In 1943, the first 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 for centuries designers in America were thought to be reliant on the French 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. The 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.
However, long before Lambert, there were fashion shows throughout America. In 1903, an NYC 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 that they were called ‘fashion parades’ in Paris 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.
Nowadays, access to New York Fashion Week is by invitation only, and only fashion magazine editors, fashion magazine journalists, models (and ex-models) and celebrities are invited. Other buyers are restricted to the showrooms and stores, and the articles in the magazines.
The dominance of the big four has been criticized for benefiting industry participants. For example, buyers, journalists, models and celebrities can limit their travel and simply move from one city to the other over the four week period. This arrangement has been criticized for stifling manufacturing employment in the UK and design talent in emerging fashion hubs such as Los Angeles