NEW YORK — What's most notable about the lineup for the fall-winter 2013 season at New York Fashion Week, which began Wednesday and includes 300-plus runway shows and presentations over eight days, is how many accessible, everyday-wear brands like Elie Tahari and J. Crew are showing alongside high-end stalwarts Michael Kors, Vera Wang and Ralph Lauren.
Premium denim purveyor J Brand, based in Los Angeles, has been morphing into a more full-fledged lifestyle brand and is a notable newcomer to fashion week, as is L.A.-based contemporary brand Joie. Creative Director and Chief Executive Serge Azria (Max's brother) describes the Joie fall collection as "bohemian and effortless, California cool meets Parisian chic."
Urban prep brand Steven Alan will be hosting its first New York Fashion Week presentation at event hub Lincoln Center, as will Elie Tahari and Trina Turk. And the New York-based Kenneth Cole Collection of urban basics is back on the runway after a seven-year hiatus.
Clearly, New York Fashion Week is no longer just about the 1%. And there are several reasons why, all having to do with the changing ways fashion is consumed and disseminated today.
The democratization of fashion has firmly taken root. The so-called contemporary market — meaning clothing labels that mostly sell items priced $1,000 or less — has been going great guns for several years now, thanks to labels such as Tory Burch, Alexander Wang, Rag & Bone and 3.1 Phillip Lim, which have offered high-fashion looks (as well as haute jeans and T-shirts) at prices that are relatively affordable compared with Ralph Lauren's or Donna Karan's runway collection clothing, which can run into the thousands of dollars.
These young guns have been the stars of fashion weeks in recent seasons, embraced by the self-made bloggers who attend, write, tweet and Instagram about the shows and their celebrity front row guests in real time — and who wear these clothes, which they can more nearly afford. Lower-priced clothes are also shown in magazines from Vogue to People Stylewatch, and they are worn by women — even First Lady Michelle Obama — as a kind of badge of honor in the treasure hunt for affordable fashion. Call it shopping "fashiontainment."
Designers and retailers play into the excitement and appetite for fashion with an endless number of new high-low designer collaborations and launches matching exclusive designers with affordable retailers. The latest, Prabal Gurung's collection for Target, is being celebrated with a carnival-themed bash during New York Fashion Week.
Another reason accessible brands are upping their presence? They have good reason to chase the success of others that have taken a similar path. Take J. Crew for example, which lucked out in September 2011 when Beyoncé and Solange Knowles stopped into the spring collection preview at Lincoln
Center. The celebrity pop-in generated worldwide headlines for the brand, proving its appeal to celebrities and everyday folks alike.
The reality is, these moderately priced labels more closely represent the casualization of our culture and the way people dress now than do the $3,000 polished suits and cocktail dresses that are relics of an era when fashion shows were rarefied, industry insider affairs, and designers dictated trends from the top down.
And there's no better platform for generating buzz than showing at New York Fashion Week.