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It’s possible to harbor ridiculous illusions about things you think you would like to do. How do I know this? For years (decades, maybe?) I thought I would love the glamour and excitement of attending Fashion Week in New York. It was a bucket list item—until last Sunday, when I learned that this 70-year-old event takes place in a tent. A tent! I feel like I’ve been gobsmacked—and then gobsmacked again when I learned that practically the entire fashion industry dreads this week.

I feel their pain because I don’t do tents. I don’t camp in them and I certainly wouldn’t ever schlep myself all the way to New York to spend a week under a tent. But that’s not how Fashion Week started. Originally founded by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union in 1941, Fashion Week didn’t really take hold until Eleanor Lambert got a hold of it in 1943. Her version of Fashion Week did not start in a tent. No indeed. It was held at the Waldorf-Astoria. Already, she seems more like my kind of girl.

The Hoosier Connection to Fashion Week

Who was Lambert? Nothing less than the gifted public relations professional who put American fashion on the map in the 1920s and 1930s—and she was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana, just 40 minutes away. Educated at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis and the Chicago Art Institute, Lambert began her career doing sketches and fashion reporting. Since she lived to be 100 and remained active at an advanced age, she had a well-documented career that credits her as THE originator of spectacular fashion shows with a big strategy behind them.

Fashion Week, one of Lambert’s many claims to fame, was originally a fairly simple idea: invite journalists to New York and get them writing about clothing. The ultimate goal was helping designers sell ready-to-wear to retailers and fashion editors months ahead of their availability to consumers.

Get a grip, New York!

Sadly, the whole New York fashion industry is now second-guessing the idea of Fashion Week, which is really more like a month-long event these days. In a digital world where fashion is immediately accessible and widely embraced by popular culture, some industry insiders now question its relevance. They’re asking who needs the fuss and expense of Fashion Week when you can promote your collections 24/7 online for almost nothing.

Add to that the expense and the logistical problems (including a lawsuit) over the way Fashion Week hogs New York’s already crowded spaces and it’s no wonder designers are beating the drum to end Fashion Week. On the consumer side of things, even Fashion Night Out is on hiatus in the U.S. this year due to designers’ budget constraints.

What’s going on and what does this have to do with us?

  • Fashion Week doesn’t belong to the world’s fashion centers. It may be having an identify crisis in New York, but their loss is our gain. Here in Indy, we’ll enjoy Midwest Fashion Week October 14-19 at the Arts Garden in Circle Centre. Thanks to the forward-thinking founders of Midwest Fashion Week, you can meet emerging Midwestern designers who may be the next Halston, Bill Blass or Norman Norell. We’re not the only city to follow suit. Think Atlanta, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Tulsa—all of which recognize that stoking a regional fashion industry—like supporting art, sports and cultural amenities—is just another part of being a world-class city.
  • The digital world didn’t kill books and it won’t kill the fashion show or Fashion Week. I love to read, but the fact that I can buy a digital version of a book doesn’t mean that I don’t want to attend an occasional book discussion or author talk. Fashion shows are like art exhibitions. To see a garment in motion on a live human being is a far different experience than looking at a magazine or online presentation. There is no substitute for the live presentation of fashion.
  • New York still needs Fashion Week. As far as I can tell, two kinds of people are interested in Fashion Week: industry insiders and avid fashion enthusiasts. A growing number of insiders—mostly small, independent designers—are shrinking the cycle for delivering their collections to market. They show and deliver their designs to market in real time, not two or three seasons ahead. Although the designers, editors and buyers working Fashion Week need that kind of lead-time, there seems to be a whole legion of people who don’t. That trend doesn’t mean Fashion Week in New York must go away. Do your thing, New York, and let the rest of the world do what it must.

I’m so very weary of the naïve and truncated idea that digital things kill live things. In my virtual world, the coolest thing that’s happened has been making a real friend—a living, breathing person—out of a virtual one. As in the rest of the world, digital relevance in fashion is an aid, not a replacement. There are countless examples of things that are wonderfully enhanced, but not replaced, by the digital world. What do you think?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.