With the summer 2013 edition of Fashion Week Las Vegas firmly in our rear view mirrors, New York Fashion Week upon us, and some time to reflect, it's time to put it all in context. Let's start with New York, which created the impetus for all of this.
Fashion Week in New York began over 70 years ago in a small way, as a means to bring fashion into view within the mainstream press. In that regard it has been wildly successful, spawning not only hundreds of annual articles about Fashion Week itself, but creating fashion journalism as an important part of the national and international media. In a single New York Fashion Week season there can be as many as 350 shows, by designers who range from media darlings to folks you have never heard of.
But that very success brings with it a number of serious problems. Designers have been under heavy criticisms for racial bias, use of very young and very slim models. But a problem not often remarked on is the difficulty new designers have getting noticed during New York Fashion Week. “Off site” (meaning “not at or near Lincoln Center”) shows by emerging designers have trouble attracting attention from the most important audiences: fashion journalists and buyers. In some shows there are few to none of those.
Fashion Weeks in other cities provide an alternative, and have avoided most of the problems that are so heavily criticized in New York. Which brings us back to Fashion Week Las Vegas. The extremes were nowhere to be found: the models were almost all greater than size zero, and minorities were represented in abundance. And it provided a central venue where buyers, members of the press and the public could see a range of designers who otherwise would have trouble gaining that sort of attention by themselves. In all probability, most of them got more attention in Las Vegas than they would have at New York Fashion Week.
In addition, Fashion Week Las Vegas does some things that are not common in Fashion Weeks around the globe. They acknowledge the hair and makeup artists who work backstage – something never done in New York. They have a contest for emerging models, including valuable prizes and signing the winners with one of the premier Las Vegas fashion modeling agencies. And they publish a glossy free program, given out to attendees, that not only features the designers, but the models as well. The “Fashion Week” is more than that – it is also a community networking and exposure opportunity for local talent.
Thursday, August 22 brought all of this into focus. Five international designers presented their couture, “red carpet” collections. The designs ranged from the luxurious and richly textured silk dresses of Uzbekistan's Nina Pilipiuk, to the chic, elegant “Cherry Life” collection of ANVI by Ukrainian designer Viktoriya Khomenets. O'Blanc by Olga Blanc, all the way from Chisinau, Moldova, presented a new, fresh and flirty line of gowns; Chalina Couture of France showed a decidedly couture line of gowns. The group was rounded out by the prolific Alexander Vinash of Spain, who completed his tour de force of presenting eye-catching designs in each of the categories featured in this Fashion Week.
All of these designers had made the choice of being relatively large fish in the much smaller pond of Las Vegas, rather than getting swallowed up and ignored in the shark tank of New York Fashion Week.
One more comment about the cultural differences between the major fashion weeks and Fashion Week Las Vegas. In the larger cities and major fashion shows the attendees are all members of the fashion press, fashion buyers, celebrities who come to be noticed and written about, and guests invited by the designer. The show is “an event”. Contrast that to the shows in Las Vegas. Local celebrities like Holly Madison showed up without seeking attention, and were observed approaching some of the designers and exchanging contact information, not just looking for a photo op. At every one of the evening shows one or more young, aspiring model was in the audience, showing her book around, seeking out people who had more experience in the business to get advice from – and getting it. On Thursday one of those was 14 year old Katherine Juarez, all five foot eight and size zero of her. She did what so many of the others did: pose at the end of the runway between shows for keepsake snapshots, talking to others in the crowd, learning from what the models did on the runway. And, just to make her day a little more memorable, one of the designers saw her, bought her backstage, gave her a gown to wear, and let her walk in the finale of the show.
That doesn't happen in New York.