Should Fashion Shows Be Open to the Public? Industry Insiders Don't Seem to Think So

New York Fashion Week is officially upon us, which means the Internet will be filled with stylish Instagram snaps, humble-brag tweets from fashion insiders, and countless think pieces about whether the biggest style event of the year should remain exclusive. While some people are all for the inclusivity that the digital age has brought to the shows, others, like Anders Christian Madsen of i-D, maintain that fashion week should remain closed to the public.

Fashion week walks a fine line between industry convention and opportunity for customer engagement. Now that the Internet is ubiquitous, you no longer need to be on the masthead at a major magazine to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes at a fashion show — simply load up Instagram or keep tabs on your favorite bloggers and its as if you're there. Some designers are even using social media to give fans the opportunity to vote on aspects of their runway shows. But how much is too much? Should fashion shows actually be open to the public?

According to Madsen, they definitely shouldn't. "If catwalk shows went big-scale," he writes, "and everyone was invited, or if we got rid of them altogether and just did a film or whatever, the role of the press would be diminished because the public wouldn’t be as interested in reading what we had to say. Why would they, when they had been there themselves and heard the music and smelled the air and seen the clothes from every angle, just like the press? "

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He actually has a good point. While I love being able to scroll through Eva Chen's IG feed and look at cool photos from the presentations, there's something to be said about the actual shows still being closed to the public. As a fashion journalist, I might be biased. After all, I've dreamed of being invited to fashion week since I picked up my first issue of Vogue in middle school. The exclusivity was always part of the charm for me. This year I'll be attending for NYFW for the first time and, because it's such a rite of passage for those who work in fashion, I'm unbelievably excited.

Making fashion week public would not only rob fashion professionals of this experience, but it would also render the shows themselves meaningless. If the presentations were available to everyone, what would be their purpose? As it stands now, the experts — buyers, journalists, editors, photographers, and bloggers who are paid to know fashion inside and out — are in charge of gathering as much information as possible and distilling that information to the public. According to Madsen:

With nobody needing to know the details, less and less people would need to read show reports, and less and less people would be exposed – whether intentionally or not – to all-important expert opinion and knowledge, which would bereave the truly great shows of the build-up of history and character that follow in the wake of them. The history books wouldn’t recall the superlatives of gushing reviews (or indeed the opposite), and little by little the individual fashion show would lose meaning. Collections would become disposable. In a world where everyone feels like a tastemaker, and anyone can set up a blog, exclusivity is more important than ever because it distinguishes between expert opinion and, well, the opposite.
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Valerie Steele, fashion historian and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology told The New York Times that fashion week has always been an ultra-private event that originally catered to the clients of high-end labels. "It became gradually more focused on the press and the buyers and the professional fashion business but even today, of course, there are plenty of important clients in the audience of the show," she said.

Perhaps fashion week will never be as exclusive as it once was due to social media and the rise of blogging, and that's not a bad thing. But if the presentations remain invite-only, the allure of fashion week won't ever have to die.

Images: Getty Images