The fashion and clothing industries are notable for their interdependence, their sharing of information, and their support of each other within their specific areas. Their professional associations may be divided roughly into two categories: membership organizations with either individual or corporate members, and trade organizations whose purpose is to further the goals and enhance the image of a particular segment of the industry.
The oldest and most prestigious of the individual member organizations is the Fashion Group, founded in 1931. Its catalyst was Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Edna Wool-man Chase, who, at the urging of one of her staff, gathered a small group of women who held positions of consequence in the fashion industry and related fields. Aiming to draw membership from several areas, they formed an advisory board consisting of: Dorothy Shaver, first woman to become president of a major department store, Lord and Taylor; Mrs. Stanley Resor, executive of the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson; Mrs. Ogden Reid of the New York Herald Tribune publishing family; and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, wife of the then governor of New York State, who, because of her labor activism, represented her interest in the garment industry and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Other early founding members eager to join this first nonprofit group were the cosmetic stars Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, the designer Claire McCardell, the Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow and as regional chapters opened, Edith Head in Los Angeles. They defined their mission as a forum in which to exchange information and a force to support women in their emerging role in a male-dominated industry. In the early 2000s, men were invited to membership, but it remained primarily a woman’s group. It serves 6,000 members of the fashion communities of every major U.S. city and internationally from Paris to Tokyo, over 40 in all; and now known as FGI ( Fashion Group International). The same goals still remain—sharing information by covering the seasonal trends from Europe and America and enhancing women’s careers by providing informational seminars and networking opportunities. FGI also maintains an archive of its history, documents, and fashion images dating from 1931.
Women in the beauty, cosmetics, fragrance, and related industries created an organization in 1954 called Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW). Based in New York, it has associated organizations in France and the United Kingdom. At its founding, it was a social organization, remaining relatively small until 1975 when its mission was expanded to promote the contributions of women in the industry; in 1985 it again expanded to include education, philanthropy, and industry development. The establishment in 1993 of the CEW Foundation provided a philanthropic arm to fund charities dedicated to helping women better their lives.
Dominant on the international scene is the venerable Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. Behind the rich and elaborate pageantry of Paris haute couture is the organization that sets the rules and regulations for fashion’s most exclusive and expensive enterprise. The Chambre is the iron hand in fashion’s velvet glove.
Established over a century ago, this governing force dictates which houses may distinguish themselves with the appellation “haute couture,” which means high sewing or high fashion. There is a demanding regimen involved in becoming one of these privileged few. The Chambre’s rules state that a design house meet these requirements: a house must employ at least twenty employees in its atelier; present a collection of at least seventy-five designs twice a year, and show them at least forty-five times annually in a special area of the house.
Headed by a president and a director of public relations, the Chambre organizes the calendar and venues for the biannual showings, provides public relations support, and requires that videos and portions of the collections are shown in New York, Tokyo, and the Middle East.
A house’s jewel in the crown, haute couture is profitable only through licensees and fragrances, for example, but is the foundation for influence and prestige crucial to a designer’s image. It is the laboratory for new ideas, the research and development of the fashion industry. The Chambre Syndicale, through its exacting standards, perpetuates the authority of these fashion laboratories.
Few of the organizations of the other fashion capitals are regarded with the same respect. Rather, they were created to function as their organizing, marketing, and public relations entities, involved with designer collection shows as well as trade shows, identified by titles such as Collezione Milano and the London Fashion Council. But all serve an important purpose—the vital support of an international economic force and its creative energies.
American designers are invited to join the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), an organization founded in the 1960s by the publicist Eleanor Lambert and others, when they saw that most American designers were toiling in the back rooms, unrecognized; few had their names on their garments’ labels and even fewer on the showroom’s front door. The American fashion industry and its design talent were not achieving the recognition and publicity it deserved.
The Council achieved its mission of gaining worldwide credibility for the industry. In the early 2000s, its membership is made up of both apparel and accessory designers. Its most famous contributions to the industry have been “7th on Sixth,” organizing the seasonal showings and relocating them from individual venues to tents in New York’s Bryant Park, and their fund-raising efforts on behalf of AIDS. Seventh on Sixth has been acquired by the talent agency IMG and continues as a separate entity; the CFDA continues its original mission, the support for and recognition of American design talent, granting scholarships and presenting its annual awards, which have become the “Oscars” of the fashion industry.