It's Fashion Week! And You're Not On the List.
By Kirsten Haglund on September 10, 2013
Lincoln Center is buzzing with glitz and glamour; it’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Although shows featuring prominent New York designers take place at many locations around the city, the Tents are the place where fashion editors, buyers, celebrities, PR gurus and lucky friends and family members of the above-mentioned congregate to see and be-seen. Tickets are notoriously hard to score to the 350 shows taking place in just nine days – that is, unless you are an industry insider: that’s what gives this elite event its mojo.
However, it is precisely this air of exclusivity that the fashion industry is struggling to maintain. W Magazine reported that Oscar de la Renta is halving the guest list for his show down to just 350 invitees. De le Renta told Women’s Wear Daily: “When you do mega-shows, it loses the reason of why we're showing…It's important for (certain industry professionals) to look at the clothes and see them. They shouldn't have to go through 30,000 people, and 10,000 who are trying to take pictures of all of those people who are totally unrelated to the clothes."
Fashion week, in De la Renta and many other industry insiders’ opinions, has descended into an obsessive pop culture phenomenon, where people pay more attention to who is in the front row, than to the designers and their clothing. Increased exclusivity during Fashion Week, for designers, means more attention to their product, and therefore, more business.
This discussion of exclusivity surrounding Fashion Week in the New York media causes me to reflect on this concept of “exclusivity” versus democratization in fashion, and in other “elite” goods, products and services. Exclusivity annoys us and it excites us, and isn’t going away. It promises added value, and makes clothing and other companies a lot of money. The temporary satisfaction of buying status through an experience or product makes us feel special, and that high of egoism is monetized to great success in Western society.
In a way, we can all relate to this phenomenon. One may not care about getting into Fashion Week, but they might obsess about getting in to the World Series. They may get on a months-long waiting list for reservations at the city’s hottest restaurant. They might name-drop, or go into debt forking over loads of cash for the car/bag/house that will send the signal that they’ve got something YOU don’t. What is it about exclusivity that makes us tick?
It is a fact of life that not everyone can get a front row seat at Fashion Week. But exclusive events and experiences create fervor among people, because many tend to think that being a part of that “thing” somehow increases their own personal value and worth. Of course, this isn’t true of all people, but think of how many times you may have been somewhere exclusive, spotted someone famous, or had a fabulous unique experience and didn’t immediately tweet, text, or Facebook the fact, letting the whole world know you are so cool?
Exclusivity has become a selling point in the fashion industry, with Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries going so far as to proudly claim that the label’s clothing is “exclusionary,” and that “some people” don’t “belong: in their clothes. Feel free to read between the lines. There is a debate about whether Abercrombie’s poor stock performance since the comments were made public – along with a 68,000-signature petition denouncing the brand – has anything to do with the Jeffries’ statements.
The big “BUT,” here, as crazy as it may sound, is that there is something about the inevitability of humans’ attraction to exclusivity that can be good for culture, good for business, and good for the human heart.
Would you enjoy the Metropolitan Museum of Art just as much if it didn’t showcase some ofthe world’s most beautiful art and sculpture – the most elite, historic gems? The art at the Met is exclusive because it is some of the highest quality and most historically precious and we celebrate that. When you flip through the Zagat to decide where to eat, you’re making a decision based on ratings: you want the best of the best. These are all very material things, but even your own children are special, the best, because they are yours. Exclusively yours. No other child will matter as much because they don’t exclusively belong to you.