Up until the 1940s, American designers were being ignored in favour of the European houses, even by members of their own press. The frame of reference for American fashion had always been European: American designers would travel to Paris, view the twice-yearly collections, and return to emulate them, hence influencing American style in a very non-American way. Although New York was known as a garment manufacturing centre, its designers remained unknown. If an American celebrity wanted a dress for the red carpet, for instance, she would fly to Paris to get it.
In 1940, The Dress Institute hired pioneering fashion publicist, Eleanor Lambert to help promote American fashion. The Institute had already set up a fund in which a fraction of the cost of each union-made dress would go toward an advertising campaign bringing attention to New York designers. In 1943, Lambert shrewdly decided to capitalize on Paris’s wartime misfortunes and organize an event in which New York designers would present their collections to members of the fashion press, thus bringing attention to New York and away from Paris. The event was called Press Week—today we call it Fashion Week—and it marked the beginning of major magazines like Vogue featuring American designs on its pages, looks which tended to be more innovative and wearable than their European counterparts.
Fashion Weeks have since popped up in cities all over the world, and New York continues to open each season, followed by London, Milan, and Paris (the Big Four). Although most fashion insiders agree Paris still rules haute couture, New York leads when it comes to ready to wear…and that’s where the money is. Very American, wouldn’t you say?
Image of first NYC Press Week
Image of Eleanor Lambert