Why Did Major Designers Show In L.A. This Season?

Is it time to ditch NYFW?

On the first day of New York Fashion Week, when an unexpectedly big snowstorm hit Manhattan, even I, a stubborn East Coast dweller through and through, couldn't deny the appeal of a winter on the west coast. Maybe it was the slush that went inside my Stuart Weitzman snow boot as I stepped into a giant, ankle-deep black puddle, or the vibrant collections that showed days before in L.A.—but I was ready to decamp to the west coast, just as an unprecedented number of designers have done this season.

As NYC was preparing for one of its busiest times of the year, L.A. was growing credence as a fashion capital, playing host to shows from the likes of Rachel Comey, Tommy Hilfiger, Rebecca Minkoff, and Rachel Zoe—designers who typically show in New York—on the days leading up to NYFW. (In fact, that aforementioned snowstorm almost prevented editors from flying back to NYC on time following the Hilfiger show.) If see now, buy now was the trend of Spring 2017 collections, skipping out of Big Apple's festivities was what the cool fashion kids were doing this season.

Of course, designers showing in the City of Angels is not news in itself; big names like Tom Ford and Saint Laurent have in the past taken to the west coast to present their collections. The appeal is obvious: For one, the schedule is less intense with only one or two events happening a day, a major draw for the hosts who don't have to share the space and limited time with other designers whose shows are immediately preceding and following theirs. Another is the more scaled-back level of pomp and circumstance that has overtaken New York City with what feels like everyone and their street style mother congregating around show spaces and at after-parties. More importantly, though, designers are starting to discover a large chunk of their customer base living in L.A., and with the focus returning back to the consumer, designers are prepared to come to them to show their latest offerings and hear direct feedback.

"The last time I presented at NYFW, I knew I wanted to take a break—take a step back to really find out who I am as a designer and who I’m speaking to with my collection," says designer, celebrity stylist, and founder of The Zoe Report, Rachel Zoe, who showed her new ready-to-wear collection at the Sunset Tower Hotel. "I realize that I will always be bicoastal, but showing here feels like home." And the evening wear-heavy line, that also doubled as the designer's debut see now, buy now collection, felt right at home in the historic venue and surrounded by Zoe's devoted celebrity fans like Eva Longoria, Poppy Delevingne, and Jaime King.

Zoe not only considers L.A. home due to her brand's West Hollywood headquarters but ultimately, home to the women that she serves. "My family is here. My friends are here. Here, I am surrounded by the women that inspire me and how I design." 

Her reasoning is one that New York-based designer Rebecca Minkoff, who originally hails from California, mirrors. Inspired by the '70s surf scene, the new collection served as an ode to her southern California roots, which made L.A. the obvious venue to show in. That major designers see L.A. as a source of inspiration now is not that surprising either; the intersection of fashion, music, pop culture, and art provides endless stimulus for designers and was one of the reasons Hedi Slimane relocated Saint Laurent design team to L.A. as his first order of business in 2012 when he took reins at the famed label (he left the brand last year). It does, though, speak volumes about the city’s growing importance and influence as a fashion market; the fact that Slimane doubled Saint Laurent's sales after changing the fashion infrastructure of how the brand previously operated with his unprecedented way of thinking during his tenure is hardly a coincidence. 

When it came to the venue, Minkoff couldn't find a more appropriate home than L.A.'s popular shopping and dining destination The Grove to present her new line. "I wanted to create inclusivity with a show that allowed the public to participate and directly connect with the brand, which provided them with the ultimate runway experience," says Minkoff, whose last show in September took place on the streets outside of her SoHo store on Greene Street."We are constantly taking risks and taking the path less traveled, so I think we definitely will continue pushing our limits for the seasons to come." The designer again showcased a see now, buy now collection and hosted all-day interactive activations including a yoga class, a fireside discussion on entrepreneurialism, wine tasting, artisan pop-up shop, and a reading with Keke Palmer. 

"We wanted to give our customer exactly what she wanted—immediate satisfaction and a 360-degree lifestyle experience that tapped into technology, beauty, wellness, philanthropy, entrepreneurialism, and the culinary arts." 

The runway-to-retail experience is one designers have been exploring more in the last few seasons. With NYFW so instant and transparent right now, and consumers being able to see the collections in real time over social media without even being physically at the shows, few are interested in shopping half a year later after first spotting something on Instagram or investing in a piece from a brand that they don't feel a loyalty to. Similar to the instant gratification they feel watching a livestream of a brand-new collection, consumers need an instant way to take action or connect, be it via a see now, buy now collection or an attachment to a label whose lifestyle they share or aspire to emulate. "The purpose of the show with all day events leading up to the show was to have a direct dialogue with my consumer," says Minkoff.

Be it a more glamorous narrative, promoted at Rachel Zoe's presentation or at Tom Ford's show in 2015—that by no small chance aligned with the Oscars (some are predicting that Ford will host a similar soiree this season in L.A.)—that the customer hopes to channel or that suits their lifestyle, or a fun, laid-back vibe that's already part of the consumer's day-to-day, like at Rebecca Minkoff's multifaceted show that was entirely open to the public, a successful runway show no longer automatically translates into a profitable season of sales.

Tommy Hilfiger, too, has seen the advantages of hosting a multidimensional runway show when last season he presented his new collection in collaboration with It Model Gigi Hadid. After staging a makeshift carnival at Manhattan's Pier 16, with a Ferris wheel and all, Hilfiger opened up "Tommy Pier" for consumers to browse and shop the see now, buy now line in person in one of the most buzzed-about moves of that NYFW season. This season, he recreated his success, but in, you guessed it, L.A. Held at the quintessential Venice Beach, "TOMMYLAND" celebrated California's music and art festival scene with fairground rides, entertainers, food trucks, and surprise performances. A press release from the company stated the following:

TOMMYNOW is built on Hilfiger’s vision to democratize fashion by delivering instant gratification to consumers through an ecosystem of immediately shoppable channels. This season the brand introduced new channels and next generation features, leveraging digital innovation to connect with global consumers in a personalized way that reflects how they live and shop today.

Minkoff sees this as an evolvement of the fashion industry, which is finally putting the focus back on the consumer. She does admit that it's by no means a one-size-fits-all formula that will expand to the entire NYFW roster. "I think that fashion is constantly changing and evolving. The more it changes, the more designers grow and push themselves. Every brand will do what makes sense for their own consumer and their needs," she says. "I think this is only the beginning of the fashion week evolution, and I am excited to see what's to come in the future."

So is a full-blown move to L.A. destined to be the future of NYFW? As Zoe points out, it will always be New York for certain brands, snowstorm or no. "L.A. is definitely having a moment, and I’m thrilled to be part of it now," she says. "I think the NYFW scene will always belong to designers like Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs. However, I do think that more and more designers will start to take Los Angeles more seriously—and people will really see all the creativity this city has to offer." After all, if Slimane is proof, new territory also promotes a new way of thinking, which would explain why the events of one show hosted in L.A. could easily compete with a full day of shows in New York.

Plus, it's always nice to change your scenery, especially for one that doesn't threaten to destroy your shoes.