So many fashion week parties, so little time — but what is the payoff, if any?
The slew of events thrown by brands each season can cost them big money and ample resources, with very little reward, say many in the industry. Whether it’s during NYFW: Men’s, going on now, or couture week, which wrapped earlier this month, the list of companies clamoring for their fashion week 15 minutes only seems to be growing.
“These parties are bullshit,” said one PR veteran, who once headed up marketing for one of the industry’s top luxury brands. “Fashion is a business, and those who take it seriously and have clout would rather do it during business hours. After a day of shows or showroom appointments, who wants to go out?”
They’re not cheap, either. A “real low-budget event” would cost $15,000, she said, though a more realistic starting point is $25,000. Brands will commonly score a liquor sponsor and a free venue, as many places want to align themselves with the fashion set, she added.
“Depending on the scale and size of the party, I generally advise brands to commit at least $30,000 for production and personnel support,” said Dana Schwartz, the former vice president of fashion at Wetherly who recently launched The Hours Agency.
Nevertheless, costs add up quickly. Lighting, decor, music, security, paid talent (hosts, celebrities or influencers), and transportation often need to be accounted for as well. “Those ‘extras’ can triple the cost very quickly,” said Schwartz.
What’s more, their placement within an already jam-packed schedule can make these parties less than appealing for regular showgoers.
“I don’t hate them, but I wouldn’t say that I’m ever excited for them, either,” said Lindsay Peoples, the fashion market editor for The Cut. She noted that, while they may be fun for influencers who can come and go to shows as they please, they’re more tedious for those who, like her, are juggling shows with writing and advertiser meetings. “It can be exhausting to be ‘on’ all day and all night,” she added. “The day is so hectic that, by 6 p.m., I want a cheeseburger, a glass of wine and to be left alone.”
“There is a lot of noise during fashion week, and everyone is competing to have the right crowd and celebs at their events,” said an industry events planner, who has worked with the likes of Refinery29. “In order to have an event that is successful, it has to stand out from the rest — otherwise, it’s just a potential option on a long list of parties that night.”
Schwartz agrees. “I always advise brands to throw parties when there is actually something to celebrate, or something newsworthy or interesting happening, and not just because it’s fashion week.”
Celebrating a launch or a new collaboration can be worthwhile, they all agreed. And milestones are OK, if you truly have the funds.
Whether or not those expenses pay off comes down to the brand’s end goal, which, more often than not, is traditional press coverage: on a publication’s website or in print. “It’s unlikely that the cost is worth any coverage that may result,” said Schwartz, who added that, unless you’re a major designer, publications are unlikely to cover these parties. “When they do, it usually needs to be exclusive content.”
Consumers and readers are simply not that interested in events that have already happened, especially when they can follow along as it happens. “The social community can follow a party in real time and not have to wait until the following day to read about it,” Schwartz said.
That organic buzz can create some nice but fleeting brand awareness. “A few sporadic posts does little to create meaningful engagement,” Schwartz said. “It needs to be widely covered on social feeds, which few brands are able to garner.”
Those parties that are still covered intermittently by sites like WWD and Vogue.com require a star-studded guest list of celebrities, influencers, and industry tastemakers that can be pricey and difficult to guarantee. Although some of the top-tier brands often have close relationships with A-listers who will attend on their own volition, the majority of them are paying these people in some form, all sources agreed. “It’s not always a formal or visible transaction. Often, talent is compensated for their time through offers of trade, clothing budgets and first-class travel,” said Schwartz.
And, whether influencers show up or not, the remaining crowd that’s pulled in can easily slide into off-brand territory, said the PR veteran. “There’s nothing worse than having to do damage control over a photo from the event featuring an unwanted personality that does not at all reflect the brand messaging,” she said, noting that some luxury brand events she’s worked on have unwillingly ended up in the Daily Mail and New York Post. “A party may get those press hits, but they’re not always the most reputable.”
Brands who are smart, even those with endless funds, would do well to think twice about squeezing themselves onto the busy fashion week calendar. “Brands feel that if they are going to do something, then fashion week is when they should do it. It’s that ‘if they jump, I jump’ mentality,” said the events planner. “But it’s more buzz-worthy to go against the norm and hold events outside of that week.”