Are Designers Finally Over the Runway Show?

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illustration by Stephanie Jones

Tom Ford won’t be showing his SS16 collection on a runway. Instead, according to a spokesperson, he is “planning on something different and special.” Join the club.

Matt Scanlan, ceo of the New York-based, socially conscious cashmere brand Naadam hosted his first New York Fashion Week presentation this past February. “I was so happy, I almost started crying,” Scanlan said of the event, which marked the label’s foray into the serious-fashion realm.

But it’s September now, and Scanlan and his partners decided to showcase their Spring 2016 menswear collection a little differently. Instead of hosting a formal presentation, they’re going to plaster a 46-foot-long, 8-foot-tall strip of look book images onto a stretch of scaffolding directly facing Milk Studios, a popular New York Fashion Week show venue.

On Saturday, Scanlan plans on parking himself on the sidewalk, equipped with a cooler full of Dom Perignon. Naadam has invited editors and buyers to stop by during a block of time in the afternoon, but the hope is that those who mightn’t have been able to attend—or have never heard of Naddam—will be compelled to say hello and have a glass of champagne. It gives Scanlan a chance to familiarize new faces with the not-for-profit brand, which directly supports its cashmere source: Mongolia’s nomadic goat herders.

It’s also a way for Naadam to stand out in the middle of a jam-packed week. No one wants to miss a runway show, presentation, party, or dinner, not to mention the dozens of appointments, meetings with sources in from out of town, “re-sees” of runway collections (you get to see the wares close up). Sometimes Fashion Week can feel like FOMO Week.

Runway shows, however, take up more time than anything else. And they surely generate the most resentment. That’s why it’s refreshing when a brand decides to ditch the format in favor of something that makes things easier for everyone involved.  

Nanette Lepore is one of many changing things up. The New York-based designer has been presenting two runway shows a year since 1998. “When I first started runway, we experienced major growth from that,” Lepore says. However, as her business matured and her buyers came to buy regardless of when and where she showed, “It became more about the drama than the commerce.  

So, for the Spring 2016 season, Lepore is hosting a party instead. “I wanted to do something that was more of a happening,” she explains. “Something where people would want to just come and hang out.” The designer took the concept a step further than most, though.

To make it a true “happening,” she’ll be shooting her spring look book during the event. Hair and makeup stations will be set up in the room so that partygoers can see models prep, and Lepore will reveal a series of collaborations alongside her new wares. (Including one with Eddie Eddie by Billy Tommy, maker of irreverent t-shirts, and another with artist Stefan Eins.) “We’ve always fantasized about having this great, fun party,” says the designer. “I just think there is a feeling amongst a lot of people in fashion that it’s time for designers to get free of the fashion cycle and its intensity.”

There are plenty of other designers doing their part to break up the dense schedule: Misha Nonoo is hosting her show on Instagram, while designer Kaelen Haworth is forgoing NYFW to present her collection in October; British designer Zoë Jordan will host a digital fashion show on pr agency KCD's virtual platform, rather than staging a physical presentation. In fact, the consensus these days that if you don’t have to do a runway show, why would you? An infographic recently posted on Twitter by the team behind the American Fashion podcast, titled “How to Prepare for a Runway Show,” suggests that pretty much no one should stage a catwalk:

The idea: If you’re not as big/important of a designer as Marc Jacobs, or you’re not cool enough to be beloved by Vogue or any other fashion authority, then the ROI on a runway show is minimal. “DON’T LET YOUR EGO RUIN YOUR BUSINESS,” it says.

It’s a fair point, one that even more designers should consider. On the other hand, fashion is not—despite reports to the contrary—a dictatorship. If someone wants to stage a runway, that’s their right. And if they can pull it off in an interesting way, a way that makes their brand pop on social media, then good on them.

After all, there’s nothing as alluring to a designer than seeing your clothes in lights. “I don’t think we’d ever want to skip fashion week,” says Scanlon. “Everybody is here, why miss that opportunity?” Lepore agrees, and says she can see herself returning to the runway as well. “I love this idea, but I can see myself going back to runway,” she says. “I’m sure I’ll miss it.”