Erin Fetherston’s FW14 presentation.
Starting tomorrow, hundreds of fashion brands will introduce their Fall 2015 collections to the world at New York Fashion Week. There are two traditional ways in which designers showcase their wares: fashion shows, complete with models walking the runway, showing a seated audience the new collection. And presentations, in which models stand in one place or an hour or so and guests can come and go as they please.
Which option a brand pursues is often dependant on its level of establishment and experience within the fashion community. For young brands, the transition of going from a presentation to a show is a big one. A show often involves a larger creative vision, significantly more money, and enough of an editorial and retail following to warrant such an expense. In the past, emerging brands like Tory Burch and Marchesa have made the leap from presentation to show with great success—both labels become household names that host grand-scale, theatrical productions. But brands should not take such a decision lightly. As the saying goes, designers only get one chance to make a first impression, lest they suffer embarrassing reviews and an empty front row.
“It does a designer a great disservice to take to the runway before a collection is ready and the designer is prepared,” said Ken Downing, fashion director at Neiman Marcus, who sees over 100 shows each season in New York. “Sometimes the quality isn’t what it needs to be, the breadth of the collection is not what it needs to be, the styling is not as sophisticated as it needs to be to stand up to the multitude of shows that we, as fashion retailers, see each season.”
Designer Tanya Taylor took to the runway for her Spring 2014 collection, having produced three presentations in the past. The designer, whose clothing is sold at Saks Fifth Avenue and Intermix, has a loyal fan base ranging from Harley Viera Newton to First Lady Michelle Obama. Young tastemakers can often give an up-and-coming brand the buzz it needs to make the switch. “I wanted to see the collection move and felt a runway format would enhance the story I wanted to tell,” said Ms. Taylor, who is known for her punchy prints and bright colors. “Seeing how a woman walks in each piece is very important, since it highlights the collection in a way presentations can have difficulty doing.”
A presentation is certainly less forgiving, Ms. Taylor admits. “Once a model walks out on a runway, there is no room for error,” she said. “In a presentation, if you see a collar out of place, you can move it. Every detail can be scrutinized and edited.”
This season, Jonathan Simkhai will stage his first runway show on February 12. The designer has been hosting presentations for the last five seasons at MADE Fashion Week, a platform for smaller brands held at Milk Studios. He will also host his show there. “After several years of doing presentations, it felt like a ‘now or never’ moment,” said Mr. Simkhai. “A show provides an opportunity to portray the full story of the collection in special and interactive way, as well as include the full realm of categories and capture the life of the clothes as they move down the runway.”
Rarely does a fashion brand reverse from show back to presentation, but it has happened. Erin Fetherston has been bouncing back and forth over the last four seasons. Last fall she returned to the runway after a series of presentations, telling Style.com, “I was looking at old videos of my shows, and feeling nostalgia for how beautiful things are in motion. I wanted to see the models bring them to life again.”
Designer Elie Tahari’s last runway show was during the Fall 2011 season at Lincoln Center. He has been staging presentations at his Fifth Avenue headquarters ever since. “I wanted to create something that felt more intimate and personal,” said Mr. Tahari. “Showing the clothes for an hour gives everyone the chance to come at their leisure, enjoy a drink, and take their time to look at the collection up close.”
Most editors and retailers seem to prefer presentations, at least for emerging or sportswear-based brands. Such intimacy is a benefit for new designers to communicate their brand vision. “People can get up close to the clothes and you can have conversations one-on-one with people regarding the clothes,” said Tome designer Ryan Lobo.
Nonetheless, Mr. Lobo and his partner Ramon Martin staged their first runway show last fall. And who could blame them? While presentations may be more cost-effective and convenient for show-goers, who can take in multiple presentations in the time span of one runway show, there is nothing quite like the glamour of the runway.
“It’s a major moment in their career, where they get to carry out the fantasy of creating a show,” said Mr. Downing. “Every designer dreams of that.”