showing during a season, there were 50 venues," Moore wrote in American Runway.
8. IN 1994, NEW YORK'S PREVIOUSLY HAPHAZARD FASHION WEEK SHOWS MOVED TO A NEW VENUE: BRYANT PARK.
Mallis is credited with reorganizing New York Fashion Week into the twice-yearly event it's known as today. Between 1994 and 2010, Bryant Park's signature white tents were the home of NYFW's runway shows, providing a safe, creative space for models, journalists, and scenesters alike. And from a utilitarian perspective, the Bryant Park years proved cost-effective for designers. Previously, the location, lighting, sound and security for a Fashion Week show was the responsibility of the designer. With the advent of the Bryant Park tents, NYFW became one-stop shopping.
9. RONALD MCDONALD ONCE SHOWED UP AT AN ANNA SUI SHOW IN 1996.
As she recounted for Vogue, designer Anna Sui had an unconventional guest at her Fall 1996 show—fast-food celebrity Ronald McDonald, outfitted in a snappy dark suit. But that wasn't the most surprising part of the story: The McDonald's spokesperson had some serious competition in the bright orange wig category—Sui's friend Linda Ramone, then-wife of punk-rocker Johnny Ramone, was also in the audience, similarly bewigged.
10. THE ONLY TIME FASHION WEEK HAS BEEN CANCELED WAS IN SEPTEMBER 2001.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred on what should have been the fourth day of NYFW. Following maternity designer Liz Lange's 9 a.m. runway show—which marked the first time a maternity line had been featured at Fashion Week—all remaining events were canceled.
11. THE FIRST SEX AND THE CITY FILM DID NOT ACTUALLY SHOOT THAT FASHION WEEK SCENE AT NYFW.
What do you get when you combine corporate sponsorship with movie magic? A very realistic-looking New York Fashion Week show prominently featured in 2008's Sex and the City film. That's right—the scene where Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha meet up to debate the merits of front-row seats at NYFW versus front-row seats at the Brooklyn aquarium, with some side-marveling at the latest collections, was all fake. Kind of. Since Fashion Week didn't coincide with the movie's shooting schedule, Mercedes-Benz, then the sponsor of NYFW, agreed to assemble its immediately recognizable white tents for the scene—in exchange for promotional placement. Not that Samantha wouldn't have chosen a Benz for her new Hollywood lifestyle, but this arrangement sure made the choice easier.
12. NYFW WAS FORCED TO RELOCATE FROM LINCOLN CENTER AFTER PARK ADVOCATES SUED THE CITY'S PARKS DEPARTMENT.
The downside to New York Fashion Week's ever-growing success was that by 2010, the Bryant Park location could no longer fit the expanding throngs of attendees and presenting designers. The proceedings moved to Lincoln Center, the city's famed multi-venue arts complex, for the next four years, but in 2013 a group called the New York City Park Advocates sued the city's Parks Department over NYFW's purported encroachment on the Lincoln Center-adjacent Damrosch Park. The following year, the state's Supreme Court determined Lincoln Center couldn't renew its contract with IMG (the company that owns and operates NYFW). In the settlement, it was decided that the biannual event must take its tents and catwalks elsewhere. Currently, NYFW's shows are staged in Tribeca, but a new development along the Hudson River called The Shed could become the event's new home as early as next year. As they say in the industry: One day you're in, and the next day you're out.