"When you're younger, you dream of having a big moment at Fashion Week," sighs Brother Vellies designer Aurora James on the newest episode of Amazon's the Fashion Fund. "But I don't think you realize when the time comes how stressed out you'll be."
Poor Aurora James (and trust me, you will be prone to sympathy if you watch the harrowing close calls with failure she faces in the hours leading up to her presentation) has come to this moment in the Fashion Fund after months of debating whether or not she should do a presentation during New York Fashion Week. It is a question top of mind for those of us in the fashion industry right now -- are fashion shows really the best use of hard-to-come-by cash? Do they serve the same purpose, and guarantee the same returns, as they once did? Are they worth even demanding the attention of people whose favor you want to stay in?
There is an undeniable double standard facing all designers in this age of massive sea change in Fashion. At a moment in which every aspect of our industry -- retail, production, media, consumer behavior -- is undergoing a complete transformation, designers are told to "do something great or do nothing at all," and, simultaneously, "You better do something or else you'll be over." Not to mention that many of them have dreamed about having a fashion show one day since they were kids.
This is truer than ever for the designers in the Fashion Fund, many of whom are producing a fashion show for the first time. Each designer, as you can see in this episode, feels differently about the process and the final result. For Chris Gelinas, the sublime moment that his first model walks down the runway brings tears to his eyes; for David Hart, the ends just don't justify the means, and he sits the week out. But for each of them, the decision to "show" -- what was once probably a naïve childhood dream -- becomes more and more difficult to navigate as the realities of having a fashion show come closer to hand and more into focus.
I had a conversation with each of the designers in the months preceding fashion week. When they come to me, they want to know if they have to show. If there is some unspoken rule that will disqualify them from winning if they sit the (very expensive, very over-crowded) week out. I understand where they got this idea. Anna has told them they must capitalize on the level of attention being showered on them as a result of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Steven Kolb has told them that this is how they are to participate in the organized establishment of American Fashion as outlined by the CFDA. They have watched David and Marcus stage big Rag and Bone shows every fashion week since graduating from being contestants in the Fashion Fund, and Reed Krakoff and Diane von Fursternberg do so since before the Fashion Fund even existed. They have seen Jeffrey Kalinsky and Mark Holgate attend those fashion shows, writing sales orders and magazine profiles.
But they are also very, very scared. Scared of drawing attention when they aren't fully armed to put their best feet forward. Or maybe they are just realistic -- maybe they have looked at their cash flow and can't in all honesty justify the minimum $25,000 it takes to show at New York Fashion Week.
Hoping for some outside guidance, or perhaps just a final clear answer, they eventually ask me the same question -- "Should I show during Fashion Week?" But unfortunately, I can't give them the answer. And that's not because I don't want to, or because it wouldn't be fair if I gave them a clue, but rather because there IS no right answer. There are trade-offs and pay-offs whatever they decide. And if it isn't obvious by now, that's the hardest thing not only about being a designer but also about the Fashion Fund -- making tough calls about how to allocate time and money when you have so many equally important, equally urgent priorities.
But the one good thing that comes out of all of this angst is that in the end, it is the designers who most confidently stick to their guns -- who make decisions quickly, act on those decisions, and never look back -- who impress the judges most. It's not actually whether or not they show during NYFW, it's how much they do with that decision. Confidence and commitment are two of the qualities that guarantee success in the Fashion Fund, when no answer is really ever right. And we can only hope that turning the heat up in the short time that we get to work with them helps them strengthen that muscle, because let me tell you -- it never gets any easier.