Main Image: Angel Chen

Op Ed: A Brief History of Fashion Week

Simon P. Lock, ORDRE co-founder and CEO, gives a brief history of the fashion week — from its roots in Paris after WW2, to a global system of 247 separate fashion weeks today.

In 1996, I had the crazy idea of establishing the first fashion week in the Southern Hemisphere in Sydney. Now, 23 years later, that fashion week continues to be a great success. My company then started to produce fashion weeks right round the Asia Pacific region: Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Japan and also in the Middle East — we became the go-to company to develop these glamorous trade events which involved tremendous designers, supermodels and everything you read about in the media.

We came to the attention of IMG and they bought the company. For a while, I had the great luck to be able to work on some of the big international fashion weeks like New York, London and Milan — I’ve had a very fortunate career in fashion. We also owned our own wholesale agencies — showrooms in Tokyo, Shanghai, London and New York, and historically, this is how the business of fashion has been done. Taking sample collections to these physical showrooms and inviting the buyers to come in and see them. It’s a very analog and old fashioned way of doing business.

Backstage at Thom Browne

So how did it develop? It’s quite interesting in the context of how we’re now digitising this experience and bring the industry kicking and screaming into the digital age. The international fashion week circuit is an incredibly phenomenon which started in Paris after the 2nd World War when the French government wanted to give support to the industry and promote a positioning of luxury and excellence for French brands. They brought all the designers together through an organisation called the Chambre Syndicale and they said, “Instead of showing at different times during the year, let’s show around one week and invite all the buyers across Europe to come and see our collections twice a year.”

Of course, that seemed like a really good idea — efficient for buyers to come to Paris, view the collections, buy them and then six months later, those clothes would arrive in store. At the same time, the fashion media had really come into its own. Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle would report on those collections and the pages would come out six months later when the clothes arrived in store. Of course, people would read Vogue, see a dress, go in store and there it was.

“Before long, there were 247 fashion weeks around the world, all trying to get the attention of the same buyers. ”

It was really quite a genius strategy for operating in the fashion industry, and Paris really got the whole thing going, much to the chagrin on the Italians. They thought, “We’re the centre of the fashion world, we should have our own fashion week!” and so Milan Fashion Week was established. The British industry got really upset about this, deciding that they too needed a fashion week, and so the British Fashion Council started London Fashion Week, with New York soon to follow.

That system had been in place for a number of years. Twice a year, buyers would go to all these four cities. And then, when I started a fashion week in Australia, I said to all those buyers: “Why don’t you come down here and have a look at our designers as well?” and we started to gather momentum. This opened the floodgates and before long, there were 247 fashion weeks around the world, all trying to get the attention of the same buyers.

At the same time, the retailers decided that two collections a year wasn’t enough — they wanted four. Resort, Winter, Pre-Fall and Spring were born. They wanted this four times a year in London, Paris, Milan and New York. So to do the job as a buyer for a department store or a multi-label boutique or an online retailer, buyers had to spend their lives travelling between these cities to physically go and see the clothes.

There were a lot of CEOs saying “This is unsustainable, I can’t have my team travelling the world all the time.” There needed to be a new way of doing the business of fashion. We saw the global financial collapse happen, and the amount of buyers traveling to fashion weeks fell off a cliff because the CEOs decided they needed to procure more effectively and efficiently. Thus, we created ORDRE…

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