A fashion week is a fashion industry event, lasting approximately one week, wherein fashion designers, brands or "houses" display their latest collections in runway shows to buyers and the media. These events influence trends for the current and upcoming seasons.
The most prominent fashion weeks are held in the fashion capitals of the world, the "Big Four" receiving the majority of press coverage being New York, London, Milan, and Paris.
While the fashion scene turns more multipolar in the 21st century, other centers like Berlin, Los Angeles, Madrid, Rome, São Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo host important fashion weeks.
The concept of fashion week began in Paris, when marketers would hire women to wear couture items in public places, from racetracks to salons.
These parades (parade is "défilé in French) gradually began to become social events of their own. (Indeed, in French, runways shows are still called "défilés de mode" -- literally "fashion parades" -- today.)
New York and the first "fashion week"
In 1903, a New York City shop called Ehrich Brothers put on what is thought to have been the country’s first fashion show to lure middle-class females into the store. By 1910, many big department stores were holding shows of their own. It is likely that American retailers saw what were called "fashion parades" in couture salons, and decided to use the idea. These "parades" were an effective way to promote stores, and improved their status. By the 1920s, the fashion show had been used by retailers up and down the country. They were staged, and often held in the shop’s restaurant during lunch or teatime. These shows were usually more theatrical than those of today, heavily based upon a single theme, and accompanied with a narrative commentary. The shows were hugely popular, enticing crowds in their thousands – crowds so large, that stores in New York in the fifties had to obtain a license to have live models.
In 1943, the first-ever "fashion week," New York Fashion Week, was held, with one main purpose: to distract attention from French fashion during World War II, when workers in the fashion industry were unable to travel to Paris. This was an opportune moment, as "before World War II, American designers were thought to be reliant on French couture for inspiration."
The fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert organized an event she called "Press Week" to showcase American designers for fashion journalists, who had previously ignored their works. Press Week was a success, and, as a result, magazines like Vogue (which were normally filled with French designs) began to feature more and more American innovations. Until 1994, shows were held in different locations, such as hotels, or lofts. Eventually, after a structural accident at a Michael Kors show, the event moved to Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library, where it remained until 2010, when the shows relocated to Lincoln Center.
This was the first time shows were organized into a set period of time.
Paris began holding couture shows in 1945, Milan Fashion Week was founded by the Italian Chamber of Commerce in 1958, Paris Fashion Week was further organized in 1973 under the French Fashion Federation, and London Fashion Week was founded by the British Fashion Council in 1984.
Although these key organizations still organize most shows, there are independents and multiple producers in all cities, as well.
"Big Four" fashion weeks
Although there are many notable fashion weeks around the world, only four are known as the "Big Four": Paris, Milan, London and New York.
There are primarily two kinds of shows: womenswear and menswear. There are also shows particular to each location. For example, there are "haute couture" shows in Paris, and in New York, there are "resort / cruise" and "bridal" shows.
Womenswear shows are held in February and September/October, in the following order: New York, London, Milan and Paris.
Menswear fashion weeks are held in January and June/July, in the following order: London, Milan, Paris, New York.
Florence, Italy also offers a menswear trade show in the form of Pitti Immagine Uomo.
Paris' haute couture shows take place in Paris in January and July. (Due to rules set down by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, haute couture can only be shown in Paris.)
More and more designers have shown inter-seasonal collections between the traditional Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer seasons. These collections are usually more commercial than the main season collections and help shorten the customer's wait for new season clothes. The inter-seasonal collections are Resort/Cruise (before Spring/Summer) and Pre-Fall (before Autumn/Winter). There is no fixed schedule for these shows in any of the major fashion capitals but they typically happen three months after the main season shows. Some designers show their inter-seasonal collections outside their home city. For example, Karl Lagerfeld has shown his Resort and Pre-Fall collections for Chanel in cities such as Moscow, Los Angeles, and Monte Carlo instead of Paris. Many designers also put on presentations as opposed to traditional shows during Resort and Pre-Fall either to cut down costs or because they feel the clothes can be better understood in this medium.
Some fashion weeks can be genre-specific, such as Miami Fashion Week (swimwear), Rio Summer (swimwear), the haute couture shows in Paris (one-of-a-kind designer originals), Indonesia Islamic Fashion Week (Moslem Fashion), Festive Wear at Bangalore Fashion Week and Bridal Fashion Week, while Portland (Oregon, USA) Fashion Week shows some eco-friendly designers. Bread and Butter Berlin hosts the leading fashion show for everyday fashion.
Timing of the events
Fashion week happens twice a year in the major fashion capitals of the world: New York, London, Milan, and Paris (in that order).
Traditionally, fashion weeks were held several months in advance of the season to allow the press and buyers a chance to preview fashion designs for the following season. In February and March, designers showcased their autumn and winter collections. In September and October, designers showcased their spring and summer collections.
This timing was largely created to follow the (then slower) "retail cycle." In other words, it allowed time for retailers to purchase and incorporate the designers into their retail marketing.
However, as customer expectations have increased, the retail cycle has increased. As a result, in 2016, designers started moving to "in-season shows." In other words, shows have begun to feature garments that are available for sale immediately, online or in stores.
The other move has been to "see now, buy now" shows, often featuring clickable video, where looks are available online immediately following, or even during the show. "See now, buy now" experiences have included shows from Tom Ford, Nicole Miller, and TOMMY.
The advent of "see now, buy now" shopping has also come about in response to so-called "fast fashion" retailers, who copy designs from the runway and bring them to retail faster than traditional design houses.
In spite of the call to rethink the runways, so far the French Federation of Fashion (Fédération française de la couture) has opposed the change.