CFDA CEO Steven Kolb on the Decentralization of New York Fashion Week: Men’s
Before we dive into New York Fashion Week: Men’s—America’s showcase for the future of men’s fashion—we like to pregame with Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), which organizes the event. Kolb helps us get the lay of the land. We appreciate him for that, because while the biannual bustle of runway shows and presentations in Manhattan is always inspiring, it’s a lot to take in.
In advance of this season during which designers will show their 2018 fall and winter collections, we talked about how NYFW:M currently exists in a state of flux. Men’s and women’s designers are showing during the same time period (men’s February 5-8, women’s February 8-16). That’s new. But what does it mean? And what does it mean when Kolb says NYFW:M has become “decentralized”?
We also spoke about the evolution of Fashion Week as a spectacle on social media (versus its old purpose as a marketplace for our buyers), and why the CFDA has lately found itself promoting not just fashion designers showing in New York—but New York City itself.
SHOP: Men’s Designer
So much is new this Fashion Week. What’s the big story to you—the combination of men’s and women’s Fashion Weeks in New York City?
I would say that is a big part of the story. It’s interesting because while it wasn’t intentional—it really just happened because of calendars, and dates, and how it fell together—it does have relevance in how Fashion Weeks globally are becoming more combined, and how brands are showing men’s and women’s together. It was a coincidence that reflects brands’ thinking about showing collections. It’s going to be great to see women’s right after men’s, and also those brands that make both, potentially showing their men’s as part of their women’s show, and vice versa.
The other big change for us is we’ve had a giant venue [Skylight Clarkson Square in SoHo] that housed shows in all the seasons—up to now. When we were planning NYFW:M way back when, we knew we had to establish presence with a location. We also knew it wasn’t sustainable, and the cost of doing that ultimately could be the death of NYFW:M. Our plan had always been, once we stamped the dates and shows on a calendar, to begin to decentralize that. And that’s happening now.
It’s about the city of New York being the official venue. There’s still the Cadillac House, where there’ll be a number of collaborations happening, and we’re still working with Skylight, which has been a great partner to us, in Skylight Modern instead of the big rooms, which is a super cool space. We’ve been partnering with Pier 59 on the Hudson River as an affiliate space as well. And some designers, as we saw last year, are using independent venues for their shows.
Last year I remember seeing Willy Chavarria’s presentation in a leather bar, and we all saw, through social media, Raf Simons’s show in an alley in Chinatown. Does that kind of stuff happen in other Fashion Weeks around the globe?
Designers in general want their venues to reflect personality, or the idea behind the collection, or their inspiration. It’s not always easy in terms of budget and opportunity, and in New York we don’t have the same heritage as far as Europe’s historical sites—it’s an old city, but it’s a new city. What Raf did was the beginning for us of wanting more designers to connect with the city.
Our buyers are coming a week early to meet with vendors and brands, and maybe place orders. So who is Fashion Week for, if it’s not for that business activity?
Well, your buyers may prefer to see the clothes in a showroom for transactions. But for them, being able to see the show, whether a moving runway show or a presentation, gives them more insight into what they’re buying or about to buy. The showroom is important, and certainly a big part of the business transactions. The show is the story, the image, and represents the brand almost in an editorial way. Your buyers are probably seeing the collections—I can’t speak to how they do business—but they’re probably seeing the collections before the shows, and maybe finalizing orders right after? Even if they are writing full orders in the showrooms, the shows are important storytelling. They’re marketing opportunities. People who come to shows are not just industry people. They’re customers, influencers at a different level. Journalists, social media people … there’s a lot of mix in who attends a show.
Honestly, I don’t. But they are two foundations of what men’s Fashion Week has become in New York. Ovadia and Todd are big supporters of the concept and are mainstay shows, highlight shows. Each will be doing something cool.
What about Death to Tennis? That’s a brand Nordstrom doesn’t have a connection to right now, but I will be checking out.
Yeah, I mean NYFW:M is a place for discovery. The opportunity to be placed on the calendar isn’t necessarily geared around big brands or megabrands. It’s more scrappy, about giving brands a shot to show and giving them a platform to put forth their ideas. Death to Tennis is interesting and exactly that type of brand. I’m excited to see what they do. Death to Tennis were finalists last year in the Woolmark competition that CFDA is involved with. And Chris Bevans from DYNE, who won the first-ever Woolmark technology prize, is showing with us again. He’s based in Portland and was also a finalist in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. Brands like a DYNE, or a Death to Tennis, that may have low visibility with a large amount of Nordstrom customers: we give them a bigger reach.
Do you think technology in clothing will be a trend in shows this season?
You’ll definitely see it at Chris’s show, at DYNE. I don’t know specifics of others, but I think the connection between technology and fashion has been a bit … the idea’s been there, but the actual activation around it has been not so obvious, or too obvious. Maybe it’s been more gimmicky, I guess. But we’re starting to see now some real function and use, whether around health issues and body monitoring, or interactive communication with the garment in terms of sourcing and season. There’s a growing hyperconnectivity between technology and fashion.
Is this new formation for NYFW:M the beginning of a new paradigm? Blended men’s and women’s, and shows spread out in the city?
The decentralization, for sure. Whether men’s and women’s will align again, I don’t know. What I do know is Fashion Week as we know it, or as we experienced it over the last decade, is no longer. The new paradigm is do what’s best for you, and do it when it’s best for you.
And then curate the show and try to make it blow up on social media.
Are there any known celebrities or influencers CFDA is working with as runway models or audience members?
We used to have an ambassador program for that, but over the course of many seasons which were super helpful and provided great value, the shows became their own thing. Each brand and each designer has unique relationships with those people. The logistics became less ours to control.
Where are we with that aspect of the culture? Is that still the dominant form of marketing, and is there an end to it in sight?
Yes it is, and “end in sight” implies it needs to end and I don’t think it needs to. The power of celebrity is incredible. Look at Meghan Markle and the engagement, and what she wore. It has a real influence on what people buy. It’s a positive way to reach a customer. We can think back to the Golden Globes and the power of the black dress. The celebrity influence is strong and I see it as a positive. We did things in 2017 and will continue to show support in 2018 with celebrity dressing, and connecting to brands through celebrity stylists, outlining how to get celebrities to wear your clothes, setting expectations about the likelihood that they will, and nurturing those opportunities for members that aren’t the big brands, who can call that in. And social media influencers: that’s not going away. It’s another way to promote and speak to a broad audience.
Finally: I don’t know how many collections you have foreknowledge about, but do you think athleisure will be a constant aspect of men’s fashion going forward?
I have no insight into what designers will show, but I want to answer from a personal perspective: I hope so! One of our members is the men’s creative at lululemon: Ben Stubbington, who used to be at Theory. That was a store I never used to go to, but now I go and buy clothes that are totally comfortable for work, and for exercise. And the concept of “the drop” is related to athleisure, as your competitor Barneys has tapped into, and as you do with the more limited Pop-In@Nordstrom shops. After the success of KITH and Supreme, other brands are adapting to the concept. For example, rag & bone did something super cool with Star Wars recently. The idea of the drop is something we’ll continue to see. It’s not just an evolution of style but an evolution of the shape of making sales.
Photo by Mike Chard