I asked one fashion editor what THE must-see event of this New York Fashion Week was. I expected her to hem and haw over whether the Altuzarra or Alexander Wang show was more exciting but then there’s always Marc Jacobs who is consistently a thrill — but no. There was no doubt in her mind when she answered: “Holmes & Yang.” That’s Katie Holmes’s clothing line, which is sold only at fancy and expensive stores like Barneys and includes simple blouses and cardigans that often cost about $1,000. “That’s a show that’s very exclusive,” this editor told me. “Only the top people get to go. I won’t get to go.”
Exclusive. There’s that word. It’s the adjective that separates “fashion” and “clothes”; top tier people from middle tier people; and frenzied speculation from an average level of interest.
Exclusivity is key to the fashion and luxury goods business. It exists in high price tags that prohibit people without a certain amount of money from buying things. It exists in diet and exercise and beauty regimens that require money, time, and willpower only available to a select group. Exclusivity creates the us and the them, the coveted and the mundane. It does wonders for a line by a woman like Holmes, who wears yellow sundresses and jean jackets that look much more Gap than fantasy fashion goddess.
Celebrities have found great success over the past couple of years by showing unexpectedly high-end fashion lines like this. Victoria Beckham and the Olsen twins’ The Row started with private presentations for select top-tier editors. Now that we’re several seasons in to both of those lines, seats at those shows have become some of the most coveted at each New York Fashion Week, and their collections regularly receive fantastic reviews. That’s not to say that these lines aren’t well-done and deserving — by and large, editors agree privately that they are — but the boundary between the people who got to go and the people who did not magnifies the sense of fantasy projected onto them by the great number of people on the outside. It really is quite a smart strategy. The buzz surrounding Holmes & Yang’s show on social media today could not be discounted in the clogged artery that real-time Fashion Week coverage has become. (Of particular note: Suri’s Burn Book weighed in.) For once, the updates felt necessary because so few people would have the ability to provide them.
I was not among the chosen few who got to go to the Holmes & Yang show, but I was privy to a different kind of exclusivity at Dennis Basso yesterday. Basso is a furrier, and I return to his presentation season after season, drawn by the fascination with a company that unabashedly continues doing something more and more people find socially and morally unconscionable each year. (Slightly important to note here that a “presentation” refers to a style of fashion show in which the models stand around wearing the clothes being shown, instead of walking up and down a runway.)
The shows we’re seeing now are the spring 2013 collections, meaning this is what we’ll see in stores next spring when we need warm-weather clothes. The question is, who needs fur in the spring? You can defend it by arguing that these things hit racks in February/March, when it is still cold, and besides, it’s always cold somewhere. And if anyone needs springtime fur for reasons other than warmth (for decoration, an indicator of wealth) it’s got to be the sorts of folks who can afford the St. Regis Hotel, where Basso held his show, which has crystal chandeliers in the elevators (along with mirrors basically everywhere, so you’re never without the opportunity to regard yourself and your fine things). The women who rode up with me didn’t have any fur on their persons, but they did have handbags that cost thousands of dollars. Quilted Chanel purses and Hermes Birkin bags are — like the ubiquitous crystal chandeliers and ornate engravings on every surface of this hotel — awkwardly commonplace. I began to fear my $130 bag would brush a Birkin and, like, give it a rash.
When I stepped off the elevator the illusion of everything being shiny and fancy and exclusive was ruined by the sight of a model in an evening gown sitting in a chair with a crowd of around six people around her. A man said into a cell phone, “She’s awake now,” and another offered her something to eat. I imagined standing in her platform pumps — that could have been as high as six or seven inches — in the hot lights was too much for her after six busy days of doing shows and fittings and castings. Each season it seems like at least one model faints at a presentation. Basso’s was only an hour, but some are two hours, which is a long time to stand under hot lights in one place.
Inside the incredibly bright, ballroom-size presentation room, I spotted two women wearing full-sequin pants. It was 3 in the afternoon, mind you, an hour when full-sequin pants would seem about as necessary as a fur in the summer. But that was there too: I noticed one woman with a tan bit of it poking out of her Birkin bag. She wore her hair in a claw clip that was totally sparkly (real diamonds, for all I know). Another woman wearing all black had finished her look with a white fur vest. This is not, I imagine, a person who has to take the subway or be without air conditioner for an extended period of time — which a busy person doing things in New York in the summer usually can’t avoid without the money to take a hired car or cabs everywhere.
The fur in this collection was minimal, which makes sense for a batch of spring clothes, so we mostly got evening gowns in sparkly pastels with the occasional fur shawl. Basso’s most ardent fans seem to be socialites (celebrities have a hard time getting away with loving fur these days, as we all know) and they turn up to his shows without fail to lavish him with praise and get their photo taken at his side. Basso himself — who has a commanding presence, booming voice, and singular enthusiasm for fur and eveningwear — led one woman around the room who seemed to have a camera trailing her. He paused at one model wearing a blue sparkly dress with a slit up the front that opened to reveal a tighter miniskirt underneath, and flung the dress open to show off the semi-hidden part of the design. She maintained her composure though was clearly startled by the special attention. I have read that it’s acceptable for guests to touch clothes worn by models in a presentation, but it’s not common practice and never seems appropriate anyway, probably because it’s a quick way to reduce the model in the clothes to a lifeless, thoughtless mannequin who doesn’t have the brain to need or value personal space. For the most part, people generally act like the models — like everyone who showed up wearing jeans instead of sequined pants — aren’t there.
Everything in the room was so shiny — the six huge crystal chandeliers, sequin pants, and even the models’ hair, which had glitter sprayed into it — that I could almost understand the impetus to wear sunglasses indoors, like the girls I passed exiting the elevator on my way out (and really, such a pity they were depriving themselves a good look at the saucer-shaped fascinator on another attendee). One wore burnt orange reflective shades and a tight burgundy dress and seemed purposefully unemotive, while her companion wore plain black Ray-Bans with a very see-through long-sleeved black lace shirt over a black bra (really the shirt is so sheer she might as well just be wearing the bra). (I have a lot of questions about all the see-through stuff people wear to Fashion Week with their underwear blazing through. Do they go to an office between shows? Is it weird when they get to that office and they’re walking around basically in their underwear? If not, do they change into something opaque after a show so that they’re more office-appropriate? Do men who have nothing to do with Fashion Week and can’t be expected to understand the concept of fashion-forward “underwear as outerwear” hoot and holler at them on the street or give them obvious side-eye?)
Back at Lincoln Center people felt less need to bother with the see-through tops. Two women were standing in the center of the plaza, wearing crop tops that may as well have been sports bras, heels, and printed pants, enjoying the dozen or more photographers casting their lenses upon them. They might not have had Dennis Basso’s summer fur or a socialite’s Birkin bag or Katie Holmes’s intrigue, but they did have one thing in common with all those people: plenty of presumption.