Bill McComb Explains The Benefits of a Reinvented New York Fashion Week


Aveda Fashion Week 2014

It’s not just about the numbers; Fashion Week is essential to showcase American designers’ innovation and creativity, Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. CEO William McComb explains.  That said, as the industry questions the utility of NYFW, there are ways the event could be reinvented, streamlined, and generally improved. Bill McComb looks at some of the big ideas that could be implemented to update the institution.

This article, Don’t Kill Fashion Week — Reinvent It!, is reprinted in full with permission from LinkedIn, where it originally appeared.

Is Fashion Week near the end of its runway, recently asked The New York Times’ Eric Wilson? Other insiders are making a similar case. It’s too long, and happens too often: running over a period of weeks every September and February, in NY, Milan, London and Paris. The productions are too expensive, exclusive, and elusive. And worse, they have little to do with actually selling clothing. Yet contrary to the critics, the shows are as important to the business of fashion as the Academy Awards are to the business of the silver screen.

Above all, Fashion Week is a time and place to showcase vision. For those that haven’t attended the spectacle, it isn’t a venue like a trade show — which other industries use to celebrate news, trends and upcoming innovations that will rock the businesses or the players. And part of its charm is its inefficiency. Hours of transportation, waiting, queuing and jockeying for shows that last just a few minutes. And distressingly often start late.

Yet what is shown and seen on these catwalks is essential. It inspires designers everywhere; it subtly steers culture and attitudes; and it sets the direction for the entire industry. Extremes are tested, poles are established. Not literally, of course. Few things leap from the stages to the stores. And to many in finance, the unquantifiable math of the return on investment–the incalculable impact — is flummoxing.

That is not to say Fashion Week couldn’t and shouldn’t be improved, but rather that a hard-nosed look at the numbers, green-eye shades on, isn’t the answer. Fashion Week, in fact, needs to go further in the direction of imagination and creativity, embracing the new and unexpected.

Despite many shows adopting digital production elements, technology needs to be put to work to modernize the essential concept of how the “Week” is pulled off. Right now, it is too disparate, too many moving parts on potentially conflicting times and days, not to mention coordination with major events in London, Paris and Milan. Plus the recent rise in the streaming of individual shows fragments the core audience, making it harder for designers to get their due. The Academy Awards, for example, takes place in a single venue, on a single evening, and adds up to more programming time than all of Fashion Week put together.

At the same time, cost and logistical challenges make shows very hard to pull off — since designers and ateliers often have to foot enormous bills. Only the most experienced, most proven designers, with sound financial backing, can compete, shutting out new talent at what should be a great stage for the fresh and bold.

Fashion Week needs reinvention. It’s a perfect opportunity for innovators to come up with big ideas to 1) reach more of the world instantaneously and simultaneously; 2) unleash designers’ creativity via animation, film, 3-D printing and interactivity; and 3) drive the discovery of new designers.

The bigger question is how and who will step up to the above and change the paradigm of Fashion Week(s), reconciling the absurdities of it all and ensuring it continues to play a vibrant and essential role in fashion and culture.

Are you up to the challenge?