In New York, fashion week feels rather, well, weak

Catwalk shows don't feel as if they're about the clothes these days, but rather the circus of branding

New York fashion week has a weight issue. I'm not talking about the models – this isn't the Daily Mail. I mean in terms of the show schedule, and the fact that many heavy-hitters are crammed into the final 24 hours – Proenza Schouler, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Marc Jacobs before the red-eye. 

The resulting imbalance can make the week feel… well, weak. Days loom relatively empty, splattered with the occasional recognisable name but otherwise a lot of padding. Those boldface labels? Jason Wu, who does double-duty as head of Hugo Boss; Thom Browne, who makes ker-azy giant dresses in a vaguely McQueen mould; the Rodarte label by the sisters Mulleavy, who have many high-profile friends who wear their art-pop, homespun stuff. I once went to their Paris showroom and was shown around by Kirsten Dunst in lieu of a sales manager. She's a friend, she popped in.

Given the aforementioned schedule, one of the things I do more of in New York than anywhere else is previews. They're useful, and pretty special: you get time one-on-one with a designer, to chat and look at inspiration boards. It's civilised and enlightening, which I seldom say about fashion shows. While I've been doing that, Christina Binkley – fashion and style columnist of The Wall Street Journal – is taking the opposite approach. She's consuming autumn/winter 2016 fashion week digitally, via tweets and live streams from the comfort of her own home. That sounds civilised, too. In between? There lies the hinterland of the catwalk shows.

I haven't talked much about the clothes, have I? That's because catwalk shows don't feel as if they're about the clothes these days, but rather the circus of branding. Council of Fashion Designers of America president Diane von Furstenberg eschewed the catwalk for what she dubbed “an immersive brand experience”. It was actually a cramped presentation which made it difficult to see the clothes – her standard prints and wrap-dresses. In the industry's favourite trend, one went on sale immediately after the show, in case you felt the urge to wear a flimsy frock in a polar vortex.

It just made me think that if even the titular head of the CFDA is losing faith in fashion shows, maybe we all will. Or should. A sobering thought.

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