Haute History: Fashion Week

fw 13 elie saab

Hard to believe, but New York Fashion Week is upon us yet again! Whether you follow the collections or not, one thing is for sure — fashion week is a major part of setting trends and styles for the coming season. But when (and why?) did fashion week start? What’s the origin of the runway show? I love learning about this stuff, so I thought I’d do a little investigating for today’s (very timely!) Haute History column!

New York’s first official fashion week can be traced back to 1943. Prior to the war, much of American fashion was heavily reliant on European designers (specifically, France) to set trends and offer inspiration. Or, perhaps this was just the assumption — you see, most fashion journalists didn’t really cover American designers, and instead, focused their work on the well-known French houses. The idea for an American fashion week was created by Eleanor Lambert, a well-known New York fashion publicist. Dubbed ‘Press Week,’ the event was meant to bring attention to American designers, and also provide coverage opportunities for the fashion press, who couldn’t travel to a war-torn Paris. 

elie saab fw13

The plan totally worked — American glossies like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar began to feature American designers more frequently and prominently, and Press Week continued on through the 50s, featuring designers such as Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass.

eliesaab fw13

In the 1970s and 80s, American designers were beginning to host their own shows in lofts and local event spaces like clubs and restaurants. Often, the spaces were extraordinarily unsafe — think plaster falling from loft ceilings (as was the case at Michael Kors’ show in 1990), generators unable to accommodate the lighting and sound systems, and cramped quarters that were entirely too packed (with limited access to fire escapes). The Council of Fashion Designers of America (or CFDA) took up the cause to find a common space that could be shared amongst designers and play host to all the shows — and while many designers were initially hesitant to sign on, eventually, beginning in 1994, Fashion Week was hosted under the tents at Bryant Park. Then, in 2010, the event was moved uptown to Lincoln Center, where it’s still hosted today.

elie saab fw 2013

But, before Fashion Week, was there such a thing as a runway show? Actually, yes! It’s thought that the first American ‘fashion show’ took place in 1903, at a department store in New York called Ehrich Brothers. Throughout the early 20th century, many department stores put on similar shows, which were used as a way to attract customers into the store (and of course, to buy what they saw). These shows could attract thousands, and eventually, the city required that merchants have licenses for any show using live models. And beyond American borders, throughout the mid-20th century, many designers hosted private runway shows in their couture salons in Paris, to introduce the latest designs to fashion journalists and editors.

elie saab fall winter 2013

If you’re interested in learning more about fashion shows and Fashion Week, don’t miss these articles and films:

How the runway took off: A brief history of fashion week

A Brief History of New York Fashion Week

The Tents

{Image Credits: Elie Saab Fall 2013 show via The Cut — one of my absolute favorite, dream designers! History of fashion week found via Slate, and Wikipedia articles on fashion shows, fashion week, and New York Fashion week}



  1. 9.3.13
    meg said:

    Can’t wait!
    I love seeing all of the upcoming trends.


  2. 9.3.13

    Great post, thanks for all the history, love it.

  3. 9.3.13

    Loving the history. Can’t believe it’s already Fashion Week again. Crazinessssss.

    xo, Lindsey

  4. 9.3.13
    dana said:

    thanks for the history – what a great idea! loved reading that.

    The Casual Classic

  5. 9.3.13
    Mary said:

    Thanks for sharing the story behind the story! Great post and lovely images!

  6. 9.3.13
    Becca said:

    I love this history lesson–thank you for sharing. It is so interesting how fashion is so intricately tied to culture and current events.

  7. 9.3.13
    Vicky said:

    Great post! I really enjoyed learning a little more about fashion week!

  8. 9.3.13
    Alecia said:

    This will be an exciting week for sure!

    xx Alecia

  9. 9.3.13
    Chelsea said:

    This is such a cool history! As obsessed as I am with the happenings around NYFW I never thought about its origin! Great share!

  10. 9.4.13
    Megan said:

    Thanks for this!! A fun read!

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