Fashion shows began in America as the result of a fashion emergency: the terrifying realization that work in the French couture ateliers could very well come to a standstill because of French involvement in World War I. In August 1914, Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Edna Woolman Chase, personally witnessed couturiers Paul Poiret, Monsieur Doeuillet, and Jean and Jacques Worth in uniform, headed off to war. (Always in Vogue, Chase, p. 117) At the time, fashion was rooted in Paris, and without French designs to buy or copy, as Mrs. Chase envisioned it, there would be no fashion in America and therefore nothing to fill the pages of Vogue. Ever vigilant, she took the situation into her own hands and came up with the idea of the “Fashion Fête,” a fashion show of American designers.
The first hurdle was that there were actually few known American designers in 1914. There were dressmakers, who usually copied French designs, and importers of French designs, but very few Americans designing originals in the United States. Chase went to the best merchants, including Bendel’s and Bergdorf’s, and the top dressmakers with her idea for a fashion show and asked them to put things together to be displayed. She then filled her Fashion Fête committee with New York’s best-dressed socialites. This committee would tackle editing the clothing choices (which were then re-edited by Mrs. Chase). (Ibid, p.123)