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Fashion Week makeover: Shorter guest list but no less crazy

Thursday, 6 Feb 2014 | 8:23 AM ET

Sorry, aspiring fashionistas—you may need to sit this one out.

In an effort to restore its reputation as a high-end, exclusive affair, New York Fashion Week's leaders are cutting back on invites, tightening security and expanding its digital footprint, leaving many fashion fans to swoon over the latest runway designs on their computers.

But toning down the circus-like atmosphere at Lincoln Center is only one step toward streamlining the shows, which for years have been infiltrated by bloggers and secondhand ticket holders.

A look behind the scenes at The Launch of the Brian Lichtenberg Luxury Collection during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Chelsea Studios in September 2013 in New York.
Getty Images
A look behind the scenes at The Launch of the Brian Lichtenberg Luxury Collection during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Chelsea Studios in September 2013 in New York.

Industry insiders said there's still work to be done to make the event more business-friendly, especially when it comes to reeling in the overbooked and all-about-town schedule.

"There are so many designers to cover, whether they are hosting fashion shows, presentations or simply holding market visits, so a chaotic schedule continues to be synonymous with NYFW," said Suzanne Timmins, senior vice president and fashion director for Hudson's Bay Co., which owns Lord & Taylor.

(Read more: Coach makes New York Fashion Week debut)

Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, which was recently acquired by Hudson's Bay, said the disorder at fashion center hub Lincoln Center had been escalating over the past few years, and that last season it reached a "boiling point."

She attributed this to a growing interest in the industry—stemming from the advent of reality TV shows and social media—and the fact that there are too many shows.

But it's not just Lincoln Center that has added to the chaos. As was the case last season, a number of major designers are showing their collections offsite, ranging from Diane von Furstenberg—who will debut her collection in Tribeca—to Tommy Hilfiger, who chose an Upper East Side venue.

And that's just the shows that are directly tied to the official fashion week calendar. More than 25 brands are showing at Milk Studios' Made Fashion Week in Chelsea, and fashion-industry favorite Alexander Wang will send buyers all the way to Brooklyn. The calendar could be all-the-more perilous in face of forecasts for snow on three of the event's eight days.

Paired with the fact that the New York calendar boasts far more names than its European counterparts—a day in New York can demand buyers' attention at more than 30 shows, while Milan and Paris average closer to a dozen per day—this year isn't promising to be much smoother than last season, Sherin said.

(Read more: The names that changed how we shop)

"When I look at my schedule, it's just as jam-packed as it has been in previous seasons," she said. Sherin attends about 12 shows a day during New York Fashion Week, resulting in about one show every hour, on the hour, from 8 or 9 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night. Then, it's time for London, Milan and Paris.

"Realistically, you cannot be everywhere—you do have to pick and choose appropriately," said Tom Julian, director of strategic business development for The Doneger Group trend forecasting agency.

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Jarrad Clark, vice president and global creative director for IMG Fashion, which produces New York Fashion Week, said that all four major cities are looking to fine-tune their schedules, and right now there is a real emphasis on the American market.

The purpose of the shows comes down to making sure buyers can get around with enough ease to do as much business as possible. Therefore, IMG will communicate with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to see if its vetting process for designers needs to be more stringent, he said.

"I think we're going to see more and more emphasis come onto that in the future," Clark said.

One possibility for making the schedule more manageable could stem from Lincoln Center's new Digital District, which will stream or show rebroadcasts for every show tied to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Although viewing shows virtually isn't ideal for buyers, consultants or the like, they're a good starting point, Julian said.

From there, buyers can determine what collections they want to touch and feel, to get a better sense of the quality of the pieces.

(Read more: Michael Kors holiday results beat Street)

Sherin said up-and-coming designers should also schedule presentations. When they carve out a longer time slot attendees can swing by when they have a few minutes, instead of rushing around town to be seated in time for a 10-minute runway show.

Young designers should also consider showing alongside other brands, which would make it easier on buyers and be more cost-effective for them.

"I don't think that everybody needs a runway show," Sherin said. "Your experience [at a presentation] is no less powerful."

Regardless of the solution, IMG's Clark said the group is hopeful it will have all the kinks worked out by the time New York Fashion Week makes its next high-profile move to Hudson Yards, on Manhattan's West Side. That move is scheduled to be made sometime between 2017 and 2018.

"The fashion industry is about change," Clark said. "At the end of the day, we're all here to sell clothes."

—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson. Follow her on Twitter @KrystinaGustafs.

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