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

Illustration for article titled 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.

Illustration for article titled 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

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Yes, Jenna. I guess I'm fucking kidding you. Dressers were completely not mentioned in your article. They - we - seem to be commonly overlooked.

Your shocked attitude is hilarious, actually. I would ask, how many times have you and your friends stopped and honestly thanked your dresser, or acknowledged her presence in the Tents after a show? Probably not that often, yet hair and makeup merit a mention.

It's a similar mindset to the one that people have towards their nannies and maids, really. The show would fall apart without us and our tools. The one things that we receive is the peculiar condescension of others' entitlement.

For those who don't know what dressers do...we're the women (with a few men) who press and steam the clothing that you see. We shoo out nosy photogs. We run around scoring up shoes soles so that the models don't worry about falling. We can throw a $20k outfit on someone in under two minutes - I've done it in less time. We listen if the models get stressed and start crying. We stand on our feet for hours, careful not to cross our arms or speak too much so that people don't complain about our truculence (I'm not being facetious here). We keep models from stealing clothing (a HUGE problem - I'd say it's the second biggest concern of the job). We're routinely shamed if we approach the catering table for a drink of water or a cup of tea. We do a lot.

Most of us are in our mid-20s and up, and are Black. There are some crews that are volunteers from local colleges, but most dressers are paid pros.

Yeah, it's tech, so you're supposed to be incognito. However, fashion tech is truly thankless for the dressers. When I worked for a major stage touring production, I regularly got asked to parties and events connected with the show. In fashion, the companies and people involved actively make sure that we aren't invited to afterparties and stuff. I suppose we may decrease the classiness of the event...*grumble*.

Now, it comes out in HuffPo that the models are complaining and want to regulate us because we need controlling. Some say that we're trying to touch them inappropriately, or that we get too close. We don't know our place, obviously, and want to molest them, I suppose...? At any rate, the agencies are now trying to make sure the dressers know the truth: that we're no better than we should be, and had best remember that.

If you start modeling again, you may be surprised to find out that your dresser would really appreciate a nice big "Thank you!", and that she may own her own company, or be a writer, or be a designer, or be just as valuable as those people in the headsets.

Sorry that you're receiving the brunt of all this ill will, but I've been wanting to see if a model would mention the ladies that get her ready, and you certainly neglected to do so with flying colors. Thanks for confirming my long-held beliefs.