New York Fashion Week officially starts on Thursday, but the hottest show of the season happened the night before, when Hedi Slimane presented his fall menswear collection for Saint Laurent Paris at the Hollywood Palladium, 2,500 miles from Manhattan. The space is a massive concert venue—not the kind of place typically used for a high-fashion debut. But Saint Laurent is only one of a number of major labels abandoning the tents and runways of seasonal shows for something a little less conventional.
Does Fashion Week matter anymore? It’s a question that comes up every year in some form or another, along with debates over whether models are too skinny, and whether the industry should ditch fur. But it’s not a rhetorical one: Even in a generic tent or studio space, the cost of mounting a show averages just under half a million dollars. With up to two dozen shows per day in New York alone, many scheduled at the same time, it’s a game of diminishing returns for designers, in terms of press coverage as well as sales.
The glamour of live fashion shows—from the star-studded front row to the backstage drama—has become enshrined in American pop culture, eliciting tears in the Project Runway finale and laughs in the Zoolander films. But labels are increasingly (and rightfully) questioning the value of traditional, seasonal runway shows in a time of social media. Big names from Misha Nonoo to Tom Ford are already experimenting with possible alternatives, including informal “presentations” that bring models and journalists together, and videos, pop-up shops, and Instagram feeds instead of live shows. It’s a sea change that could bring renewed energy, creativity, and engagement to an industry that, for all its innovation, is still often reluctant to depart from convention.