From Observed To Observer: Fashion Week Is A 3-Ring Circus

There are any number of weird things about fashion week.



It might not do to make too much of the fact that the Bryant Park shenanigans take place in large tents, but between the vinyl and the stage lights, there is something of a circus about the proceedings. Fashion week throws up strange combinations of people and places: You're as likely to see André Leon Talley taking a breather outside the Salon as you are to spot a young drunk editor throwing champagne over herself in the early afternoon. For a brief moment on Saturday at Band of Outsiders, Grace Coddington, tiny Jason Schwartzman, and the Cobra Snake were all browsing the same collection. No doubt each would have chosen something very different to wear from it.

As the show schedule rolls on through the tents, crowds too disorderly to be called "lines" form, hemmed in by stanchion posts, first to check in with the designer's public relations team, and then to wait in a new crowd, divided by seating assignment. Perversely, having a ticket — even having a ticket and a confirmed RSVP — is no guarantee of entry: I've been turned away from various shows so far, mostly for reasons said to be related to capacity. (But also for some that are not: On Friday, after waiting in line to check in for half an hour, a flack looked at me square in the eye and said, "I know who you are, and you are not on the list." I haven't felt so thoroughly told off since I was 8 years old and left my bunk area a mess at brownie camp.)

But not having a ticket also isn't a bar to entry: There are so many computer issues and intelligence meltdowns behind the average seating list that plenty of shows will just let you into the standing room section — or at least let you into the standing room waiting pen — if you look and sound convinced of your right to be there. That much at least mirrors the fashion world in the broader sense: Success is a special mix of confidence, entitlement, superficial appearance, and access to specialized knowledge. (Of course, these days most everything anyone who wanted to go to fashion week would need to know is available online. Democracy in action.)

This is my first year attending fashion week as a reporter, not a model, and I guess I'm not sure I understand - after you wait, and wait (and wait) behind one of the many stanchions and the many webbing ropes, after being questioned by the occasional security guard and verified by the PRs - what the point of a fashion show is. The tents are a deeply unreal space, a stage-lit environment where it never seems to be day or night, and everyone mobs the open bar after the 10 a.m. show. It feels deadening somehow, and sameish, to watch 15 or 20 models parading 20 or 30 looks in an identical venue to indistinguishable thundering electronic music before a rotating configuration of the same front-row cast, a Real Housewife here, an actor there. Given the energy and the activity that I know exists backstage, it's odd to see fashion as this white-background poker-faced hurry-up-and-wait thing. I never knew the audience saw it all that way.

From Observed To Observer: Fashion Week Is A 3-Ring Circus

On Sunday afternoon, I went to a show by a designer who is young and — though Australian — very talented: Toni Maticevski. I went with my friend Sophie Ward, who still models occasionally, and who was supposed to sit in Maticevski's front row as his friend. But because, like 90% of fashion shows, this one was starting late, and because the radiant energy from behind the scenes seemed to have us locked in like a tractor beam, she and I ended up sneaking backstage.


People were running up and down the stairs, against the grain of the taped arrows. Models where everywhere, getting their hair and makeup done and checking their Blackberries. Stylists were rushing around with voluminous dresses, tugging girls from station to station. There was a large catering tray and a strange man in a green shirt guarding it. Several times someone in a headset grabbed at Sophie's or my elbow, trying to corral us into the lineup. There were backstage photographers snapping rapaciously. Maticevski was surrounded, finessing, rearranging, overseeing. The sense of shared purpose was palpable, and deeply touching. Sophie and I sat down in the midst of it all, and let the scene wash over us. (Also we were trying to find a way to get at that catering tray.)

We hardly noticed when the music began. Two more-or-less-ex-models, distracted by sandwiches and our former lives: the show had started! We had to race around the back stairs, and watch the runway from the nosebleed seats.

Only three days to go and it was still the best show I've been to so far.

Earlier: I Am The Anonymous Model