Op-Ed: A Fashion Week Manifesto

FCD’s Simon Collins weighs in on the great fashion week debate with some no-nonsense advice

For many, Paris and New York are quite different, and so it makes sense that they inspire quite different creativity. I won’t insult you by listing the differences. Just throw a bun in either place and you’ll hit something world-class that doesn’t exist in the other. The same can be said for the designers that show during Paris and New York fashion weeks. They are different. In both cities, some are good and some are rubbish. Some make loads of cash and some make none. Some are adored and some reviled. None of these comparisons are related to each other or the locations. We discussed this in June 2016 at the Fashion Culture Design Unconference.

I’ve had some small exposure to New York and other fashion weeks along the way. I advised IMG on its move Downtown from Lincoln Center. I currently advise both Seoul and China fashion weeks. I was Dean of Fashion at Parsons when we first showed at MADE fashion week. And I currently help various young designers to find their voices and spaces around the world.

During my time at Parsons, I learned from the students and the alumni that nothing needs to get in your way if you refuse to let it. And don’t look to anyone else to do it for you. Yes, it’s hard to make it in New York, but anything is possible and many have proved this. Where the closed-minded see problems, the creative thinkers see opportunity. 

There is no doubt that a certain type of designer chooses to show in Paris at a certain time in his career, and a certain type of designer chooses to show in New York at a certain time in his career. They are not the same, but do they need to be? Don’t we perhaps need both? And is it possible that both are successful for different reasons?

I hung up my dean’s hat in 2008, but if you’ll permit me to briefly re-don it, I’ll lay out some suggestions for a positive perspective on fashion week in New York or wherever else you are. 

Fashion Week Manifesto

1. Stop whining
If you don’t like what’s going on, do something about it, or shut up about it. We know everything’s not perfect in New York. We must always try to do better. We are equal with our Euro cousins in many ways. In some they win, in some we do. If you prefer them, that is entirely your business.

2. Look for opportunities
New York is full of them. It’s what we do here. You are surrounded by people looking to do great things. If you want to show, you can show, you don’t need permission, and no one can stop you.

3. Don’t blame anyone else
The fashion dinosaurs don’t care about you. They’re easy to spot as they tend to look bewildered and say things like, “But we’ve always done it like this,” and then they become extinct. In New York, there is no governing body that can say “non” to your show. Stop looking for someone else to solve the problem—do it yourself.

4. Make friends
There are smart people out there who want you to succeed. Think of when MAC & Milk launched their fashion week with free shows for young designers. Be the next one. 

5. Listen to your customers
If you want to be around next season, aim wider than just the approval of your friends or trendy online magazine reviews. Nice words don’t pay nasty bills. Giancarlo Giammetti said the only person he and Valentino ever listened to was the woman at the cash register.

6. I love New York
Did you move to New York City because you really wanted to live in Paris? Remember that. 

7. Brilliance only, please
If you make coffee, make it brilliantly. Ditto for fashion. If you suck, it doesn’t matter where you show. Spending millions of dollars to recreate a film set or restaurant isn’t automatically brilliant. Using an empty decrepit hotel or theatre could be. Neither are a reflection of the quality of design on the runway nor the city they’re in. 

8. You are your own story
Tell your story, not the one someone else wants you to tell. We are New York, not Paris. Neither wants to be the other and we love each other for it.

9. No one owns New York fashion week
It’s a twice-yearly, flexible period of time with a city-wide variable location. The CFDA owns their own Fashion Calendar, but not the actual Gregorian calendar. IMG rents a handful of show spaces, but not every other venue in town. Both would like you to be successful in New York. You have your own Instagram, Facebook, email address book, friends, and supporters. Make it happen. 

10. And also, stop whining
If you don’t want to write about New York fashion week, then by all means write about something else. If you prefer to show in Paris, then please do so. If you want to bitch and moan, then that is your right, just as it is a designer’s right to show wherever and whenever the hell they like.

New York fashion week is ever-evolving like the great city in which it takes place. Some things need to be better, some things are the world’s best and they too will get better. It’s ok, we’re making it work and we won’t stop.

If you’d like to follow up, we’re hosting the next Fashion Culture Design Salon on September 13th at Neuehouse in New York City—come and have a chat. To RSVP, e-mail [email protected].

Simon Collins is the founder of the Fashion Culture Design Unconference, and the former dean of fashion at Parsons the New School for Design

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