Here’s a bit of trivia about NYC fashion; did you know that the name for nylon stockings was originally derived from New York and London – the two cities where this useful material was first developed as an alternative to silk?
Actually, although this is a popular explanation for the etymology of the word “nylon,” there’s little historical evidence to support it. Nonetheless, it is a colourful story – but no less than the story of the NYC fashion scene as a whole.
Although Paris is often seen as the centre of the fashion world, the garment industry has had a long presence in the Empire State, and New York City in particular. Entire districts were once given over to the small tailor’s shops, haberdasheries and clothing stores that were the forerunner of the modern NYC fashion industry.
Of course, the NYC fashion scene is more than designers and manufacturers of clothing – much more. Those who work behind the scenes – textile designers, photographers and the editors and publishers of NYC fashion-oriented literature and periodicals often make significant contributions toward determining what the “in” crowd will be wearing this season, even when these contributions are not generally recognized by the public at large.
What is interesting about the fashion world in general and NYC fashion, in particular, is the fact that it has virtually always been dominated by women. From the earliest fashion designers of 18th-Century London to the most recent cutting-edge NYC fashion design houses of mid-town Manhattan, it is women designers who have traditionally set the pace and tone for each season. Currently, at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, an exhibit running through the beginning of November 2008 meticulously recounts the history of women’s fashion design, of which the NYC fashion scene is but apart. What is most interesting is that the designs of these women are generally conservative, understated and tasteful; the garish and often bizarre creations that are seen from time to time in NYC fashion industry trade shows are usually the creation of men, attempting to design clothing for women (with a fair amount of chemical assistance, one suspects).
Sometimes, of course, these florid designs have their use; the late Erté (“R.T.” in French, for “Roman Tyrtov”), whose lavish costumes graced many of Ziegfield’s girls during the 1920s, the style of which set the tone of “art deco” in terms of NYC fashion, was one of those rare male designers whose sense of fashion had a profound effect on the NYC fashion scene in general.
Women who look wistfully at NYC fashion longing to be part of it but perhaps lack the wherewithal should not despair, but consider the words of Erté, who said: “A resourceful woman who is almost downright plain can achieve the reputation of a beauty simply by announcing to everybody she meets that she is one.” NYC fashion is no substitute for self-confidence – in women or men.