Is New York Fashion Week Near the End of the Runway?

In 1941, when the International Ladies’ first invited 30 journalists to New York to visit the , its membership balked, not seeing how writing about clothes would help sell them. Even after , the great 20th-century cheerleader for American fashion, got her hands on the event two years later and created the first “press week” at the Waldorf-Astoria, the rag reporters grumbled, though their numbers grew and grew.

“My face seems to show the lines of every silhouette that has appeared during the past 15 years,” one of them groused in The . That was in 1958, when their numbers were about 200.

To the outside world, Fashion Week may look like the most on earth, but insiders are getting a little tired of all the fuss. In its present form, it is more like Fashion Month, beginning Thursday with the overscheduled in New York and ending with those in Paris on Oct. 3, with no breaks in between for the now thousands of writers, retailers, photographers, videographers, bloggers and of indeterminate who for various reasons Really Must Be There.

Designers, too, seem to be dreading this season, and more so than usual. “It’s depressing,” Joseph Altuzarra said a few weeks ago at a party for a Web video about his clothes, already hustling in the supposed of summer. “Well, not depressing so much as panic-inducing.”

There is, in fact, a that just when fashion has become a vibrant force in popular culture, attracting a new generation of designers (and wannabes), Fashion Week is losing its relevance. Of course, people have been complaining that there are too many shows for more than a decade. (It was the subject of a front-page article in this newspaper 12 years ago, and look at Fashion Week now; it’s nearly twice the size, with 350 shows and presentations over .)

But the real point of Fashion Week, to promote collections to editors and retailers several months before they will be in stores, is becoming lost in the age of instant online accessibility. Factoring in the revved-up cycle of fashion, the addition of resort shows, the fashion show that takes place outside the tents for the street-style photographers, and the confused customers, Suzy Menkes, in a column in T: The Times Style Magazine last month, wondered “who needs more fashion and is gagging for yet another show?”

In fact, the major events in New York, London, Milan and Paris are coming under fire from all directions. Jewish editors and retailers are upset that the New York and London shows overlap with the High Holy Days. Lincoln Center area residents are furious about the intrusion of the noisy shows and polluting generators into Damrosch Park and neighboring streets (and those shows, formerly in Bryant Park, appear to be on the verge of moving once again).

Italian designers are angry that the London designers are stealing all the creative thunder, and American designers are angry the Italian designers won’t budge on their show dates, forcing everyone here to work on Labor Day and the Jewish holidays. Vanessa Friedman, in her Financial Times fashion blog, argued that designers wouldn’t dare have shows on Easter.

Can you imagine? All those people in pastel? My eyes!

“Fashion Week needs to be rethought,” said, of all people, Fern Mallis, who turned the shows into a wildly successful marketing and media event in the first place. In 1993, while executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, she orchestrated Fashion Week’s move to Bryant Park, where runway shows took place twice a year under enormous white tents for 15 years, establishing New York designers on par with their counterparts in Europe. The move to Lincoln Center in 2010, necessitated by a dispute with park management over the duration and timing of the shows, was heralded at the time for bringing the luster of the performing arts to fashion.

But there is little disagreement that the move has been a failure. In March, a lawsuit was filed against New York City and Lincoln Center over the use of the park for commercial events like Fashion Week and the Big Apple Circus, which effectively limit the public’s access for most of the year.

“Whether Lincoln Center will continue or not, we do not know,” said Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the fashion council.

The lawsuit, Ms. Mallis and others said, may be the nail in the coffin.

Beyond that, though, many designers who showed there complained that the environment was beginning to resemble an airport terminal or a trade show, with overwhelming crowds and displays of sponsorships. The shows in Lincoln Center, produced by IMG Worldwide and called Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week after the title sponsor, represent less than a third of those taking place throughout New York this week, but they include marquee designers like Ms. von Furstenberg, Michael Kors and Carolina Herrera.

Some who do show there, including Anna Sui, said they have considered moving elsewhere.

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