By Queen Carrasco
If you were an avid TikTok user in the month of September, you may have noticed the numerous videos relating to free New York Fashion Week (NYFW) events for the public. Creators such as @Snickerrz, a hair stylist, @SymphonyFari, a fashion designer and entrepreneur, and many others, posted free and accessible events for those in New York City. Based on the 1943 concept of ‘Press Week’, New York Fashion Week became a centralized event in 1993. And since then, celebrities have flocked to Central Park to watch shows in the pitched tents, enjoying the glitz and glamor. Until recently, the general public was not allowed to participate in the spectacle.
Due to the industry’s exclusionary nature, fashion and the arts have always been alluring to ‘regular’ people. To be in the world of fashion and arts meant "to be better than." This idea has been played with numerous times throughout pop culture. In The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda says to Andy "Everyone wants to be us." Both women are in positions of power, with Miranda calling the shots that influence the whole world of fashion. Now, this is not a movie deep dive; it is to say, however, that pop culture has had an idea of how exclusive the fashion and art world has been for quite some time.
Fashion and the arts have been trying to rebrand themselves from that form of explicit exclusionism. In its newest attempts, the fashion and arts world has attempted to make up for their exclusionary habit by inviting “obscure” influencers into their spaces.
Social media influencers are people who have built their reputation on a specific niche and or industry on social media platforms. They build their audiences by being funny, relatable, fashionable, etc. And they have key aspects, qualities, or traits that their audiences resonate with.
In the grand scheme of things, influencer marketing isn’t new. Typically, it involves promotions and endorsements from influencers who compel their audience to purchase a product or service. TikTok Shop is an easy example of this type of relationship. The shop feature of the app allows influencers to promote and showcase products they enjoy or have brand deals with, and gives consumers the ability to buy these items without leaving the video. Though influencers have not always been invited to celebrity events and spaces, the companies and brands that regulate them are increasingly inviting influencers in an attempt to shed their highly exclusive reputations.
In the same month of this year’s New York Fashion Week, a Manhattan gallery hosted an event that left many feeling excluded. Founded by Paul Hill, Strada is defined as “a future-oriented gallery focusing on redesigning the art world and changing how the art market functions.” They claim that “by fostering community and providing career-building resources, Strada is designing an art world more inclusive of the people within it.” Strada draws in “cool kids”, art enthusiasts, and anyone with a few minutes and a wandering eye, and it markets itself as an inclusive space. But many who showed up to the gallery’s debut exhibition– and formed a line around the block– were not welcomed as they thought they would be. Strada invited its social media followers to the opening, and made a point to say that the event would be free. But, when those followers arrived, it became clear that, though free, the event was not equally open to everyone. On one side of the security checkpoint were the ‘normal’ people, the public. On the other side stood the ‘RSVPs’; those who were able to skip the line, as well as walk in and out.
Events and afterparties hosted by designers and companies are common in the history of NYFW, but it is less common for the general public to be invited. This NYFW, after hosting a popup event for his brand NOID, designer and influencer Denzel Dion hosted an afterparty. He posted an RSVP link on his Instagram, advertising the party to his 2.2 followers. Yet, while he knew that the RSVP limit was 500, the over 3000 people who showed up outside the venue did not.
Zidan Ahmed, a casual instagram user that posts personal content, attended four NYFW events this year. He stresses that he does not curate his content to make money and characterizes himself as a normal person. He felt that the more public events he attended, such as giveaways and pop-ups, were informal and had no noticeable hierarchy of guests. However, he found the gallery and afterparty events were more ‘formal’ and exclusionary. The VIP lists and many security guards and public relations personnel controlling the door suggested that there was an attitude about who would or would not be let in.
“Everyone was under the impression that if you RSVPed, you would be let in. That was not the case,” Ahmed said about the NOID afterparty. Safiatou ‘Safi’ Bah, an inactive social media user, also attended the NOID afterparty. She said that “the ratio of ‘normal’ people to ‘influencers’ was about one in five or one in ten.”
But, those lucky “regular people” who made it inside were excited despite the difficulty. ‘Once I got in, I didn’t feel like I was excluded. There was almost a sense of community in the sense of ‘OMG, you got in so you’re good,” Ahmed continued. “I’ve always appreciated fashion because it allowed me to express myself in an attempt to find solace in who I am and who I’m meant to be.’ He theorizes that people want to access and participate in events such as these because to be in it makes them feel worthy and special. And says that it is validating to be accepted into a world you feel like you belong in.
The fashion and art spaces should not exclude the public. Fashion and art should be inclusive and available for all, as they are uniquely able to foster community and bring people of all backgrounds together around a common passion. But, the fact is that, right now, these spaces are not inclusive. And, at the very least, the public deserves honesty from the companies and brands that they keep in business. If the precedent of these spaces’ exclusivity is going to be enforced, it should be enforced outright, not behind a guise of open invitations.