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When Rosh Hashanah and Fashion Week Collide

This year, Jewish fashion industry insiders have to choose: shul or runway

Yelena Shuster
September 03, 2013
Karl Walter/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week
A model walks the runway at the J. Mendel Fall 2012 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Theatre at Lincoln Center on February 15, 2012 in New York City.Karl Walter/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week
Karl Walter/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week
A model walks the runway at the J. Mendel Fall 2012 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Theatre at Lincoln Center on February 15, 2012 in New York City.Karl Walter/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week style director Andrea Lavinthal said she’s spending the first two days of New York’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at a special venue, where front row seats are elusive and the latest trends are de rigeur. The occasion? Rosh Hashanah at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, NJ.

Lavinthal is one of countless Jewish writers, press reps, makeup artists, and others in the fashion industry who have to choose between their jobs and their Judaism this year when the first three days of Fashion Week (September 4-6) coincide with Rosh Hashanah.

Despite justified kvetching about the overlap, the Fashion Week schedule has always been fraught with complications. Besides the constantly changing Jewish calendar, organizers must consider the London, Milan, and Paris shows that follow New York, as well as sample sale production timelines.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America—whose current president Diane von Furstenberg and vice president Michael Kors are well-known members of the tribe—sent a memo in May informing designers of the conflict:

The CFDA greatly respects and understands the importance of this holiday but, given the international calendar of European shows directly after New York, we do not have the option to shift the dates later. We realize that the observance of the holiday will impact some in their ability to attend or present shows—but we are asking that everyone please work with us to make this situation work as best as possible.

One such absentee will be beauty blogger Aly Walansky, who is skipping the shows even though she’s not “super religious.”

“I can’t reschedule my faith,” explained Walansky, who’s covered Fashion Week for six years. “I do feel guilty about being completely unavailable for a full two and a half days, but if I’m going to piss someone off, better the fashion gods than God, you know?”

Though the fashion gods can be pretty harsh. When Bryce Gruber, editor of, declined invitations to shows, citing the Jewish holidays, she received quite a few terse responses. Her favorite was: Ugh, are you sure? “The overlap did really bother me. I’m relatively observant—obviously I’m going to pick the ram’s horn over the showing of tortoiseshell,” she said.

Jessica Barbanel, editorial director of iDesignTimes, has attended the shows for more than a decade, but is also choosing religion over the runway this year. “It’s like being an entertainment writer and taking off the Oscars,” she admitted.

Shape fashion director Katie Goldsmith will be in temple as well. “There aren’t many holidays more important than Rosh Hashanah,” she said. “It’s disappointing that they made this decision for NYFW, which has such a huge Jewish presence, but I do understand that in the world we’re a minority so my whole life I’ve had to make this choice.”

For others in the industry, nothing is holier than the cloth. Jewish designers showing on Rosh Hashanah—including heavyweights Rebecca Minkoff and Max Azria—declined repeated requests for comment. However, a source for Minkoff not authorized to comment publicly acknowledged that “a lot of people here are Jewish and our whole office is working.”

Despite the importance of the holiday even for secular Jews, the sartorial trumps the spiritual for many insiders. In the fishbowl of fashion, Fashion Week is where trends are unveiled, stars are born, and careers are made.

Lauren Kahn, president of DNA Public Relations, will be on the job—and her parents are “none too happy about it.”

“It’s difficult for us not to have a proper A-team to man the events,” Kahn explained. “It’s a zoo. It’s beyond busy. Hiring temps is pretty much impossible because they don’t know the brand. For me, it was never an option not to work. If this were any other year, I would be leaving early and spending time with family, but it’s my career and it’s a choice I have to make unfortunately.”

Veteran makeup artist Keri Blair has been working the shows in Europe as well as New York for 12 years. Between makeup tests, application, and nail prep, 15-hour days are frequent. “We’re on call on some level; it’s not really a time where you can take a vacation,” she said. “The expectation is that you’re on lockdown for this month.”

This year, she might squeeze in a few hours at Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, though she’s content to mark the holiday in other informal ways. “These celebrations tend to be a very private thing for me, whether eating honey that day or meditating about my grandparents,” she said. “I don’t need to be in synagogue necessarily to have that connection with God or my family.”

Bloomberg Muse reporter Amanda Gordon also plans to celebrate the spirit of the New Year while on the clock.“It’s possible I’ll go to services in the morning and attend some shows in the afternoon,” she said. “Luckily I’m not a model, so I can eat all the brisket I want.”

Gordon can drop by Chabad of the West 60s, which will be offering free services to anyone attending NYFW. “A Jew should have a place to go for the High Holidays. We happen to be across the street from Lincoln Center and I want to make people feel at home,” said Rabbi Yehuda Lipskier. “If they want to stop by for a half hour and go back for an hour, they’re more than welcome to just show up.” Rabbi Lipskier even plans to say a special blessing for the fashion industry during the misheberach, and his Chabad students will sound the shofar at Lincoln Center Plaza both days.

For those observing the holiday, the only style spotting will be in shul. “I always jokingly tweet after services: The big temple trends this season are short balding husbands and babies in ugly headbands,” said Lavinthal. “My mom yells at me, but you can still trendspot at temple.”

Yelena Shuster has written for the New York Times, InStyle, Mashable, and other publications. She went to Orthodox day school and lived to tell the tale. She now helps students perfect admissions essays. Schmooze with her on Twitter.