New York’s Fashion Week, born from War

This year’s New York Fashion Week marks its 68th anniversary since 1943. As much as this blog is about military influences in fashion, it is also about the history of fashion itself. New York’s fashion week was started in 1943 out of necessity. In the early 20th century the epicenter of the fashion world was Paris. However, in 1940 Paris fell and became occupied by Nazi Germany. With this occupation came food and clothing rationing, curfews and strict rules. All of which prohibited Paris’s fashion houses from operating at the same level as they were during peacetime.

One of Press Week’s runways

With fashion shows coming to a complete stop in Paris, and with wartime London consistently under bombardment, fashion was in disarray. It wasn’t until 1943, that a new center of the fashion would emerge during these trying times. A “Press Week”, which was Fashion Week’s original name, was planned and created by a young fashion publicist named Eleanor Lambert. Ms. Lambert was the daughter of a circus promoter in Indiana, and already had a claim to fame in fashion by creating “The Best Dressed” list in 1940. She rallied the fashion industry, which was in dire need of such an event because, as savvy as fashion designers, labels, and fashion journalist were, the Third Reich would not permit such an event to occur.

Eleanor Lambert

“Press Week” would be the first time that American designers would be put into the global limelight. The fashion week of 1943, was also a critical moral booster for the art and fashion world. With the rest of the globe engulfed in war, fashion week allowed a reprieve from it all, through the joys of creativity, art and fashion. New York’s Mayor at the time, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, could not have put it better with one of his opening remarks before the show; “Along with the vast war contributions that are being made, New York seeks to keep alive the beautiful and splendid things of life,”.

Within one year, on August 25th 1944, Paris would be liberated and fashion would soon return to the city of lights. However, “Press Week” made such an impression on the industry, that it soon became a required event for designers to showcase their newest lines.

Occupied Paris was far from a place to host any type of fashion show, let alone an entire week.  To give some insight into what occupied Paris looked like, I have inluded some photographs.

Adolf Hitler during his only visit to the city in 1940

Rue de Rivoli by Hôtel Meurice which was used by the Germans as a Headquarters

Although born from war, New York City and fashion would just not be the same without this wonderful week in February, where the only uniforms seen are on beautiful models marching down the runway.

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