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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