Every spring and fall—like clockwork—fashion’s elite descend on Paris, London, Milan and New York for something we call “Fashion Week.” Though now a staple in the world of fashion, have you ever wondered how it all began? Where did “Fashion Week” as we know it originate? What is the history behind it? The modern fashion show has a long and winding history that spans empires, revolutions and key moments in history…
–1391, Queen Isabella of Bavaria gives a life-size doll to Queen Ann of Bohemia to show clothes on a human form. Later called “model dolls,” they became popular gifts among aristocracy and are used as tools for designers.
–1848, In Paris, Charles Frederick Worth pays a shop girl, Marie Vernet, to demonstrate how shawls should be worn. Vernet became the first live model (and Mrs. Worth!).
–1885, an illustrated book is printed, “Art et la Mode” depicting four women modeling fashions.
–Late 1800’s, periodic “fashion parades” are held in some couture salons in Paris
–1903, Ehrich Brothers in New York hosts an in-store fashion show for customers
–1908-1910, borrowing the idea of fashion parades from Paris, Wanamaker’s in New York presents regular shows of French couture for customers. The 1908 show is based on a Napoleon-Josephine theme with child pages in costume.
–1914, Edna Woolman Chase, editor of Vogue, hosts “Fashion Fete,” an influential war relief benefit with fashion show.
–1920’s, department store fashion shows become common, emphasis is on exotic themes such as Russian, Chinese, Persian
–1943, due to the German occupation of France and decreased access to French couture, PR agent Eleanor Lambert organizes “Press Week.” Held at the Pierre and Plaza in New York it gave the press access to American designs and obligated the buyers who attended to go to showrooms.
–1950, a book published called “How to Give a Fashion Show,” is released by Fairchild, mainly for department stores. New York City department stores are required to get a permit to host shows.
–1954, Edna Woolman Chase, former editor of Vogue, complains in her memoirs that there are now too many fashion shows
–1950’s, “Press Week” continues until the end of the decade, promoting American based designers like Bill Blass and Oscar de Renta. The American work was fully integrated into magazines along with the French who continue shows in couture houses.
–1965, Eleanor Lambert presents a fashion show of various American designers at the New York World’s Fair, with an estimated audience of 1 million
–1970’s-1980’s, designers independently host shows in showrooms, lofts, clubs and restaurants.
–1988, The Antwerp Six presents at London Fashion Fair, exposing the backstage and using masks on models
–1990, Fern Mallis of the Council of Fashion Designers of America attended a Michael Kors show in a loft in which the sound caused the ceiling to collapse. At the approximate time at another show the sound caused a building’s generator to blow.
–1992, Mallis organizes shows at the Maklow/Millenium Hotel on 44th Street
–1993, Mallis organizes tents at Bryant Park for Spring 1994 collections
–1994, 7th on Sixth created to organize the show schedule, press and sponsorships
–2000, Style.com begins to feature instant photograph documentation and the shows begin to be regularly filmed.
–2009, The cost to show in the main Bryant Park tent is $1 million. Fashion shows average only 10 minutes long (that’s $100,000 a minute)
–2010, NY Fashion Week moves to Lincoln Center