New York Fashion Week doesn’t officially wrap until tomorrow night. But with today marking the 20th anniversary of September 11, crowds have tapered, venues have quieted, and events have been streamlined, compared to earlier in the week.
On what is a painful day for many Americans every year — let alone an anniversary year, and during a pandemic — it seems that many designers deemed hosting an event focused on relatively frivolous fashion to be in poor taste.
Others in the fashion industry clearly thought so. On August 30, the New York Times’ fashion director and critic Vanessa Friedman tweeted, “I just got an invitation to a fashion week party in NY on September 11 of this pandemic year. The combination of all those words in one sentence leaves me speechless.” Comments from her followers and fellow industry insiders poured in: “On the 20th anniversary, no less.” “Textbook #fashun at its most.” “How soon people forget.”
For some, the show has gone on: Rachel Comey, Anna Sui, Rodarte, Jonathan Simkhai and Thom Browne are among the established brands hosting IRL presentations. It was expected that most would incorporate a means of recognizing the impact of the attack or paying their respects to the lives lost. However, as of 3 p.m., Glossy hadn’t seen or heard about such efforts.
For its part, as part of its NYFW: The Talks series, IMG will team with Harper’s Bazaar for a panel-centered event at 4 p.m. titled, “Resilience & Remembrance: New York 20 years after 9/11.” But it’s also advertising that a cocktail party will immediately follow.
Throughout the day, fashion brands, retailers and editors have taken to social media to memorialize 9/11, mostly through Instagram posts featuring the Twin Towers. They’ve included John Varvatos, Pieter Mulier, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, among others. Meanwhile, Saks Fifth Avenue emailed its shoppers, encouraging them to donate to the Never Forget Fund and announcing that it’s “investing in the next 20 years of lower Manhattan” via a $1 million donation to the Perelman Performing Arts Center.
Some, like Elle editor-in-chief Nina Garcia, posted about what they experienced on the morning of 9/11, which was set to kick off an NYFW day like any other.
In Glossy’s five-plus years reporting on the evolution of the fashion industry, we’ve spoken with several industry veterans who were working New York Fashion Week on September 11 and were open to sharing their memories with our readers. Below are a couple that we’ve compiled, stated in their own words.
“September 11  was probably my most memorable [fashion week] moment, and for all the wrong reasons: One morning, running all the way to fashion week, and having to go backstage to three different shows that were setting up and tell people that there’s been a terrorist act on New York City — that they better take their things and go home and be with their loved ones, and we’re not going to be putting on fashion shows. People were looking at me like I was crazy. Dealing with that horror and watching the hoards of people walking down 7th Avenue was the worst time of our lives.” –Fern Mallis, former executive director of the CFDA and vp of IMG fashion; co-founder of 7th on Sixth, which became NYFW
“We were [working at Bryant Park] on 9/11. I remember it like it was the other day. We actually heard the plane go over. Then we had a couple of our guards coming in from Staten Island who had to call and say, ‘They closed the bridges.’ They were rehearsing the Oscar de la Renta show, and myself and my boss and Oscar’s bodyguard were standing backstage with [Oscar], and my boss got a phone call, like, ‘What happened?’ From that moment on, all the stories started rolling out. It was the craziest day at fashion week, bar none” –Mike Carney, an ex-NYPD cop and 25-year NYFW security team supervisor
Today, Glossy remembers those who lost their lives and all who’ve been impacted by the horrific attacks of 9/11.
IMG Fashion’s Josh Glass on fashioning NYFW: The Talks for the moment
In June, after spending nearly a decade in editor roles at publications including L’Officiel and CR Fashion Book, Josh Glass joined IMG Fashion at Endeavor as its executive editorial director. His first task: programming NYFW’s first IRL expert panels in more than a year. Called The Talks, these formal discussions have been hosted at Spring Studios throughout the week. And they’ve worked to drive buzz, thanks to their timely subject matter and influential panelists representing a diverse array of backgrounds.
“There wasn’t really a guide to follow; it was just about seeing what made sense,” Glass said, during a Zoom call on Tuesday. “The overall theme of this New York Fashion Week is about celebrating New York and its communities, so I wanted each panel to speak to different points of view.”
A panel on reinvigorating New York’s fashion economy kicked off the week. Other standouts Glass called out were “My American Dream,” featuring a discussion on the experiences of immigrants in the fashion industry, and “Representation and Identity in the Fashion Image,” on “diversity and the current change inside the fashion system.” Both will take place on Sunday.
Booked panelists range from TikTok influencer Tinx to Isolde Brielmaier, the deputy director of the New Museum and a professor at NYU.
“The whole point of the Talks is to extend the fashion point of view to other cultural aspects,” Glass said, pointing to an interior design-focused panel featuring Christian Siriano, among others. “[Siriano’s] a trained fashion designer, but he’s also a huge home aficionado.”
The incorporation of The Talks plays into the notion that NYFW is mid a transition from being exclusive and runway-focused to being a multi-faceted festival that’s open to the public. That’s not farfetched, according to Glass.
“Unlike fashion weeks abroad, New York Fashion Week is centralized. So there’s opportunity for more activity and more engagement — there’s definitely more room to grow, in that aspect,” he said. “And post-pandemic, people are just really excited to educate and engage, and have fun and see what’s new.”
On the education front, “people are much more open to experimentation” since the start of the pandemic, Glass said. Therefore, they want to know what their colleagues are doing, in terms of their business models and their marketing campaigns, for example. “Brandon Maxwell’s made a YouTube series a [marketing] vehicle for his collection,” Glass said, noting that Maxwell’s YouTube strategy was set to be a talking point during Saturday’s Talk on “The New Digital Landscape.”
As for how IMG is handling the “Resilience & Remembrance” event on late Saturday afternoon, Glass said that “the overall sentiment will be respectful.” During the event, the company will announce a T-shirt collaboration with Timothy Goodman. One-hundred percent of the proceeds will go to the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s Never Forget Fund.
The NYFW pivot to catering to consumers
Over the past week, designers have shown that they’re shifting their efforts to cater to their end shopper rather than simply do what fashion brands have traditionally done. Below two designers describe their take on the trend.
Designer Tadashi Shoji on choosing a video over a runway show
On Tuesday, ahead of the launch of his spring 2022 collection video, titled “Return to Parties,” Tadashi Shoji said that runway shows no longer make sense for his 39-year-old brand. His last IRL show took place in February 2020, ahead of the pandemic.
“Runways are financially very hard,” he said, though noted that his company’s 2021 sales have surpassed 2019 levels. “They’re great, but they’re just models and music. With video, which is easier to create, we can tell more of a story — and anyone can see it and understand.” What’s more, he said, as the company sells to buyers and consumers internationally, a New York runway is too limited in its reach.
Tadashi Shoji also used a video to show its last collection, for fall 2021. Its latest is more focused on the details of each style, based on feedback from the brand’s shoppers.
The company is currently in a good place, as it was set up to sell via e-commerce long before the pandemic, he said. Its product pages feature videos of each style, along with still imagery. And, thanks to the brand’s next-level focus on fit, its online return ratio has consistently been low. In addition, it’s built up its customer service team to assist its customers who are new to buying online. And, for years, it’s sold at BHLDN, which has always done a majority of its business via e-commerce.
But Tadashi Shoji is gearing up to further invest in its e-commerce capabilities, especially as international markets are sure to follow the U.S. in selling wedding dresses online. The brand’s biggest market is the U.S., but it also sells in Canada, South America and the Middle East.
Shoji admitted that it may be “wishful thinking,” but he said he thinks a Roaring ’20s-style atmosphere is still on the way. “Everyone wants to be happy and be together,” he said. “People are partying again and ready to live a joyful life.”
For its part, Tadashi Shoji’s bridal business is booming, he said. And all of its dresses — though not flapper-style shifts — are “easy to wear.”
“They feature happy colors and prints. And you can dance in them,” he said.
Designer LaQuan Smith on his move to see-now, buy-now
Ahead of his Thursday night runway show, LaQuan Smith discussed selling his collection off the runway via Afterpay and hosting the first-ever fashion show at the Empire State building.
On selling via see-now-buy-now
“People want instant gratification; when they want something, they want it right then and there. I have experience partnering with Moda Operandi, and people place orders for things they see on the runway that they won’t get for 3-6 months. So now, I’m bridging that gap. I’m partnering with Afterpay — so they can buy what they want and also pay it off over time; we can really fulfill their needs.
I really don’t have any expectations [in terms of sales]. I’ve been really surprised to see the way women have shopped during the pandemic. I had no idea where they were going in catsuits, but it was fabulous to know that [catsuits] were selling out. And I’m open and optimistic to see what people are going to gravitate to within this new collection.”
On the IRL vs. URL fashion show experience
“There’s nothing more exciting and exhilarating than being able to see the fabrics move and drape, and the way the fabrics hold the body, and the manipulations of fabrics and the wind, and all of that. It’s a true, true ambiance that people experience at the show. But the luxury of watching it online is still an experience. Back in the day, we didn’t have that; you had to rely on photos or you had to be in the building. Being able to livestream it is fabulous. And people should be ready at home with their Moet and their popcorn, and be ready to shop.”
On hosting a runway show at the Empire State Building
“I wanted to do something that was really splashy and that [celebrated] the return of fashion week — and what better place to do it than at the Empire State Building? It really, truly represents the strength of New York City. And we’re in a time where we’re coming out of quarantine, and people are able to hang out and dine out and come together again, and I’m really excited by that. When I walked into the Empire State Building, it set the tone for what we needed to do, in terms of the brand and elevating it.”
On the evolution of his aesthetic
“Whenever you walk into the house of Laquan Smith, you’re walking into this idea of being unapologetically sexy and glamorous. I’m excited to continue to reinforce what it means to be a confident woman. My brand DNA and that showmanship never change. I just keep amplifying everything I stand for.”
On what women want now
“She wants to get back out there, and she’s ready to show off her body that she’s been working on by going to the gym and living a healthy lifestyle. Women want to get dressed up again, whether they want to wear a thigh-high slit or a backless dress. She wants to get glamorous, she wants to look sexy — and that is why I’m here.”
Friday evening’s shows were crawling with “The Bachelor” contestants — specifically those from Matt James’ season. Cynthia Rowley’s daughter, Kit Keenan, walked the runway with the designer during her show’s finale. Minutes later, Rachael Kirkconnell was seen making a lap around the Alice + Olivia presentation at Highline Stages.
“Have you ever worked in a real fashion closet? It’s still very 2005. You’re very dispensable, the editors don’t know your name, you’re in the closet until midnight every night. At least Covid got me out of doing that job. I’m a writer.” –a young showgoer at Cynthia Rowley