With almost
no live audiences and few major names, New York Fashion week, which opens
Sunday in city that was ravaged by the pandemic, is not giving up — and is
trying to help American designers survive an unprecedented crisis.

Don’t bother
looking for Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, or Ralph Lauren, regular heavy-hitters
on the lineup. They won’t be attending this Fashion Week, which will last only
three days, from Sunday evening to Wednesday.

Eager to
sell off some of the considerable stock accumulated since the start of the
pandemic and sometimes held back by a much-slowed production chain, the big
designers are showing their new collections later, separate from the usual
fashion calendar.

Marc Jacobs
has given up his spring-summer 2021 collection altogether.

Also read: Pantone unveils Spring/Summer New York Fashion Week colour palette

The only
fashion giant attending this week will be Tom Ford, who will show his new
collection virtually for the closing event Wednesday night.

His presence
is a symbol of the willpower of the Council of Fashion Designers of America
(CFDA), of which Ford is the chairman, to support American design houses of all
sizes — many teetering on the brink.

American high-end ready-to-wear designs have relied heavily on department
stores, which were in bad shape themselves and have fallen like dominoes during
the pandemic, from Barneys and Lord & Taylor to Neiman Marcus.

fashion shows have practically vanished from the calendar this season, with a
few (very rare) exceptions, including Jason Wu’s opening show on Sunday, or
Rebecca Minkoff, whose presentation is on Tuesday.

Even if New
York has become one of the stronger case studies in recovery, the US has
struggled to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, which explains the
discrepancies with Paris, Milan or London fashion weeks, where live fashion
shows were much more frequent.

Apart from
health risks, “when trying to simply pay as many employees as I can and
not have to make further cuts or furloughs, to spend several million dollars on
a show makes no sense,” Ford said in an interview with industry
publication Women’s Wear Daily.

Ever the
pragmatist, the 59-year-old, generally clad in a black suit, doesn’t anticipate
a “normal” season before fall 2021.

In order to
help American designers hang on, the CFDA invested in a new platform — named
Runway360 — that is accessible to designers for free and lets fashion houses
show their collections and create virtual events around their designs.

More than 50
of the 70 or so designers on the agenda for New York Fashion Week are using
Runway360. Some of them have filmed their shows in New York in advance and will
stream the videos at their appointed time.

But even
without in-person shows, “fashion is a business, and Fashion Week is a
platform for designers to do business,” CFDA CEO Steven Kolb told AFP.

“Fashion Week is about jobs… it’s about people’s livelihoods. It’s about
moving forward, but cautiously, with safety in mind,” he said.

Many young
designers view this uncharted period as “an opportunity to get
exposed,” said Geoffrey Owens, an African-American designer showing his
very first collection for his label Zoonek at the Flying Solo show.

Just one
year ago, Owens, also a minister, was cutting hair in his salon in Virginia
Beach, dreaming of fashion.

skilled in drawing, he learned how to sew in just 30 days and was able to
“activate that gift.”

have been opening ever since,” he said.

newbie Fashion Week presenter Mohamed ElMadawy echoed the hope: “Those big
brands are not showing as aggressively anymore, so I think I have a better
chance” of breaking through, he said.

ElMadawy is
Egyptian and has been living in New York since 2012. He is showing his first
collection at Fashion Week for his brand Elmadawy on Sunday, also at the show
by Flying Solo, a cutting-edge boutique in SoHo that scouts and promotes
emerging designers.

For Owens, a
designer’s role is to “set the bar” for society and “bring us
out of… that dark place” of the past six months.

“Let’s live again,” he said.