New York Fashion Week Is Back, Even if It’s Having an Identity Crisis

New York Fashion Week is always dramatic—bitchy publicists with their clipboards, last-minute venue changes, and party crashers were ubiquitous before COVID shut things down 18 months ago. This go-around, the long-awaited return to a (mostly) in-person NYFW seems extra calamitous.

It all begins on Sept. 7 and runs through the 12, but a lot will be packed in those five days. That week marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and continuing concerns about Delta’s surge. Along with that is the return of the Met Gala, one of fashion’s biggest nights and the annual fundraiser for the museum’s costume wing. Timothée Chalamet, Billie Eilish, Naomi Osaka, and Amanda Gorman will host that night, dubbed “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion”—also the title of the Met’s big new fashion exhibit.

So fashion insiders have to get off their couches, from which they spent two seasons watching digital showcases, and brave the streets of New York in gravity-defying heels and peacocking outfits once again. It’s not quite a “return to normal” since fashion is never normal. Instead, there will be a healthy dose of surrealism to the ritual, and a begrudging acknowledgement that all is not well.

Vaccines are mandatory—as publicists began sending out invitations last month, many noted that RSVPs must come with proof of the shot. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and event company IMG has made clear that no one will be allowed inside the Spring Studios venue without being vaccinated.

Still, NYFW is not the COVID-free victory lap organizers might hope for. Big marquee lines like Ralph Lauren, Pyer Moss, and Marc Jacobs are absent. Others like Oscar de la Renta and Nicole Miller will remain digital-only affairs.

Kelly Cutrone, the PR legend who runs People’s Revolution and appeared on The Hills, The City, and America’s Next Top Model, has planned one event during fashion week, but she’s told most of her clients to “sit it out.”

“[There’s this feeling of] ‘We’re back! It’s so great,’” Cutrone said. “But it’s not great. SoHo and Fifth Avenue are completely fucking boarded up, and half of the people still there are just waiting to be evicted. I’ve spent my whole life in the industry, and the people who are going to tell us that fashion is back are fucking liars. Did sweatshirts and Crocs have an amazing time during the pandemic? Yes, I’m sure. But the real young kids who are artists are stuck.”

Instead, Cutrone advises her clients to “make smaller batch releases and drop them more than twice or four times a year.”

I hope people feel brave enough to break out of toxic systems like production offices where you’re working 14, 16 hours a day—and I’ve been there, I’ve led those missions.

Kelly Cutrone

“I hope that the way the fashion industry made us all work and perform has been detonated,” she said. “I hope people feel brave enough to break out of toxic systems like production offices where you’re working 14, 16 hours a day—and I’ve been there, I’ve led those missions.”

The CFDA and IMG did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. But Steven Kolb, the chief executive officer of the CFDA, told WWD at the end of August that, “After a year and a half, we have vetted our health and safety plan starting last summer directly with New York State. I feel we have been in lock step in really keeping with our vaccination mandate, with our CDC guidance. I think CFDA and IMG have been hand-in-hand in making sure everyone can get back to work safely. People are moving forward with their events. As things change, we’ll pivot. It seems right now that things are moving forward as planned.”

There have been jokes about vaccine cards being this fall’s hottest accessory at NYFW, but organizers have also partnered with the app Clear’s “Health Pass” to provide a barcode to enter shows. That way, people don’t have to tote around their cards.

Not all shows will take place in Spring Studios. Markarian, a label that got a boost when Jill Biden wore an embroidered dress to the inauguration, will show at 30 Rock’s Rainbow Room. Christian Siriano, who bussed editors out to Connecticut for his last event, opted for the more local Gotham Hall this time. LaQuan Smith will host one at the Empire State Building—the first time anyone’s ever used the landmark as a runway. Cue “New York, New York”: these locations are clear signs that NYFW hopes to herald the return of culture to its home city.

IMG “recommends” people wear masks inside venues, WWD reports, but it is not a requirement. COVID concern goes well with seat plan exclusivity: according to the trade publication, “The number of invited guests to most shows has also been significantly reduced.”

Glossy reported that “a record” number of NYFW events have been sold to “consumers”—not buyers, editors, or other fashion people. The site reported that 11 brands have opted into selling “insider access to NYFW” to their shows. These names include Proenza Schouler, Alice + Olivia, Altuzarra, and Staud. While this practice is not new—gawkers have been able to buy tickets since 2017—it has been ramped up this year as a kind of side hustle for the cash-strapped industry.

According to Glossy, the “packages” cost between $2,500 and $4,500, and some include meet-and-greets with designers and tickets to after-parties. Fans of The Blonds with $25,000 to spare can buy a “custom corset fitting” with David and Phillipe Blond.

Such made-for-Instagram money-grabs continue the recurring question that pops up with every season: Who is this all for? It’s another evolution in NYFW’s perennial identity crisis—after a brutal year for retail, it’s important to champion labels and encourage designers—but is it about the clothes, or the branded “experience”?

Cutrone might not have high hopes for this season, but she admitted that the ritual has staying power. “I think it’s so much fun, it’s a really badass thing,” she said. “You’re doing this chick-run thing, calling the shots, and there’s tons of fluid and LGBTQ kids out there. For me, it’s one of my favorite rituals in the whole wide world. I think it’s amazing and so beautiful when it’s done right, and so comical when it’s done wrong.”

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