NYFW 2017 Saw More Musicians Front Row Than Ever Before: Was That a Success or Failure?

Nicki Minaj, 2017

Nicki Minaj attends the Philipp Plein Spring 2018 show during New York Fashion Week on Sept. 9, 2017 in New York City.

On October 3, Louis Vuitton showed its Spring/Summer 2018 Womenswear collection at the Louvre’s Pavillon de l’Horloge—a fittingly prestigious venue for the storied luxury brand. Sitting in the front row was the standard complement of a-list celebrities: Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, and Michelle Williams. The scene was precisely what one would expect from a high-end fashion show—glamorous, exclusive and civilized.

In mid-September, at New York Fashion Week, the most noteworthy shows were built on a decidedly different dynamic—one focused less on the actual clothing than on the Instagram-ready multimedia experiences. 

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“When it comes to New York Fashion Week vs. Paris Fashion Week,” says Alexandra Mondalek, a fashion features writer at Yahoo!, “My sense is that New York is largely about whose production is the most hyped, almost as if the clothes are a secondary thought. There are obvious exceptions here, but I'm thinking specifically about things like the Alexander Wang show and accompanying ‘Wangfest,’ and Philipp Plein's runway show that was actually just a hip-hop concert.”

Indeed, at Philipp Plein, the clothing played a distant second fiddle to the music. Rapper Future provided a live soundtrack, and artists like 21 Savage, Rich the Kid, Metro Boomin, Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd, and Teyana Taylor walked the runway. Plein is a unique case—despite the opulence of his shows and an apparently healthy commercial business, he is not taken seriously as a designer—but the experiential focus of his show was aligned with dominant trends, even among old-school brands. Ralph Lauren, for instance, had attendees schlep up to his upstate garage to see his Spring/Summer 2018 collection modeled among his collection of classic sports cars. Up-and-coming streetwear brand Kith created a major moment when NBA superstar Lebron James appeared on their runway modeling some of their new collection. And even Marc Jacobs, arguably the current American brand that has best achieved both critical and commercial success, attracted a more contemporary, music-oriented set of celebs: Nicki Minaj, avant-pop singer Charli XCX, rapper DRAM, and doyenne of grunge and longtime Jacobs supporter Courtney Love were all in attendance.

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One could argue that Alexander Wang is responsible for leading this experiential charge. His 10th anniversary show, in September 2015, erased the divide between fashion show and afterparty, hosting one immediately after the other in the same venue and featuring performances by Tinashe, Ludacris, and Lil Wayne. Collapsing the two is a contemporary branding manoeuvre, designed to encourage attendees to advertise the brand and its universe by sharing it via social media. Music plays an essential role in this strategy. This year, Wang’s blowout, dubbed #WANGFEST, featured a selection of artists designed to appeal to both 90s nostalgia and contemporary tastes—A$AP Ferg, Vince Staples, Cardi B, and Ja Rule and Ashanti all performed.


Edit and track by @asapferg #WANGFEST

A post shared by ALEXANDER WANG (@alexanderwangny) on


The final stop of #WANGSS18: Bushwick, Brooklyn. #WANGFEST

A post shared by ALEXANDER WANG (@alexanderwangny) on

But was it really fashion week?

While #WANGFEST was certainly memorable, few were talking about his Spring/Summer collection in its aftermath. This is where it differs from Paris Fashion Week—even Paris’ most opulent productions, such as Chanel’s, keep the clothing front-and-center. “Paris is more fashion-focused,” Mondalek explains, “And takes itself more seriously. You go to see the fashion, capital F.”

New York Fashion Week is not as steeped in tradition as Paris and doesn’t boast the same set of legacy brands. This gives it the freedom to experiment with show formats, as Wang and Plein are doing. And despite all the pre-fashion week chatter about the mass designer exodus out of New York (and the impending doom their fleeing allegedly signified), New York Fashion Week dominated pop culture conversation while Paris Fashion Week was, well, very Paris.

Just because NYFW made more buzz doesn't necessarily mean it's more successful, but as the industry continues to morph in response to the rise of e-commerce and social media, expect this experiential focus to grow, and music to remain a key part of it.


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