If coronavirus didn’t exist, Tyler McCall would have her September fully booked by now. As the editor-in-chief of Fashionista, McCall is used to spending the month hopping from New York to London, Milan, and then Paris for runway season. She would have scheduled flights and filled in her calendar with invitations and show locations.
But this year, McCall says, “It’ll just be me on the couch.” Though New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that some in-person NYFW events can take place this year in “strict compliance” with health guidelines, McCall will not force her editors to attend any shows.
So far she has nothing planned. On a site-wide Zoom, McCall told the Fashionista team, “I am not asking anyone to go to anything in person unless they really want to. It is totally optional. I don’t feel comfortable asking someone to go to their comfort zone for a show that isn’t exciting to them, or something they’re particularly passionate about.”
The fashion industry, like all others, has faced its share of challenges during a pandemic that shuttered storefronts and relegated anything other than sweatpants to the back of many people’s closets.
Brands like Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, and Neiman Marcus Groups have filed for bankruptcy. Marc Jacobs and Rag & Bone have made massive staff cuts. Sies Marjan, a New York label backed by billionaire Nancy Marks, folded in June.
So designers, models, and fashion-adjacent folks might not be feeling so celebratory this fall. This NYFW won’t be the familiar scene of guests brushing shoulders inside tightly-packed audiences and crammed parties. Many brands will opt for a digital-only showcase, like European ones did this past summer for Paris’ couture lineup.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) did not directly respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on what, if any, physical shows are on for this fall.
But the trade group, which organizes the official New York schedule every year, has launched a “digital platform” called Runway360, which allows designers to put up their collections, host virtual press conferences, and make it easier for customers to buy the clothes.
The app’s debut lines up with NYFW, though it will exist year-round “in an effort to help drive sales while providing the industry with a simple tool to experience the best of American fashion creativity,” a representative for the CFDA wrote in a press release.
It might seem counter-intuitive for a state like New York, which was once the worst hot spot for the virus and still does not allow indoor dining or movie theaters to open, to allow Fashion Week.
But there is a financial, and symbolic, incentive to make the show go on. In a regular year, both the spring and fall seasons bring in over $900 million for the city’s economy. Of course with a shorter calendar—three days instead of the usual six—and less out-of-towners heading in, there will surely be less of a profit.
Here is what we know, about a week before the shows begin: brands are allowed to host physical shows outdoors, with capacity capped at 50 people. If they move the party inside, they can only fill the venue to 50 percent of its capacity, but with “no spectators”—only the cast and crew may be present.
“New York Fashion Week will feature a mix of live and virtual shows, presentations, and programming including live-streamed runway shows, exclusive designer-related content, and cultural programming,” Governor Cuomo, whose sister Maria is married to designer Kenneth Cole, said in a press release. So what does that mean?
Much focus has been placed on who will not be in attendance: marquee names and annual staples like Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, and Oscar de la Renta. Younger designers who produce the buzziest work like Pyer Moss, Telfar, Brandon Maxwell, Christopher John Rogers, and Prabal Gurung are out as well.
Who’s left? Jason Wu and Tom Ford anchor the program, opening and closing the week, respectively. Wu told WWD that his program will be live, with 25 to 30 people watching the runway on the roof of Spring Studios in SoHo.
A representative for Tom Ford, who chairs the CFDA and decamped to LA last season for his celebrity-heavy show, confirmed to The Daily Beast that this fall’s iteration will be digital.
Chromat, the body-positive swimwear line led by Becca McCharen-Tran known for its high-energy runways, has a slot. So does LaQuan Smith, the 32 year-old designer beloved for his racy, often cheetah-print or leather going-out clothes.
Rebecca Minkoff told Glossy that she decided to hold an in-person, rooftop show this year after receiving “incentives” from IMG, an events management group that helps organize New York Fashion Week.
According to Glossy, the cost to hold a show is lower this year. Sponsors were enlisted to help support designers; the home goods chain Lowe’s will subsidize alfresco runways for Minkoff, Christian Siriano, and Jason Wu. This comes with a partnership: the backdrops used by the designers will later be available for sale on Lowe’s, Architectural Digest reported.
McCall, the Fashionista editor, says she has not received any “formal invitations” to in-person shows. “I’ll be surprised if most are not digital in some capacity,” she said. “Certainly, if an international market is not coming here, you have to reach them. I’m not sure how many people will want to be at in-person events locally.”
Maria Bobila, the fashion editor of NYLON, told The Daily Beast in an emailed statement that, “I don’t plan to attend any in-person events for NYFW. While I trust that those hosting live events are following COVID-19 safety guidelines, it seems that the majority of new collections and presentations are taking place virtually. Since there won’t be much street style or celebrity-packed front rows, NYLON will be working even more closely with designers on unique ways to review and share their collections and message.”
A representative for Condé Nast, which owns Vogue, Glamour, GQ, and Vanity Fair, would not comment to The Daily Beast on the record about its company policy when it comes to attending any in-person events. If such shows exist, for now, no one seems to know what they are.
“What is most interesting to me [about this season] is that it will become clear who the shows are for in a way that it wasn’t always before,” McCall added. “If you see a brand doing something where influencers are still present for that social media component, that’s different than a brand who might opt for a more private, in-person walk through of a collection meant for buyers or editors who plan ahead.
“Those are two totally different tactics. Ultimately, it’s good—this clears the obligation of a traditional fashion week format so that people can make decisions for themselves.”
McCall has another hunch: “My instinct now is that the people you’re going to see at in-person events are influencers,” she said. “There’s an incentive for them to be there and be dressed and be seen.”