Since early December, a number of big-name designers have announced they’re taking their runway shows — traditionally slated for New York Fashion Week — to Los Angeles for the season. However, contrary to what the trend suggests, that’s not to say the City of Angels is posing any sort of threat to NYC. The industry is based in New York, the fashion month calendar is full and L.A. Fashion Week is not only confusing, it’s inconvenient.
Tommy Hilfiger was first to make his move public, followed by Rachel Zoe, Rebecca Minkoff and eventually Rachel Comey. Some of their motivation likely stemmed from Tom Ford’s buzzed-about L.A-based spring 2015 presentation (which was timed to coincide with the Oscars; Ford is rumored to be showing in Los Angeles again this month), but each presented a different reason for their switch: For instance, Hilfiger told WWD his “casual, cool, chic” collection feels made for Venice Beach, while Zoe said she wants her show to have a more intimate vibe.
“What I think is happening is designers are taking a clear-eyed view of their shows and saying, ‘Does the current structure of the ready-to-wear system serve my purposes?” said Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times’ fashion director. “[Several] who answered that question in the negative said, ‘OK, what would work for me?’ And the answer was Los Angeles: Rebecca because she’s opening a store there; Tom because – he was quite open about this — he wanted his show to be for his customers, not for the critics.”
However, what some find to be a solve may be a problem for many in the industry who have grown accustomed to the fashion calendar, and the convenience, practicality and notoriety of the longstanding fashion week events. Hightailing it to unfamiliar venues across the U.S. reads like a chore. In fact, even Los Angeles-based designers are continuing to set their stage at New York Fashion Week— including Jeremy Scott, Tadashi Shoji and Monique Lhuillier — thus contributing to the notion that a mass upheaval is merely hype.
Los Angeles is (usually) too far removed.
To start, in order for shows to be both successful and far removed from the bulk of the industry, which is us in NYC, they have to be one of three things: either consumer-targeted, backed by a big brand or centered on a unique opportunity.
For one, they could be targeted at consumers versus professionals, including (and seemingly limited to) shows featuring see-now-buy-now collections. For example, a new fan of the trendy concept of showing readily shoppable looks (his see-now-buy-now lineup featured in his carnival-themed “Tommy Pier” show in September reportedly drove a double-digit boost in sales over the same period the year prior and a 900 percent traffic increase on tommy.com), Tommy Hilfiger relocating to Los Angeles seems like a fun change of pace, rather than risky business. Shoppers can shop the looks they love, and big buyers don’t need to be there.
“For brands who have had a longstanding presence in New York and are New York–based brands, it’s exciting for them to go to L.A. and do something a little differently, with that West Coast lens,” said Dana Schwartz, vice president of fashion at Wetherly Group, a PR agency with headquarters in both New York and L.A.
If an L.A.-based show doesn’t feature a see-now-buy-now collection, it had better be put on by a designer with the means to make extensive arrangements. According to the Joint Economic Committee’s The New Economy of Fashion report in 2016, New York City is home to 183,000 fashion industry workers, while L.A. employs just 99,000. In short, all the necessary resources simply aren’t there.
“Showing on the West Coast seems to make the most sense for bigger brands who can afford to fly out the teams, the talent, the staffing and potentially even the guests. Smaller brands and up-and-coming designers can’t afford to move their entire production to L.A.,” Schwartz said.
Steven Kolb, the president and CEO of the CFDA, called out a third type of L.A. show that can make sense: one that’s built on a unique opportunity, like a see-now-buy-now collection connected to an event, like the Oscars or a store opening. In these cases, celebrities are typically present, which can build immediate buzz, driving sales on the scene and social engagement worldwide.
Currently, there aren’t enough of these “workable” L.A. shows to make an impact: See-now-buy-now is still the exception to the rule, big designers are rarely flying in their entourages and designers — Rebecca Minkoff excluded — are failing to stir up far-reaching excitement by getting creative with their shows.
“L.A. is a creative city and a great location for designers to show collections,” Kolb said, adding that fashion weeks globally are changing to be more fluid with designers traveling their shows. However, for a city like L.A. to become a prime stop for designers, it’s going to take time.
You can’t add another week to fashion month.
Fashion month, as it stands, is a biannual event composed of consecutive fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris — the fall 2017 month officially launches on February 8 and concludes on March 8. For those following it and covering it, the schedule can be grueling — and adding shows to the front or backend of the month in yet another city seems absurd.
“Nothing would be worthy of adding another week to the fashion calendar,” said Friedman. “We could have 365 days worth of fashion weeks — there are pretty much fashion weeks going on in the world every single week of the year. But there won’t be a fifth week [tagged onto] fashion month; with the fashion system evolving, there will more likely be fewer shows and shows happening in different places, or shows happening online, or people making movies.”
This season in L.A., Rebecca Minkoff showed her collection on February 4 (at The Grove, an outdoor mall owned by Rick Caruso, an acquaintance of Minkoff’s), Rachel Zoe’s show is slated for February 6 and Tommy Hilfiger’s show will take place on February 7. In other words, not one of L.A.’s new show transplants is part of the city’s fashion weeks that follow fashion month. To note: Friedman has no plans to flit to L.A. for any show this season.
Rebecca Minkoff’s February 4 fashion show at The Grove in Los Angeles.
The L.A.-based fashion weeks work against the production cycle.
Earlier this year, when Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte announced they would be shifting their ready-to-wear runway shows to the Paris couture schedule, they said that it was because it would allow them to get a jump on production: Ready-to-wear shows are in February and September, while Paris couture shows are in January and July. As they stand, L.A. Fashion Weeks take place after the last official week on the fashion month calendar — which can force the designers who participate to get a later start on the cycle than their counterparts.
“Whether that messes with a [designer’s] production cycle really depends if you’re primarily a wholesale business or a retail business, and what percentage of your sales are spring/summer versus pre-collections,” said Friedman. “There are a lot of considerations.”
Los Angeles Fashion Week is its own beast.
From 2003 to 2008, IMG hosted Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Los Angeles — it took place at Smashbox Studios. The shows featured collections by designers who catered to L.A.’s signature laid-back vibe, including Christian Audigier, Morphine Generation and Frankie B., and their front rows were filled with socialites and reality stars, from Paris Hilton to Brody Jenner. It was an unusual fashion week, for sure, but it gained a following. (In total, it brought in $50 million for the city, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.) Since, four different events have picked up where it left off: Style Fashion Week, which takes place during L.A. Fashion Week (March 9-12), Fashion Week Los Angeles (March 12-15) and Art Hearts Fashion Week (March 14-18).
The cast of “The Hills” at a Fall 2008 L.A. Fashion Week show.
Like many designers used to revealing collections in New York, Raquel Allegra — an L.A.-based designer who is showing in Los Angeles this season for the first time in eight years — is foregoing the organized options: “I’m showing during NYFW dates, not LAFW,” she said. Her show will be “an intimate experience,” held in her new flagship and attended by the press and local clients. “Knowing that the press would more likely be in town for several other presentations sealed the deal,” she said.
According to Allegra, the industry finally seems to be embracing L.A.’s distinct vibe. “There’s something in the isolation of L.A. that I believe feeds personal creativity and self-expression over competition,” she said. “It’s a unique approach to a competitive business.” And it’s refreshing — but Angelenos can rest easy: L.A. is still a long way from competing with NYC.