Sunday, 7 September 2008

Fashion Week squabbles

So it's fashion week circus time again. New York has kicked off the Spring/Summer 09 collections preview as usual this weekend, but it's going to be handbags at dawn next week with an emergency fashion week summit where the major players from the Big Four cities are flying into London to discuss "moving the dates around". Changing times ahead perhaps?

The problem apparently is that New York designers are complaining that their early September launch date is... well, too early - to produce the collections on time for the merry-go-round of shows and media attention, and presumably ahead of the real selling season when buyers place orders over the next few weeks. My first question is: can't they start earlier in order to finish earlier?

The US isn't like Europe where in fashion-land you can forget about getting anything done in the month of August because everyone is on their 'olidaze. Ditto Christmas time, which in the States is a mere couple of days off during the Holiday period. That aside I remember when New York was last on the four-city schedule (a decade ago) and complained so much that they were being accused of copying the more avant-garde European designers resulting in New York being bumped to first out, just so they could prove they have some original designs. How times have changed. Would they like to go last again? No the heavy-weights of US branding /fashion design and their governing body, the CFDA of which legendary designer Diane Von Furstenberg is chairman, are proposing that they move their dates back by a week so encroaching on London Fashion Week's traditional period by at least two valuable days. This is compounded by the "non-negotiable" helpfulness of Milan and Paris scheduling, who are refusing to budge. So London suffers with less time to show its array of up and coming talent which is kind of the problem - not enough heavy-weights to shout loud enough. There is the real risk that the few major international buyers and press that do come to London to support LFW and its focus on new talent will just skip it and go straight to Milan if time is tight.

Still it's a merry-go-round for a reason and designers come and go. Luella, Alice Temperley and fashion queen Vivienne Westwood are back in London on their home turf, mostly because they don't have to try too hard anymore. Preen, Matthew Williamson and now Jonathan Saunders are in New York making their name because they are still chasing the big bucks the US has to offer. (Saunders has followed the well travelled designer path of doing the chic thing and producing a GO International cheap n chic range for mass market retailer Target - in-stores this month).

Gareth Pugh (on the cover of Dazed & Confused this month to celebrate his Paris debut) is the latest British talent to have flown the nest over to Paris because the City of Lights is about as important as New York these days and he will join the likes of fellow Brits Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan who have decamped there for good.

However there is positivity in all this fashionable squabbling. London is increasingly recognised as the number one destination for sourcing new talent. Not least thanks to the sponsorship opportunities that the British Fashion Council and the likes of Topshop's New Gen initiative offer young designers in the capital. It's an interesting place to be for Von Furstenberg who financially backs one of London's hottest young designers: Nathan Jenden (A/W 08 pictured). I'm sure his runway slot will be secured among other crowd pulling names. And I'm also sure that London's edgy new designers will be resourceful enough to find a way around the conflicting schedules. Hot names to watch this season include Charles Anastase, Modernist, Peter Pilotto, Meadham Kirchoff, Poltock & Walsh, Louise Goldin and last year's Fashion Fringe winners Aminaka Wilmont. Yes we may have more shows crammed into less days but as long as organisers are sensible with venues and timings and mindful of clashing designers' wishes, it will still be a case of the more the merrier. And despite some heavyweights throwing their fashion might around London will live to fight another day. Especially for its 25th anniversary come February 09!

PS Eric Wilson has a good point in his New York Times article: The Sun Never Sets on the Runway in that every month there is a fashion week around the world from January through December, so take your pick from the bikinis of Sao Paulo to the furs of St Petersburg and if you're really lucky you may even find a Borat in Kazakhstan.

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