After a relatively quiet period, ever since the early ‘00s Fashion Weeks – the fashion industry’s biggest events – have been officially hitting it big again, mainly thanks to the influence of social media and the rise of the new big generation of supermodels (who spend a lot of time on Instagram, promoting their catwalks and always hanging out with the industry’s coolest designers and personalities).
Whether one likes them or not, Fashion Weeks are undeniably interesting even from an anthropological point of view, and will still be considered as some of the year’s biggest fashion events. Before jumping to each Fashion Week’s schedules (keep your planners at hand!), let’s have a look at how the Fashion Weeks all started.
In this article, we’ll discuss what a Fashion Week is and when it originated, will go through the schedules of the Big Four Fashion Weeks, i.e. New York Fashion Week, London, Milan and Paris Fashion Week, will discover the difference between a ready-to-wear and a Couture Fashion Week, as well as will find out what it takes to organize a Fashion Week show.
Fashion Week Guide: Contents
- What Is a Fashion Week?
- Origins of the Fashion Week
- The Big Four Fashion Weeks
- New York Fashion Week Schedule & Facts
- How to Attend New York Fashion Week? (Or Any Other Fashion Week)
- London Fashion Week Schedule & Facts
- Milan Fashion Week Schedule & Facts
- Paris Fashion Week Schedule & Facts
- Fashion Weeks’ Couture Edition
- Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week Schedule, Facts & Statistics
- Facts About Organizing a Fashion Week Show
- Fashion Weeks and Model Diversity
A Fashion Week is one of the most pivotal fashion events in the industry, occurring twice a year and lasting approximately a week, during which famous fashion houses and designers showcase their latest ready-to-wear collections for the upcoming season. These fashion shows ultimately shape the fashion trends of the new season and serve as the main source of inspiration for high-end fashion brands as well for creating their own fashion lines.
While Fashion Weeks are organized throughout the year in different parts of the world, New York, London, Milan and Paris make up the “Big Four” Fashion Weeks everyone is looking forward to.
So, when did the Fashion Weeks become familiar and structured as we know them? And what led the fashion industry to divide and schedule its frenetic events into four separate actual Fashion Weeks?
The history of Fashion Weeks is a long and intricate one, as three major milestones had to occur before the modern concept of Fashion Week could be declared completed. Initially, in fact, the idea of a Fashion Week was that of private salons that occasionally hired women to wear their couture fashions in public places. Such events took place in Paris (where they became known as “défilé”, parade) in the mid-1800s, and were not as international, nor well organized, as they are nowadays.
It was when such events began to be shown seasonally that the modern concept of Fashion Week officially emerged, becoming more rooted when the words “Fashion Weeks” started to be used, and then, ultimately, when a particular organization decided to step in and organize all the events. These three are the main criteria that distinguish the first, shyly private fashion events from the now-widely-known Fashion Weeks, which were formally inaugurated in 1943.
Although a New York City shop called Ehrich Brothers showcased what is thought to be the USA’s first fashion show (which was specifically organized to lure middle-class females into the store to purchase clothes) in 1903, we had to wait for forty more years for New York to advertise publicly its very first New York Fashion Week thanks to fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert.
The event’s purposes were mainly dedicated to distracting attention from the more notorious French couture fashion during World War II, as well as to emancipate America’s fashion designers from France’s. Since the event was a big success, internationally renowned magazines such as Vogue began writing about it, praising both the organizers and the American designers that partook.
Fast forward to 1947, the tough period got officially going. Although Paris had been holding couture shows since 1945, it was with visionary Christian Dior that the city began its soigné tradition of scheduled fashion shows, as the groundbreaking Christian Dior’s Corolle collection was a never-before-seen success, indeed. Countless of fashion journalists were invited to the show and gave their feedbacks from the catwalk’s first rows, with as many fashion magazines covering the show in their issues.
Given the success of Dior’s shows, many private companies began organizing and funding the Fashion Weeks, with the Italian Chamber of Commerce founding the Milan Fashion Week in 1958, the French Fashion Federation kicking off Paris Fashion Week in 1973, and the British Fashion Council establishing London Fashion Week in 1984.
The now established Big Four Fashion Weeks opted for a new format, which lasted less than an hour and embraced more marketing-savvy methods of advertising, with various designers even venturing into more theatrical shows than merely couture-related exhibitions. The modern format was timidly introduced in the Sixties, but it was in the Seventies and Eighties that it flourished, reaching its ultimate full potential.
Many are the notable fashion shows in the industry (there are reportedly 40 fashion weeks that occur throughout the world), with some of them gaining an incredible fame (such as Sidney and Los Angeles Fashion Weeks), but four remain the biggest events, i.e. New York, London, Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks. As a consequence, many designers have stuck to one city to showcase their seasonal collections (just think about Michael Kors in New York or Dolce & Gabbana in Milan), contributing to infusing each week with its specific characteristics.
New York Fashion Week, for instance, is known for its sportswear, now evolved into athleisure (here the primary reference could be Victoria Beckham’s latest collections), while London Fashion Week for its avant-garde designs (Vivienne Westwood, we are thinking about you!). Milan, on the other hand, is mainly known for its over-the-top, ultra-stylish fashions, while Paris will always be the heart of haute couture-esque ensembles.
A for the timing and schedules, things are getting more complicated with the see-now-buy-now formulas, not to mention the endless cruise/ resort collections but, to sum up everything the best way we could, the Fashion Week schedules are usually the following:
• There are two main kinds of shows – ones dedicated to womenswear and menswear fashion shows.
• Womenswear Fashion Weeks are held in February and September/ October. The chronological order is New York, London, Milan and Paris. Generally, the Fashion Week schedules aren’t fixed, but they always take place in the same months.
• Menswear shows, on the other hand, are held in January and June/ July, in the following order: London, Milan, Paris, New York.
• Notorious designers, such as Alessandro Michele, are now opting for co-ed formats, so expect no distinction between the gendered shows in the near future!
• Haute couture fashion shows, not to confused with ready-to-wear shows (we are now focusing on the latter), are usually shown in Paris in January and July. On the hand, bridal shows are held in New York.
• During the Fashion Weeks, fashion designers present clothes for the upcoming season, meaning that in September/ October you see demonstrations from the spring/ summer collections, and in February those of the fall/ winter lineups.
That is so because, traditionally, journalists, buyers, and the press needed months to review the collections, and this timing was created to follow the relatively slow retail cycle. Nowadays, with the arrival of the fast fashion chains and the Internet bloggers, things have gone faster, resulting in many designers opting for pre-seasonal lineups, too.
Lasting 8 days, New York Fashion Week is the first to kick off the Fashion Week season twice a year, taking place at the beginning of September, and at the beginning of February, when it comes to the womenswear NYFW. The September 2021 New York Fashion Week (women’s) is scheduled for September 10-17, 2021, while the February 2021 New York Fashion Week is to take place on February 19-23, 2021.
After its first show in 1943, New York Fashion Week has grown bigger and bigger, economically impacting the city as well as the American industry to a great extent. New York Fashion Week’s commercial level is jaw-dropping, with its statistics being even more incredible. As of 2015, for example, the hashtag #NYFW was used 31.6 million times, with 125,000 people attending the shows in person, and over 2 million watching them in live streams.
It takes roughly more than three weeks to organize New York Fashion Week, with usually a total of 308 fashion shows being scheduled for the entire week. For the Fashion Week, New York employs more than 184,000 workers, generating an astronomical $1.4 billion in tax revenue annually (that is why we mentioned the Fashion Weeks’ economic impact).
There are two different types of NYFW shows – industry and open-to-the-public ones. While the former is reserved for buyers and the press, you have two ways of attending the other. You could either contact a specific fashion house, or register with the NYFW producers directly. Both options may require a good dose of patience since every fashion house is overwhelmed with requests all year long!
More and more fashion shows, however, now allow the public to buy tickets, so we recommend checking nyfw.com compulsively for any chances to get one.
London Fashion Week is the shortest out of the Big 4, lasting just 5 days, and quickly following the NYFW. The September 2021 London Fashion Week (women’s) takes place on September 17-21, 2021, while the February 2021 London Fashion Week is during February 19-23, 2021.
The industry’s rebel child, London Fashion Week is usually the most theatrical and politics-related. If you are looking for fashion shows that enjoy exposing exploitation or like mixing fashion with art with the dismantling of beauty standards, or with the exposure of concerning issues such as global warming, London Fashion Week is the place to go.
Organized by Annette Worsley-Taylor and held in a West London car park, the inaugural London Fashion Week took place in 1984, leaving its distinctive mark already. After this initial milestone, two other events marked LFW forever, shaping it as we know it.
The first one saw its protagonist in Stella McCartney, who instantly sold out her collection in 1995. It was LFW’s biggest triumph, and boosted London’s visibility internationally. The second one took place in 2006 when the British Fashion Council began incorporating ethical fashion shows into the week.
As for now, London Fashion Week is still a place where sustainability and ethics are discussed on such a mainstream level, and we are incredibly grateful for that, given the (unfortunately even human) costs that the industry features.
As for London Fashion Week statistics, LFW may hold fewer shows compared to NYFW, but its numbers are still astounding. With 52 runway shows and more than 150 designers, LFW usually generates more than 269 million pounds of total income, with visitors spending circa 1,855 pounds (2,400 USD) per week.
Unlike other fashion weeks, London Fashion Week is full of events, with most of them being relatively indie and low-profile. If you want to stay updated on LFW events or want to attend a show (it works like NYFW), make sure to check londonfashionweek.co.uk daily.
Taking place in mid September and at the end of February each year, the Milan Fashion Week lasts exactly a week – 7 days. The September 2021 Milan Fashion Week (women’s) starts on September 21, 2021 and lasts through September 27. February 23-March 1, 2021 are the dates for the February 2021 Milan Fashion Week.
Home to legendary designers such as Valentino, Armani, and Gucci, Milan Fashion Week is always one of the most anticipated. Italian couture and, more generally, Italian hand-made designs and materials are still some of the industry’s most refined, holding a special place in many fashion lovers’ hearts.
Partially organized by The National Chamber of Italian Fashion (otherwise known as Camera Nazionale della Moda), Milan Fashion Week has been going around ever since its first show in 1958, with the fashion shows being held basically in every corner and street of the city (fashion houses such as Gucci have even built their personal buildings were the runway shows take place annually).
MFW usually features 67 fashion shows (68 if we count Giorgio Armani’s second line-up), while the presentations are circa 88, in total generating around €50.6 million in revenue. Like LFW, MFW is more than just catwalks, with the city being literally overflown with events two times per year.
Since the public events are so many (if you love fashion-related arts and exhibitions, Milan is the place to go!), and the designers are even more in-demand, whoever wants to have a piece of Milan Fashion Week needs to plan the trip, carefully thinking about everything.
The city is usually traffic-congested and, as predictable as it sounds, gets even more chaotic during Milan Fashion Week, meaning that public transportation might get you a little late everywhere. Our advice is thus deciding on the shows you want to attend in advance, checking out where they are held, and finding a nice hotel nearby. Just remember to act quickly! The hotel occupancy rate during the Fashion Week in Milan is 90%!
For more info, always check milanomodadonna.it.
Paris Fashion Week is the longest one lasting 9 days, held at the end of September through the beginning of October, and at the beginning of March each year. The September 2021 Paris Fashion Week (women’s) kicks off on September 27, 2021 and lasts through October 5. The February 2021 Paris Fashion Week is scheduled for March 1-9, 2021.
Like Milan Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week is a must-see in every fashion lover’s lifetime, just like it is visiting the city alone. With 91 shows and 46 presentations being held seasonally, out of which the Chanel show is always the largest with over 2600 guests, Paris Fashion Week (Semaine des Createurs de Mode in French) is the place where, besides fashion, cultural diversity dominates, both on and off the catwalks.
Paris is also the place where the biggest grand openings take place, which alone drags a lot of people to Paris during the Fashion Week, increasing hotel occupancy to an astounding 93.9%.
Speaking of percentages and statistics, PFW is as economically impactful as NYFW, with more than €400 million injected into the Parisian economy annually. That is also due to Paris Fashion Week’s capability of creating anticipation over the shows, the leitmotifs of which are particularly interesting not only regarding fashions but also actual shows. Although less political than LFW, Paris Fashion Week shows are equally grandiose and theatrical, with the heights of majesty destined never to be scaled.
In 2014, for instance, Karl Lagerfeld turned his catwalk into an actual supermarket for Chanel’s show, while singer and icon Madonna went topless for Jean Paul Gautier in 1992. And how can one forget the time Florence Welch sang in a giant Chanel shell in 2011?
Paris Fashion Week is also the place were the biggest debuts have taken place, such as Alexander McQueen’s first runway show with Givenchy in 1997, and Alexander Wang’s debut with Balenciaga. Needless to say, Paris Fashion Week is as magical as the city itself.
Check out fhcm.paris to stay updated and buy the tickets to your favorite shows in advance!
As we said, there are two kinds of Fashion Weeks – ready-to-wear and Couture Fashion Weeks. Both take a lot of time and effort to be organized, with models, designers, stylists, and so on working to make each day of the week perfect. So what’s the distinction?
Haute Couture Fashion Week, which by definition refers to a kind of high-end, luxury fashion (Haute Couture stands for ‘high fashion’ in French) that is entirely made by hand from top-notch, expensive fabric and with great attention to detail, takes place twice a year in the birthplace of haute couture, Paris (one in July and one in January).
While the term “ready-to-wear” or “prêt-à-porter” got popular in the late 1980s, “hate couture” can be traced back as early as the 17th century (of course, always in France).
This term is now actually protected by law in France, and is defined by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris, meaning that Hate Couture Fashion Weeks can take place only in France. Terminology aside, showing one’s Couture collection in Paris is no small feat, as any designer who wishes to be part of such a magically flamboyant event needs to meet strict criteria, established in 1945.
Members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture must meet the following criteria:
• Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris with at least 15 full-time employees;
• Design custom-made attire for private clients;
• Employ at least 20 full-time technical staff members, in at least one workshop;
• Showcase a collection of at least 50 unique designs during each fashion season (twice, in January and July of each year), including both day and evening garments.
Needless to say, the list of designers and fashion houses that take part in Haute Couture Fashion Weeks isn’t that big at all.
Lasting just 5 days, Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week takes place at the end of January and during the first week of July each year. The January 2021 Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week is scheduled for January 25-28, 2021, while the July 2021 Haute Couture Fashion Week is set for July 4-8, 2021.
Although the list doesn’t include that many couturiers, the numbers, facts, and statistics regarding the Haute Couture Fashion Week are mind-blowing, indeed. Chanel, Valentino, Elie Saab, Christian Dior, Schiaparelli, Jean Paul Gaultier, Maison Margiela, and Zuhair Murad are some of the members of this grandiose Fashion Week.
Let’s discuss the most jaw-dropping facts about Haute Couture fashion!
• Unlike RTW fashion shows, Haute Couture shows are exclusive to say the least, as only 150 regular clients attend the Haute Couture shows twice a year.
• Only 2200 seamstresses work on haute couture designs worldwide.
• How much does a single haute couture dress cost? Although it varies depending on the materials and the embellishments used, if you are considering investing in an haute couture piece keep in mind that couture daywear starts at around $10,000.
It normally takes at least 100 hours to complete a couture design, sometimes even reaching 800 hours and above, so the sky is the limit when it comes to the prices of haute couture dresses, in some cases even exceeding $10 million for a super-elaborate evening gown, for instance.
• No more than 2000 regular customers end up buying haute couture staples.
On a more practical level, what does it take to organize a Fashion Week show? How are the models cast? Is it really that frenetic as portrayed in the fashion industry-related films, such as Zoolander or the Devil Wears Prada?
Long story short, the answer is “yes”. From the weeks leading up to the event to the actual Fashion Weeks, everything is filled with chaos and excitement, and learning more about the facts related to a Fashion Week organization is more than interesting.
Fashion Weeks, Models and Castings
According to Andrew Weir, owner of the legendary ACW Worldwide, his team sorts through more than 300 models a day to meet the requirements set by his Fashion Week clients (a.k.a. the creative directors), meaning that a model has to go through long, full days of castings before knowing if she made it to (at least) a fashion show or not.
On a brighter note, models have time to make friends while waiting for their turn, forming the various BFF squads we are all obsessed with. From a team point of view, however, it only means their scouting is exhaustingly nonstop.
So, what happens during the actual castings? First and foremost, runway models must demonstrate to casting directors that they can walk in high heels, it is a prerogative, and they also simulate runway walks for casting teams. Then the model gets her headshot taken, often wearing no makeup so that her natural features can become the center of the attention.
Out of those 300 (sometimes even 400) models cast, only 30-40 will make it to the fashion show.
Fashion Week Costs
Although a regular fashion show lasts just 10 minutes, organizing a Fashion Week show is hard, regarding both costs and human labor. Aside from the models and casters, a show’s expenses include producers, location, lighting, backstage catering, public relations, and stylists, not to mention the scenic design if the creative director is particularly inspired or wants to share important messages (we are looking at you, Karl Lagerfeld and Vivienne Westwood!).
Some designers, fashion houses, and brands, even pay celebrities to appear in their front rows, with costs that (reportedly) exceed up to $100,000 per celebrity (icons such as Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian may even cost more).
To sum up Fashion Week show cost:
• Venue: $0 to $100,000
• Hair and Makeup: $0 to $100,000
• Stylist: $5,000 to $20,000
• Public Relations: $10,000 to $25,000 for a monthly retainer
• Models: $0 to $200,000
• Lighting: $10,000 or up
• Invitations: $5,000 or up
Fashion Week Front Row Facts: Who Sits Where at a Fashion Show?
We all remember when renowned fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone broke the industry claiming that unless you are seated in the first three rows at a show during the Fashion Week, you might as well stay at home. This may be considered correct, if you consider fashion shows only from a social point of view (a lot of people attend Fashion Week shows because they are deeply in love with fashion!).
From a social/ marketing perspective, however, Cutrone’s statement is interesting because it says a lot about how it’s decided who sits where at a Fashion Week show. With an average of 125 assigned front row seats, many fashionistas, celebrities, personalities from the industry fight to get there, as the hierarchy is incredibly strict to unwritten rules that dominate many industries, from fashion to entertainment, when it comes to the front rows (we could fairly affirm that front row seats have grown to become sort of badges of honor).
VIPs, brand ambassadors (which nowadays include fashion bloggers, too), journalists, and friends of the brand/ fashion house have a special place in any fashion show’s front row, especially if they can influence many people via their social media channels.
Then come extra-(Instagram-)famous fashionistas that, like journalists and VIPs, often need to be seated carefully far from one another if they argued or can’t see/ stand each other for any kind of past/ present issue.
The rest of the seats are usually destined to whoever manages to get the tickets to the fashion shows!
When it comes to the changing society, fashion plays one of the biggest roles. It helped women gain freedom in the Sixties, and embrace their new leading roles in the Eighties with the rise of unisex fashion. It portrayed the cultural and empowering changes of the Nineties, and now celebrates a kind of diversity many are eager to see in the industry.
Although most fashion shows primarily cast white, Caucasian models, who are usually ultra-tall and skinny, more and more designers are eschewing this scheme, embracing an all-around kind of diversity, which includes women of color and other ethnicities, plus-size models, genderqueer and transgender models and so on.
Representation matters especially in the fashion industry, and what we are currently experiencing is a new era that will lead to the next generation of Fashion Weeks, where diversity is the norm.
Just to compare the various Fashion Weeks with a few numbers (thanks to the Fashion Spot that compiles diversity reports each year), 27.9% of the models that walked the fall 2017 runways were minorities, which is a historical rate. Although it is definitely not enough, it is still an improvement.
As usual, the most diverse Fashion Week was New York’s, while the least diverse was Milan’s. Plus-size models made up, instead, just 0.43% of the castings, while models over age 50 made up 0.29% of all the castings.
Change is in the air for sure, and we cannot wait to see what happens next!
Photos via Vogue, Zimbio