New York Fashion Week emerged in its earliest form in 1943, in an attempt to infuse American designers with some national pride, a fire in their collective bellies to break the Parisian monopoly. The two-season pace was henceforth installed and shuffled between the four fashion capitals in the second half of the 20th Century, imposing its rituals upon buyers, journalists and dedicated followers of fashion. It also marked the end of the way the privileged once shopped: personal visits to ateliers, long discussions with the designer, and independence from a global market.
Berlin-based designer Claudia Hill is aiming for the old school. A costume designer for 10 years, for Broadway productions of "Rent" and "All My Children," she initially launched her label in 1998, with the aim to stay out of the fashion system. In lieu of sticking to the compulsory calendar, she presents an annual, non-seasonal collection (ranging from heavy knits to summer linens) in the form of a "fashion tour." Ms. Hill cruises from city to city and organizes fashion happenings— an apartment affair this winter in Paris, followed by a stop in a boutique in Tel Aviv. The next halt will take place at the Wooster Group's performing garage in New York, in early 2011.
"I am trying to free myself from the set time structures and present my clothes during art week, maybe during a performing art festival," she says. "It's not necessary to be strict as I am going by my own rhythm, and selling directly to people."
Having worked as a costume designer rather than trained in marketing gives Hill a different perspective: "I like to connect with them in person and find ways of collaboration." Her work, Hill says, no stranger to coining new terminology, is demi-couture—not prêt-à-porter—because nothing is made in pre-sized quantities, but the procedure for fittings and production is less elitist than contemporary couture. Nonetheless, each piece can be adjusted and fitted, as in the olden days. Elements of previous collections remain available for order because Hill doesn't believe in a rupture from one season to the next. "One collection builds upon the next in an organic process, and they all belong together," she says.
Hill's also excited to be working on the border of art, costume design and fashion. "You have a base of artistic trust which is really wonderful," she explains. "So I also trust that the people who buy and wear my clothes do with them what feels right to them."