Religion and runways collide in NYC
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Rosh Hashanah S/S 2014

Religion and runways collide in NYC

With New York City Fashion Week beginning Thursday, Jewish fashionistas and designers have to choose between the shofar and the shows

A Yigal Azrouel fashion show; what will the Israeli designer do about this year's conflict between New York Fashion Week and Rosh Hashanah? (photo credit:  Mandiberg/CC-BY-SA-2.0)
A Yigal Azrouel fashion show; what will the Israeli designer do about this year's conflict between New York Fashion Week and Rosh Hashanah? (photo credit: Mandiberg/CC-BY-SA-2.0)

New York City’s Fashion Week begins Thursday, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and a silent conflict between religious observance and the fashion industry is making itself known.

The seven-day event, which brings in nearly $1 billion for the city as well as more than 200,000 attendees, is as much an occasion for parties, gossip, networking, press and publicity as it is about sartorial selection. In other words, it’s a big deal and no one wants to miss it.

When designer Daniella Kallymeyer found out that the first three days of this year’s fall fashion week coincided with Rosh Hashanah, she threw her heavily accessorized hands up in the air, took a deep breath and exclaimed, “I’m rather frustrated!”

Named “one to watch” by fashion daily Women’s Wear Daily and best known as the first winner of Bravo’s “The Fashion Show,” Kallymeyer had been toiling away in her Garment District studio for “seven days a week” as Fashion Week approached, she said.

She smiled broadly when describing the hard work, but gritted her teeth at the mention of the Rosh Hashanah-versus-runway conundrum. Each fall, Kallymeyer looks forward to celebrating the New Year with her family in Potomac, Maryland, but this year has no choice but to stay in New York City, due to the scheduling conflict. Even so, she will still miss several shows and events.

“I’ve had to very inconveniently reschedule photo shoots, miss important networking opportunities and schedule sales appointments several days late,” she said. “I had to turn down a high profile show I’ve been asked to participate in and strategic dinners I want to attend. All because I know fashion isn’t life or death like we treat it and it’s important to hold onto your identity, your values in an industry that is all about keeping up, showing up, and dressing up.”

'The Fashion Show' winner and designer Daniella Kallymeyer can't head home to Maryland for Rosh Hashanah this year (Courtesy Bravo TV)
‘The Fashion Show’ winner and designer Daniella Kallymeyer can’t head home to Maryland for Rosh Hashanah this year (Courtesy Bravo TV)

Kallymeyer is in good company. Although it’s the up-and-coming designers like her who will be most affected by missing out on several days of the all-important industry event, many of the biggest names in fashion such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Kenneth Cole, Isaac Mizrahi, Zac Posen, Donna Karan, Alber Elbaz, and Diane von Furstenberg are also forced to choose between high fashion and the High Holidays.

The event is a major revenue maker for the city, bringing in an estimated $865 million in 2012, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation. It’s also a significant stepping stone for young designers like Kallymeyer, given that one of out four attendees is a merchandise buyer, and that media and press personnel account for 40% of the guest list, reported the city corporation.

Another Jewish designer, Elie Tahari — who was born in Jerusalem to Persian parents and served in the IDF before making his way to New York — had to reschedule a Fashion Week event with City Hall. To honor Tahari’s 40th anniversary in fashion, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is naming September 4 “Elie Tahari Day.” Setting the date, however, wasn’t as easy as dipping apples in honey.

“The City wanted to pick a day in the midst of Fashion Week, but we pushed for the fourth so as to avoid clashes with the holiday,” said Scott Currie, Tahari’s VP of communications. “It’s been really hectic in our office because of Rosh Hashanah, but that’s what we got to do.”

Leandra Medine, aka, 'The Man Repeller,' a fashion blogger (Courtesy The Man Repeller)
Leandra Medine, aka, ‘The Man Repeller,’ a fashion blogger (Courtesy The Man Repeller)

Tahari is not the only Jewish fashion figure balancing temple and time. Blogging’s new “It” girl, Leandra Medine, an alumna of the Modern Orthodox Ramaz high school and known to the world as “The Man Repeller,” Medine will also be avoiding the runways for the first few days of Fashion Week.

“This season things are happening a bit differently,” wrote Medine, who was listed by Forbes in its “Top 30 Under 30.” “I’ll be off the grid, inhaling apples and snorting honey, etc., through sundown on Saturday in observance of the Jewish New Year. Come Sunday, though, I’m in the gauntlet.”

The last time these two fetes of fashion and religion collided was in 2010. At the time, Max Azria and Israeli designer Yigal Azrouël were able to change the date of their shows, but this year Azria lost the battle and the BCBGMAXAZRIA show is slated for Thursday, September 5, the first day of the two-day holiday. 

Yigal Azrouel was able to switch his show to Sunday, after Rosh Hashanah (Courtesy Yigal Azrouel)
Yigal Azrouel was able to switch his show to Sunday, after Rosh Hashanah (Courtesy Yigal Azrouel)

Azrouël, on the other hand, had some of his prayers answered by the finicky fashion gods.

“We have been looking to change our slot for some time now,” explained the sabra designer famed for creating feminine, fluid cuts gracing celebrities such as Halle Berry and Natalie Portman. Unlike Azria, Yigal was able to change his show from Friday to Sunday.

“We have a great team, so we planned in advance to get our work done early so I will be able to take the time away from preparations and fashion week events to properly celebrate,” he told The Times of Israel.

Non-Jewish members of the industry are also feeling the pinch. Designers have asked to switch dates to ensure front-row seats will fill with the right faces, while others are anxiously scheduling private meetings with Jewish buyers, editors, and reporters after the holiday.

Many fashion industry insiders are left wondering whether the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Fashion Week organizers, would ever schedule the springtime fashion event during Easter. Kelly Cutrone, the founder of fashion PR firm People’s Revolution and a star of television shows “The Hills,” “The City” and “Kell on Earth” said she was “surprised this would happen with such a strong Jewish presence in the industry.”

At the same time, she didn’t think the council is the one to blame.

“It’s up to the global fashion community,” Cutrone said. “In runway season we become tribal, moving from New York, London, Paris to Milan. Each year, leaders in these fashion capitals arrange the four locations, with the order varying based on factors like the economy — It’s basically a UN issue.”

Fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone understands the religion-runway divide (Courtesy Kelly Cutrone)
Fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone understands the religion-runway divide (Courtesy Kelly Cutrone)

The always-black-clad Cutrone is famous for her biting cynicism and workaholic ways, but commented that “any time people want to stop and celebrate life, humanity, family and God is a good thing; it’s more important than a fashion show,”she said. “Hey, if I were a Jew, I would not work on Rosh Hashanah.”

She laughed, remembering to what lengths people go in the name of fashion.

“Literally, the day the World Trade Center was hit, I had clients calling to ask if their shows would run late,” she said, shaking her head.“I’m like ‘Are you out of your mind?’”

Even in fashion, agreed Cutrone, the show cannot always go on.

Still, some city fashionistas are doing what they can to mix Rosh Hashanah devotion and fashion. One synagogue, Chabad of the West 60s, led by Rabbi Yehuda Lipskier and his wife, Faya Lipskier, and located right across the street from Lincoln Center, is trying to “bridge the gap” for the conflicted members of the tribe “torn in two directions,” as Rabbi Lipskier put it.

They’re holding services tailored for fashionistas stuck at the shows and are preparing a special prayer “for the success of the Jewish fashion designers,” but will also also be bringing the celebration straight to the steps of Lincoln Center. There, intermittently from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. on each day of the holiday, Rabbi Lipskier is sending other rabbis into the fashion fray outside the runways to blow the shofar announcing the incoming New Year.

“Celebrating Rosh Hashanah and especially listening to the shofar are some of the biggest mitzvahs of the year and we want to help all Jews participate in them,” said Rabbi Lipskier. “Being located across the street from the shows, we knew we had to step up to support the community need.”

Faya Lipskier said the conflict of Fashion Week and Rosh Hashanah revealed an unexpected intersection of religion and runways.

“Both Fashion Week and Rosh Hashanah are about a sense of renewal and rebirth,” she said. “Rosh Hashanah is like packing a suitcase full of designs and inspiration. What matters is how we unpack these ideas over the next twelve months.”

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