Today is the first day of the biannual Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week, though you would be forgiven for not knowing. Buzz seems to be at a curious low here in Brooklyn, probably because Lincoln Center feels like a world away and all the models shipped over from Eastern Europe probably won’t come to this side of the river until they find out it, well, exists. But for the many fashion designers living here, and especially for the ones without the legacy names that draw uninvited crowds to the Upper West Side—Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Alexander Wang (who is not, unfortunately or fortunately, whichever suits your opinion, returning to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and instead going back to his old haunt at Pier 94)—fashion week is less about seating plans and street style than about capitalizing on the time of year when the whole world’s eyes are fixed on the industry.
To premiere her spring/summer 2015 womenswear line, Cypress Hills designer Suzanne Rae Pelaez (who generally goes by the first two names alone), created a short film, released today, along with two former classmates at Bryn Mawr College. “UNFOLD” is a five-minute exploration of feminine identity, sisterhood and ancient Egyptian pyramids (an integral inspiration for the line) against “In the Lap of the Gods” by the Alan Parsons Project, told by three contemporary dancers, one of which is Pelaez herself. Three white pieces—a jumpsuit, a long dress shirt and a parachute dress—make their debut in the film, which begins with the dancers in underwear, hunched over like primates in a reference to Darwin’s Origin of the Species, until they dress in Pelaez’s garments and are able to break free into broader movement around the space, and ends with the women building, then kicking down, then rebuilding a pyramid out of cardboard boxes. “The conclusion speaks to the collaboration’s intention that Pelaez’s designs and Honig’s dance capture the way women are often able to embody loftiness without forgetting all the people and places that propelled them to this point,” reads the press release.
Fashion films are nothing new, of course, but most often they’re created in addition to a traditional runway show as “campaign videos,” or by designers who already have the clout to replace their runway shows with a film; for instance, Gareth Pugh forwent his spring/summer 2011 show at Paris Fashion Week with an 11-minute video presentation, and will do the same today in New York, adding a live element as well. By now, the runway-alternative is quite common for industry stalwarts: Opening Ceremony’s Sunday presentation is a 30-minute one-act play directed and co-written by Spike Jonze with Jonah Hill; Reed Krakoff is building a gallery installation; while Polo Ralph Lauren will host a TBD, secret “event” in Central Park on Monday.
Which is not to say that the catwalk is obsolete: Even Pelaez, who has no plans to show her spring/summer 2015 collection on the runway and recognizes the advantages of film versus a live presentation—”There’s an expression, an intimacy and a finesse that we are able to do through this video”—wouldn’t want to see it go: “I hope that the traditional structure doesn’t change. The shows are so beautiful. They’re such a big part of what gives people the goosies,” she explained. “But that’s the traditionalist and the romantic in me. The progressive in me, however, feels that change is good because what’s relevant is always evolving… There are just so many more options and creative outlets and solutions for the many more designers and fashion devotees that are out there, especially for those to whom the traditional structure is inaccessible.”
As runway live streams, which Mercedes-Benz will once again implement so that anyone with internet access can witness every show, and up-to-the-second Instagram access to models, designers and editors become ever easier, the fashion film, especially for designers like Pelaez, is more than just a creative alternative to the catwalk—it’s a smart, strategic business move for an industry where most of her customers will only experience fashion week through a screen in the first place.
Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa.