The First New York Fashion Week

Eleanor Lambert - 1963

-By Anna Tong-   

Fashion Week kicked into high gear once again this Thursday, September 8, and celebrities and

journalists from across the world have vied for front-row seats to see American designers present their collections.But the biannual event of Fashion Week wasn’t always en vogue, said John Tiffany, the author of a recently published a biography on fashion week’s founder.

Eleanor Lambert founded New York Fashion Week in 1943, according to Tiffany’s book, titled
Eleanor Lambert: Still Here. New York Fashion Week is the first fashion week, preceding Paris, London, Milan.

During World War II, women entered the workforce in droves, giving them spending power they had never had before. Since everything was rationed, the only item women could spend money on was clothes, Tiffany says. The U.S. government wanted women to spend money on American-made clothes, but American designers weren’t producing clothes to the standards of their European counterparts.

“It was a total rag trade,” Tiffany said. “There were people who had their own stores, and French
designers who had stores in America, but most of the American designers worked in a back room
like a garment manufacturer.”

The government ended up hiring Eleanor Lambert, who was then a publicist based in New York
City. Lambert worked with American designers to produce full collections, and wanted to bring fashion editors to New York to see the collections. But she couldn’t get enough European fashion editors to buy in, so she ended up paying for lifestyle editors from small American papers to attend.

The catwalk during Press Week, 1943

 

The first Fashion Week, then called “Press Week,” was held in 1943 at the Plaza Hotel.
Journalists stayed at the hotel. Norman Norell, Lilly Daché, and Valentina (not to be confused
with Valentino) were among those who exhibited.

Press Week, which eventually became Fashion Week, led to the rise in prominence of American designers, as their creations proliferated on the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, magazines that previously only paid attention to the French designers, Tiffany said.

But American fashion truly came of age in 1973, when five American designers were invited to the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, for a competition with French designers. Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Anne Klein and Oscar de la Renta represented the Americans, and won.

Since 1943, Fashion Week has been held every year with the exception of September 11, 2001,
Tiffany said. In 1994, Fashion week moved to its spot in Bryant Park, with its white tents and invite-only status. Recently, Fashion Week has moved to another location, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Tavi Gevinson, fashion blogger sitting front row at Dior show.

 

The internet has played an enormous role in Fashion Week’s democratization, with shows streaming live on computers around the world. For the second time, blogging platform Tumblr

is sponsoring 20 bloggers to attend Fashion Week, and bloggers are now invited to afterparties previously accessible only to fashion editors, socialites and models. The transition isn’t without its scuffles- when miniature blogger Tavi Gevinson wore a large bow while seated in the front row of the Christian Dior couture show at Paris Fashion Week, the editor sitting behind her complained about her view of the show through Gevinson’s headgear.

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