Sunday, March 13, 2016

Everybody Line Up – the Show Is About To Start!

As promised, here’s my take on attending fashion shows. I procrastinated as much as possible, but it turned out the timing is right because of a certain little something that happened at Chanel’s Fashion Week show a few days ago. So…let’s get going!

Once upon a time (don’t all good stories start that way?) I finally got my first ticket to attend an honest-to-god no-kidding fashion show at New York Fashion Week. Now, there are fashion shows all over the city during those two weeks – department stores, colleges with fashion majors, ambitious small designers, etc. – but to get an invitation to a show at “the tents” is the real deal.

My imagination, as per usual, got the best of me and while I was tossing around ideas of what I was going to wear…I choked. I’m usually really confident that I can go into my closet(s) and pull together something for just about any occasion and feel that’s the right outfit (for me, if not for anyone else), but this time visions of Anna Wintour with every bobbed hair in place, Victoria Beckham cool and slim wearing the LBD du jour, and André Leon Talley swathed in a too-cool-for-school caftan judging everyone made me obsess over every choice. Was this too casual? Did this look like I was trying too hard? And then the biggest log I threw in my path: Does show etiquette rule that you wear only the designer’s own clothing to their show? 

My first thought was: Yikes! I mean literally, yikes! I did not then and do not now have that designer in my wardrobe (although high on my wish list and currently being aspired to on my sewing machine) because the price point is way out of line with my fashion budget (another wish list). Instead of reaching for a stiff drink I reached for my laptop and pulled up a website that helps out savvy women who need a high end frock for a one time occasion, or reality stars and aspiring celebutants who want to create the illusion of wealth and connections:

The concept is pure gold. They rent everything from designer ball gowns to work appropriate outfits to weekend wear to sunglasses for functions where you know you’re never going to want to wear that whatever again but you want to look like a trophy. I have to admit I have yet to use it, but I have friends who have and it’s in my address book just in case an emergency arises…and I had pretty much convinced myself this time one was at hand.

Just as I was about to pull the trigger on renting, though, I decided to look up videos on past fashion shows and pull my eyes away from the runway and celebs and look at people more on my level (i.e., sea level). It was an eye opener. Jeans. Not chic I-bought-them-torn jeans, these were working jeans, or outfits that obviously hadn’t been worn in a while because they looked like they had been hiding with the dust bunnies under their beds. And that, my friends, is the truth about fashion shows (at least in NYC); there are a lot of levels of people who are there, and just like every office everywhere you wear the flag of your tribe.

The people who are high up in the business of fashion – the major players in media, stores, entertainment, etc. – are dressed to the nines, including people who are given/loaned the clothes to wear (this would fall into the Kardashian Kategory) because it is a given they will be heavily covered by the press, and the exposure (in some cases, literally) in the media is worth more than the garment itself. Clients, friends, and family of the designer will also be waving that flag, so to speak. The next tier would be the Fashionistas, who may not be wearing the designer of that current show, but are decked out in major labels. The higher they are on the fashion food chain the more current the outfit will be; in other words, if it isn’t from a show that is currently being shown, it’s old stuff and so are they. Then there’s a big group of people who are the Whatevers – they are there for various reasons (Hello, let me introduce myself), and they wear whatever they feel looks great and feels Just Right. Here’s a random shot I took while waiting for the doors to open at a NYFW show last month. Everyone was dressed…just right.

It’s fashion – have fun!

Then there are the people who are working the show, but are not in the show. There are a ton of them, and they outnumber all the rest of the people in the audience. (I’m not including the buyers in this group.) The media can be a motley crew – some are dressed like they could be headed towards the runway; some look like they just fell out of bed. Some have slim tablets or laptops; some are hauling stepladders because they weren’t stationed on the bleachers with other photographers and they need to get shots above the heads of the rest of us.

In the Olden Days invitations to glamorous business functions used to come on elegant thick paper via snail mail, messengered attached to flowers or gift baskets, or in the form of a clever chatchki. That’s pretty rare now; email has taken a lot of the fun out of gimmicky Please Attends. At any rate, let’s assume you’ve RSVP’d, showed up at the correct venue earlier than the appointed time, and took your place in the proper line. I don’t mean the line for the right show…I mean there are multiple lines for each show. Are you Media? Are you a V.I.P.? Are you Everyone Else? Go there.

There’s always a lot of grumbling coming from the media line. They need to set up, they are having some sort of equipment problem, food food food, etc., but generally the camaraderie seems great. The Everyone Else(s) are always in fine form – we’re glad to be there and chatty as all get out. And then there’s the V.I.P.s. Oh boy. Now, the most V of the V.I.P.s always seem all business – they flash their pass, and go about their business. They do not arrive before the doors open; they probably circle in their limos to make sure this does not happen. However, there are always a few who think they are more important than anyone can possibly be, and those ensuing hissy fits are one of my favorite parts of Fashion Week. 

The bottom line is there is work going on to set up a show, and no one gets in while that work is going on. There are people hired to make sure this does not happen. Then there are people who are sure that rule does not apply to them, they are meant to get in, and want to make sure the people at the door know that they are making a major faux pas by keeping them out. Ladies and gentlemen, this is when popcorn should be served because these performances are usually better than anything seen on the runways. Most often they are pointed to special ‘stage doors’ where the models and staff enter, and where it is possible to get a word or note through to their best friend the designer. I have no official statistics to support this, but my experience produces an educated guess that 99.9% of the time they are sent back to us – their adoring public – even more incensed than they were when they flounced off.
Sooooo…now you’re herded inside, into another line to show your invitation and/or credentials, and then pointed into the correct next line/doorway/room for your station in life. Some people are assigned numbers, as in seat numbers, and some people get Standing Room, which means you loiter in an area near the runway waiting to see if there are any empty seats, or you just congregate with your friends (some of whom you just met on the various lines) in groups so you can exchange information about where the good freebies and parties are, what’s going on at the other shows, and everything you need to know about anything or anyone you care to know about. The front row has the prestige; standing room is where the fun is.

Some shows are actually set up as you see them in the movies and on television shows: runway down the middle, chairs or benches to the side. At the end of the runway is a bank of bleachers where there are all sorts of cameras. During the shows people are taking pictures like crazy with their cell phones, but I’ve learned over the years that except for a few photos to a) prove that I was actually there and not dreaming it all up, and b) getting shots that only I would appreciate, it’s really not worth it to take pictures of the runway clothes because lickety split the professional shots will be up on the ‘net. Sit back and enjoy the show, concentrate on the clothes and accessories, savor the atmosphere, and try to commit the gossip to memory.

The best laid out fashion show I ever attended was the Malan Breton Fall/Winter 2015 collection. This was the last season of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center, and it was held (of course) in the Pavilion (which replaced "the tents"). Instead of having a runway down a center aisle the room had rows of chairs, and the models came down through the center and then walked up and down the aisles; giving everyone a front row seat.

Now – hold that thought….

No one, but no one, puts on a bigger show than Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld. The audience attendance, the number of garments shown…hell, the Spring/Summer Ready-To-Wear 2016 show had a frickin’ ‘doll house’ semi-collapse at the finale! 

But as the saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and the biggest complaint that Monsieur Lagerfeld got (besides my not being in attendance, I'm sure) was that so many rows of chairs were required to fit everyone in that unless you were lucky enough to snag a seat in the first couple of rows you missed out on seeing the fine details of the new collection, which may not be important if you’re just there to see and be seen, but if you’re there working…not so good. Karl Lagerfeld is no fool when it comes to business, to say the very least (who can say about his private life? I mean, someone can but that someone is not me), and he decided to do something to accommodate everyone. Unbelievably, at Chanel’s Fall/Winter 2016 show, Lagerfeld gave 3,000 people a front row seat.

The layout was an extreme version of the Breton show in my picture above, and the models walked half a mile to complete the maze of the runway. (Many thanks to The Business of Fashion for the incredible interview!)

As I said in my last blog, New York Fashion Week is undergoing a great shift, and it will be interesting to see what direction it goes in the next and coming seasons. I’ve been glued to my laptop watching various ateliers from Paris, London and Milan trot out their newest and best, and it never fails to amaze me how the same old fabrics, trims and cuts can miraculously be transformed into totally fresh takes on what we thought we knew. And now…Poof! While we’re pouring over the videos and fashion magazines the designers are already back at their computers and sketch pads conjuring up their next creations. Will they amaze us again? Who will crash and burn, only to come back again another time to remind us that once down does not necessarily mean out? What will happen to those major houses looking for head designers? I, for one, am riveted to my...couch to wait and watch the action.

In the meantime, here’s the entire Chanel show for you to lust over. Remember, Karl Lagerfeld won’t be around forever. Enjoy his era while you can. 

‘Til next time,

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Well, I thought this would be a breeze this week – just write down what it’s like to go to a New York Fashion Week fashion show and then go back to my regular goofing off, but I think after this season (which ends this week), some big changes might be in store for the NYFW collections so I want to set down what’s happening and what I think the repercussions will be. 

First, a (very) brief history. (Of course. It wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t some sort of gossip from the past brought in.) For that we have to time travel back to 1943….

Eleanor Lambert, a New York City publicist, is credited with starting New York Fashion Week; then just called Press Week. It sort of limped along until 1973, when New York was invited to join Paris in a joint fashion show for what was thought to be a fixed competition; because Paris was putting forth Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior, and Hubert de Givenchy, and America had no designers with reputations even near that level at the time. This became known as The Battle of Versailles, and in one of the all time great moments of fashion history (Read the book! See the documentary!), the Americans – represented by Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Anne Klein and Oscar de la Renta – started nothing less than a revolution (Liza Minnelli opened the show – seriously, read the book and see the documentary!). American fashion was put on the map, and after that was taken as seriously as the European ateliers. 

Press Week, however, was still more than a bit unstructured, so in 1993 Fern Mallis, then Executive Director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (the CDFA), worked to pull all of the American fashion designers connected with Press Week together and offered them a grouping of white tents in New York City’s Bryant Park as a venue for their shows. This not only meant that each designer no longer had to shoulder the costs of their own production (there’s a classic story of a seedy loft’s ceiling falling down during a Michael Kors show, which actually was the catalyst to get this whole ball rolling), but now the fashion press, models, makeup and hair people, major clients, and everyone else connected to the industry no longer had to run around the city to see the main fashion shows; they just had to move from one section to another. This was a seismic shift; by centralizing, New York fashion now competed with Paris and Milan’s Fashion Weeks, and again America rattled the cage of the global fashion market. 

There were some changeovers in corporate ownership, an explosion in the number of designers involved, and in 2010 a location shift to Lincoln Center, but the convenience of most everything being under one roof remained the same. Then right around the time of the Fall/Winter 2015 collections it was announced that sponsorship had changed yet again; plus there would no longer be a centralized location.

Translation: the New York Spring/Summer 2016 collections were now going to be shown wherever the designers decided best suited their needs (and whenever they could get scheduled on the official NYFW calendar). Spaces were rented all over town, and depending on your profession (or your popularity, in some cases) it was now a real struggle figuring out how you were going to make it from X’s show on time for Y’s. However, for people like me, the weather was gorgeous, the clothes were glorious, the spaces and how they were used were intriguing…who cares about tomorrow? Hey…not my circus, not my monkeys, so I really wasn’t giving it a lot of thought.

Anyhow, let’s go back and linger a bit at the last shows ‘under the tents’ – Mercedes Benz Fashion Week held at Lincoln Center. I was extremely excited because I had scored tickets to a couple of shows that had been at the top of my Wish List for years, and the first one was on Day One of NYFW.

The day stands out for another reason, too. That week was not just cold; the wind chill factors had been in the minuses. When you think of putting outfits together to wear to Fashion Week, you don’t take into consideration what looks good over thermal long johns. While the papers were full of pictures of models who were going without coats because they wanted to flaunt their bodies or their outfits (or their stupidity – you choose), some press people (no, not Anna) just decided the hell with it and were wearing flannel pajamas under just about everything else they owned. I was thrilled to be there (I got my picture taken by a lot of press, but considering what I was surrounded by the flattery was muted), and the shows were every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated; definitely worth braving the sub-zero temps.

Which brings us to this year, and a very interesting weather factoid: New York City hit its coldest temperature since 1916 right in the middle of Fashion Week. Yeah – it’s been cold. Really, really cold, as in -16 degrees cold. And when it wasn’t cold it was snowing or sleeting. Those really high up the fashion food chain have their own cars to drive them around to the various shows, but the vast majority – and those people are ultimately what this is about, the press who write about the designers so they can up their profiles and therefore their prices, and the retailers who put the designers' clothes in their stores – are running around either trying to get car services or taxis, shivering or sloshing their way to the subways, fighting off frostbite in line waiting to get into the shows, looking for places to write/file their articles, contact their managers (at Lincoln Center there was a large area complete with desks, wifi, etc., so this was not a problem), trying to find food fast and cheap enough to be covered by their per diems (not always easy) to make it on time for the next show (again, Lincoln Center had accommodations for this)…

I’m seeing a problem here, and I’m not the only one. The natives are getting restless. This is a different generation; one that doesn’t feel a need to be inconvenienced if it doesn’t have to be. Even the large fashion magazines are having trouble keeping advertisers, newsstand sales have fallen off, and online readers are increasingly expecting content for free. Some magazines have already folded, and social media and bloggers (no, I’m not personally taking credit) have revolutionized the way the fashion industry is being covered. Why wait by your mailbox for something done months ago when what happened this morning is already online? The industry is already reeling from those changes; now the trick is to figure out how to handle what’s coming.

I stood shivering with a lot of fashion writers in the last week or so, and I heard a lot of love for the clothes but a lot of 'enough already' with the weather and the inconvenience. I love the whole atmosphere of a show, but a lot of these writers are over it – they are there for the clothes and the clothes only – and we live in an age where they can see them as immediately and as closely as they would if they were shivering in line waiting to get to their seats. Alexander McQueen was the first to live stream his collection, and that was way back in 2009. A majority of designers live stream their collections now, and the number of viewers are increasing. (In other words, the shows are there, but there’s a surprising -- at least to me -- lack of viewers.) We may be seeing a dramatic shift in that number as more and more people get accustomed to seeing shows online, or are even made aware that they’re available.

Now, nothing could replicate the experience of being in the same room with Raf Simon’s flowered walls:

or Karl Lagerfeld’s dollhouse:  

but all the same, there’s a lot of money to be saved by not sending everyone on the staff of a smaller magazine, blog, or what have you, to a major city like New York, to see a designer that’s possibly not in the same realm as Raf and Karl. Online it’s all more democratic; less-than-big newspaper, small viewership – everyone gets to see the most coveted runways. On top of that, my city is anything but cheap, and to come here when there’s a major event and hotels and flights are booked to capacity means it’s even more expensive. Why not fly someone in when they can book a private interview with a designer, and get to see the line up close? Exclusivity, plus you still get to see the unveiling of the new collection at the same time as if you had been perched next to a Kardashian (but without the whole nasty bother of the paparazzi).

You can already see the results of this…where? Why, on Craigslist, of course! Tickets to shows that used to be impossible to get, invitations to parties the masses could only dream of clutching, are now for sale to anyone who can pony up the fee. People are getting jaded, and no one really wants to go out in this weather, so it seems the feeling is why not make a quick buck. That certainly takes the shiny off it for the people who the designers/corporations begged (or paid) to be there.

And then there’s Tom Ford, who cancelled his February show altogether, electing to show and sell his Fall/Winter collection in – are you ready – September (yes!), when it’s more appropriate for the season; setting a “see-now-buy-now” model. Imagine! I’m sure a lot of designers are sitting around conference tables right now wrestling with this concept. Burberry has already jumped on board.

Tom Ford!
So, I didn’t come through with my promise of what it’s like to attend a New York Fashion Week fashion show, at least not this time. It may be irrelevant information soon, but I promise I will next time…unless something more interesting comes up in the meantime. ‘Til then, you can feast on this: Malan Breton’s New York Fashion Week 2016 Fall/Winter Collection, and you don’t even have to shiver in line to see it! 

'Til next time, stay warm and have fun doing it,

Whoops! Almost forgot to remind you that to make sure you don’t miss my next entry, why not subscribe to my blog? Just fill in the “Follow by Email” blank on the upper right of this page and I’ll magically appear in your inbox whenever I get around to writing one of these things. I promise I won’t sell your information (I’m not that industrious), and you’ll only hear from me when I post here. Also, you can follow me on Twitter, on Facebook…on the streets of Manhattan…