It's fashion week. And our vocabulary for talking about it is, it turns out, rather limited. Have you noticed the same stories popping up, season after season? Editors keep assigning them, and while the names may change, the narrative does not. Here's a field guide — and an argument for finding new ways to think about fashion itself.
1. The Seating Article
Designers hold shows at New York fashion week every February and September. It's a pretty convenient way to unveil their new seasonal collections, actually! A show is a great way to get all the buyers, press, and your closest celebrity friends-that-you-paid-to-show-up in one place to consider your wares. But it's so complicated to seat them all. Every season, we are treated to articles about the celebrities who may be attending shows and the death-defying complexity that is making the seating chart. The New York Times reports this week:
Starting Thursday, the beginning of New York Fashion Week, the fashion elite will coolly slip into their seat assignments, creating a twice-a-year barometer of who is hottest, slimmest and most likely to start a new celebrity fragrance. And it can create attentive chatter for an otherwise bland runway show or reassure premier designers of their lofty spot in the hierarchy.
Behind the scenes, wish lists have been drawn and edited far in advance.
And Business Insider adds:
Every seat is determined by seniority, and one's relationship with the brand. If you hope to go from standing room to sitting front-row and center, it's going to take a lot of work, a lot of coverage of the brand, and maybe even befriending [the designer] herself.
"Most of the people outside the industry don't understand it," says one publicist, "but making the seating chart consists of a week of all-nighters before the show."
Not to be left out, the Wall Street Journal also did a seating story this season.
Make no mistake, experts say, the front row matters. Before the first look comes down the catwalk, many attendees judge a show based on who can be seen attending, says Hampton Carney, a partner at Paul Wilmot Communications, which is handling seating for shows such as Reem Acra and Christian Siriano. He equates the job with seating "a really great wedding or a fabulous dinner party."
2. The Models-Are-Starving Article
Fox contributed this variation on the form:
New York Fashion Week kicks off on Wednesday, and if you're a model who wants to walk the runways, you had better be a size zero. Unfortunately, getting a 5' 8" body down to a hundred or so pounds takes extreme, and often dangerous, measures.
"Packs of cigarettes, daily colonics, laxatives, Phentermine diet pills, Adderal, prescription drugs that suppress the appetite," top fashion model Kira Dikhtyar listed for us. "I've heard stories that some modeling agents encourage girls to do speed and cocaine in order to speed up metabolism and eat less. And all kinds of injections are becoming more and more popular, from HCG injections that go with a 500-calorie diet plan to T3 thyroid injections that healthy models inject in an attempt to speed up their thyroid function, which results in a faster metabolism."
Dikhtyar said others are trying hypnosis to curb their desire to eat, while some resort to eating cotton balls to fill their grumbling stomachs. One model manager said a client was forced by her agent to pee on a ketosis stick to make sure that she was adhering to the agent's prescribed Atkins Diet and not consuming any carbohydrates.
This article — with the same "shocking" hook in the same uneasy coexistence with the same weight-loss how-tos — gets written every season. And nearly all such stories are lacking in perspective on why it is that some models must resort to such dangerous and unhealthy measures to remain within the standards the fashion industry sets for their work. Not mentioned are the structural conditions that can make models vulnerable to disordered eating — for instance an unregulated work environment with no guaranteed meal breaks, and a preference on the part of many clients for 13- and 14-year-old girls and their very thin bodies. Modeling is precarious, insecure labor. The finances are opaque. Many models go into and out of debt to their agencies; a lot of jobs are non-paying, and models traditionally haven't had much of a voice in their work. And models are signed to contracts that regulate every aspect of their appearance — the new documentary Girl Model shows a Russian model who is dropped by her agency and sent home at her own expense for gaining 1 cm around her hips. It's hardly an unusual event. The Models-Are-Starving article doesn't advance the conversation; it just serves up some psychic pain for the reader's delectation. That's why it can feel so exploitative.
3. The Weird Fashion People And Their Weird Food Issues Article
Models have to be thin because it's their job. They are skinny professionally. Then there are all the other people in fashion who have food issues that might be considered recreational. CNN reports:
When it comes to the biannual fashion shows, which kick off Thursday, models aren't the only ones looking to drop a few pounds before hitting the tents. Some publicists, bloggers and fashion editors have been counting calories for weeks in anticipation of the week-long event, where to some, networking and being seen are just as important as the collections debuting on the runways. [...]
"Perception is reality in this industry, and unfortunately, you have to look the look to get the clients," said public relations specialist Keisha McCotry, who began her Fashion Week diet in July. [...]
"I'm thinking we should start our #NYFW diet tomorrow. What do you think?" tweeted DKNY PR GIRL, the online persona of fashion publicist extraordinaire Aliza Licht, senior vice president of global communications at Donna Karan International, on August 12. [...]
"Fashion Week is prime recruiting season, and we all are walking billboards. You have to be on your A-game and look your best," McCotry said. "You want to go to events wearing the designers' clothes, and you can't do that with a flabby belly." McCotry posted a picture of her #NYFW diet dinner on August 16: a bowl of broccoli.
For years now, I have actually felt that the industry's standards perhaps weigh more heavily on the minds of the publicists, editors, writers, makeup artists, stylists, and assistants who perform their own precarious labors in service of fashion than they do on the models. At least, this is something that crosses my mind whenever I read about a magazine editor going an entire day on three olives, or during those times when it seems like everyone I follow on Twitter is on a fucking "cleanse." Models have a genetic head start in the thinness stakes. That's not necessarily true of the other women who work in fashion, a field where it can feel like your appearance is constantly under scrutiny even when it's not your job. But I think we can all agree that "fashion week diets" and stories about them are stupid.
4. The Listicle
Guilty as charged.
5. The Designers Under Pressure Article
Every time they mention John Galliano and/or Alexander McQueen, drink.
Here's an offering from Women's Wear Daily, which interviewed Michael Kors:
Asked if there's more psychological stress on designers today, he replied: "Oh, no question," and rattled off his lengthy list of collections: pre-, diffusion, handbags, shoes, men's.
"I mean, I forget what season I'm in sometimes. And I think it has sped up certainly," he said. "I think every designer in today's world, I don't care whether you're a designer who makes clothes that are phantasmagorical or very pragmatic, you have to figure out something that can ground you and bring you back." [...]
Ed Filipowski, co-president of public relations and production agency KCD Worldwide, characterized "psychological stress" as a huge new factor today.
"As a publicist, I have also taken on many times the role of ‘fashion therapist' to my clients," Filipowski said. "Globalization, digitalization — the speed and scope of our work — has added a tremendous amount of pressure not only to the creative field but everyone in this industry. I would venture to say we are all doing at least twice as much work twice as fast as we were five years ago."
And this is what the New York Times writes:
Designers high and low are facing competitive pressures unlike any they have seen in half a century - and not just because of the tightening economy or the dread specter of an ‘It' bag collapse. Fashion has entered an era in which venerable brands that have gone stale expect instant revivals from newly hired designers, with little to no tolerance for one who doesn't sketch a single dress without the bottom line in mind.
If it doesn't sell, it doesn't work.
That article, by the way, is dated April 3, 2008.