How Did New York Fashion Week Look In 1940?

Dennis Basso SS 2016
Dennis Basso SS 2016

New York Fashion Week wasn’t always what it is today. Believe it or not, models weren’t always famous, and celebrities weren’t always sitting in the front row. It all began in 1940 when one woman single-handedly founded the Fashion Week organization. This woman was the incredible Eleanor Lambert, a central figure in the American fashion and public relations industries.

The year was 1943, and World War II made it impossible for fashion powerhouses to travel to Paris to gather inspiration. It had been said that before this point U.S. designers largely relied on the French fashion industry for what was haute.  At this point Lambert decided to pair her talents for the public relations and fashion realms to create a Fashion Press Week in New York. Developing the world’s first official Fashion Week right here in the big apple.

Little did Lambert know, she would be creating an organization that would influence the fashion world much beyond her years. Her Fashion Press Week led journalists and media to focus more on American designers. During this time, the shows were made for writers and press. You wouldn’t find Hollywood or celebrities stealing the spotlight at these shows. Not to mention the fact that Instagram and bloggers didn’t exist yet.

Just one year later in 1944 an official Fashion Week calendar was born. Behind the effort was Ruth Finley, who was responsible for creating the first compilation of the most important fashion events and show during that week. The Fashion Week movement boomed from here. The 50s and 60s saw the organized event grow into much more than just a press affair. It became an integral part of society, and created a new landscape for fashion in the United States. Lambert furthered her legacy in the fashion world when she formed the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The advent of this organization solidified the US as a successful hub for art, culture and fashion throughout the globe.

Fashion Press Week turned into the bi-annual New York Fashion Week and the world began to catch on. Milan started its own fashion week in 1975 and London almost a decade later in 1984. At this point, New York Fashion Week was already so much more than fashion. It was parties, socialites, club kids and the scene. This new culture was also reflected back into the clothes themselves. Designers began pushing the boundaries for what was shown in their collections.

The late 80s and 90s put the show in fashion show. Prior to this point in time most shows were held at galleries, hotels, and nightclubs. The famous white tent fashion shows you know of now weren’t until New York Fashion Week moved to Bryant Park. This is when the Mercedes-Benz sponsorship occurred. After that it became a celebrity-focused world of exclusive invites and strict guest lists. In 2010 the event got so popular that it had to be moved to the Lincoln Center.

Coming into 2016 New York Fashion Week is bigger than ever. Not only is it harder than ever to get a coveted spot in the Fashion Week calendar, it is also more complicated to chose which ones to go to. The week has become a celebration throughout the city with many different industries taking part. Nightclubs host fashion parties, restaurants curate special menus, hotels provide unique packages, and everyone seems to be all dressed up.

Now that we’ve briefly recapped Fashion Week in words, let’s take a look at the decades through photography:


Press Week New York, 1943.
Fashion Press Week New York, 1943 via Smithsonian


Dior Show 1955 smithsonian
Dior Show, 1955 via Smithsonian


Christian Dior 1958 via Mashable
Christian Dior 1958 via Mashable


Donald Brooks for Townley, Fall 1964 via Mashable


New York couture council's press week, Jan. 7, 1972 (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)
New York couture council’s press week, Jan. 7, 1972 (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)


Tyra Banks at Yves Saint Laurent, 1992
Tyra Banks at Yves Saint Laurent, 1992 via Harpers Bazaar
Naomi Campbell, Karl Lagerfeld and Christy Turlington at Chanel, 1992
Naomi Campbell, Karl Lagerfeld and Christy Turlington at Chanel, 1992 via Harpers Bazaar


Zac Posen, SS 2005 (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)
Zac Posen, SS 2005 (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)


Marc Jacobs, Fall 2014
Marc Jacobs, Fall 2014