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Global Trends Expected To Dominate Fashion Week

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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week kicks off Thursday in New York City, where designers will be showing off their fall collections.

Robin Givhan, special correspondent for style and culture at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, is in New York to cover the shows. She tells NPR's Michel Martin that she goes into each Fashion Week with an open mind.

"I'm always kind of curious to just go to shows from people I have never heard of, and you never know when you're going to see another Alexander Wang, or another Phillip Lim, or another Joseph Altuzarra."

Givhan is particularly interested in seeing designer Donna Karan's fall collection. Karan has spent a lot of time working with artisans in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, and Givhan says that experience has influenced Karan's design.

New Technology

Another big influence on fashion week is new technology. One designer, Prabal Gurung, is displaying his collection without a runway. He's hosting an online, digital-only show this week.

New technology like live streaming has made the logistics of seeing a designer's collection a lot easier, according to Givhan. For example, a person could watch a fashion show on their tablet in the back of a cab.

"It's a great idea if you cannot be there, but it doesn't replace actually being there," says Givhan. "There really is a kind of magic in seeing the clothes actually move in 3-D and seeing them on an actual real person."

A Global Sensitivity

One trend that's here to stay, according to Givhan, is the globalization of the fashion industry.

"So often the focus is really about sort of Western sensibility. And when the industry strays into other areas, whether it's Asian or African or Middle Eastern, there has, in the past, tended to be a kind of costumey, tourist souvenir kind of tone to it. But I think that it's becoming much more sophisticated in the way that it's represented on the runway."

Many fashion designers are now traveling abroad to better understand the people who purchase and wear their clothes. Givhan says this exchange is creating a new kind of diplomacy.

"They have to understand those consumers because the same things that work in New York or Chicago or Washington or L.A. don't necessarily translate to Beijing."

Workplace Rights For Models

Earlier this week, a nonprofit group called Model Alliance was launched. The group is calling attention to some serious workplace issues for models. The alliance says that the industry often tolerates sexual harassment and ignores child labor laws.

Givhan says groups like this have been started in the past, but that this latest effort seems to be more organized than before.

"It's been a very tricky thing to do because [models] are independent contractors. And in many ways they have a lot of issues in common, but they're also competing with each other, so that's created some hurdles to work together."

The group has some important backers, but it's too soon to tell if the movement has much traction.

Givhan says that though the fashion industry is not a bad place to work, it does have problems.

"I think it speaks volumes about the industry and the way that it thinks about models from the sheer fact that they're most often referred to as girls," says Givhan. "I think that tells you a lot about the amount of power they have in the industry, and the way that they're seen by designers and others."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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