The all-but-crowned prince of capitalizing on Fashion Week attention, who even put Kim Kardashian's front-row efforts to shame, is Ryan Lochte, who swam into our hearts at the Olympics just a few weeks before New York Fashion Week. He attended 17 events in the first three days of Fashion Week alone, so it was hardly a stretch for him to grace STK in midtown with his presence Wednesday night, where Us Weekly was honoring him as one of the 25 people they'd named the "Most Stylish New Yorkers." He walked the carpet outside and, as he walked from it into STK, was spotted by at least four women outside who I could hear fluttering their hands and saying "Ryan Lochte! Oh my God Ryan Lochte!" He walked inside surrounded by his entourage, which consisted of maybe eight people, and was escorted behind the bar to his booth on the upper level of the club. He established himself and his posse at a table across the room from a Real Housewife of Miami who my friend and I mistake for Real Housewife of Beverly Hills Adrienne Malouf with new plastic surgery.
Girls in tight dresses and platform heels swarmed Lochte from all directions, and he obliged all of them with photos. I had to stand on a booth to find him, and managed to capture this scene of the room's estrogen- and alcohol-feueled madness:
Rumors are going around that Lochte is having an affair or something with Miss USA, Olivia Culpo from Rhode Island, who won the pageant at the age of 20 a couple months ago. She scooted into his booth a few minutes after he arrived, and he took a break from lip-syncing along with the rap music to kiss her hand and look into her eyes. She wore a clingy white asymmetrical long-sleeved gown that pooled on the floor around her feet, and was very pretty in the way people who look like they spend all their time tanning, working out, and wearing makeup do.
Once most of the women in the room have gotten camera phone pics of themselves with Lochte for their Facebook pages, I managed to sidle up next to him for a quick interview. I was not sure that there was anything worth asking him that he hadn't already been asked, given the dozens of Fashion Week things he's attended to promote himself and his fashion design aspirations, and the very little time these sorts of events allow reporters to ask probing questions (then again, a lot of reporters might not even want to bother). I got his attention by shouting "Ryan" since I was pretty sure that if I reached out and tapped him, one of the two angry-looking security guards nearby would have me thrown out. He turned around wearing his signature expression, that slightly furrowed brow, that makes him look as though he's constantly trying to figure something out. Having been to more fashion shows than some editors at this point, I wondered what Ryan had seen that he's really liked so far.
"You know what, I’ve liked pretty much every show I’ve been to. I really looked at each one, from each designer, and I’m going to take a little piece of everything and put it into my own line," he replied over the siren-inflected rap music that he seems to be genuinely enjoying. And with that he made it clear the conversation would get right into Ryan Lochte Couture. Yet asked if there are any trends he's really liked, for men or women, he said: "No, because I want my line to be different from everyone elses’." So he's one of those "I don't follow trends" people. Like Alexa Chung, but with combed hair and sparklier diamond necklaces that he wears much more often.
"I’ve talked to designers and they helped me out and gave me insight," he continued. "And you know what? I’m going to take it. And hopefully you’ll see my line next year at Fashion Week."
If any of these designers told him anything specific about how to start a fashion line, he wasn't about to get into it, with all the tight dresses trying to weasel their way into the crook of his arm all around us. "They said it was going to take a lot of hard work," he explained. "But you know what? You’ve got to follow your dreams, you’ve gotta be yourself, you can’t be what everyone else tells you to be. You’ve got to stick to your focus of what you really want to make happen, so that’s what I’m doing."
The closest we come to actually sort of bonding is when I say something like "Anna Wintour is amazing" (Ryan was on the cover of June's Vogue) and he agreed: "Oh my God, she IS amazing. I didn’t really get a chance to ask her about what tips did she have [for the line]. But just hanging out with her, and knowing what she’s done and everything, and just being with her, that means a lot." He added, "She’s so nice, she’s a sweetheart."
Talking to Lochte, I get the sense that he's practiced this. That he knows what to say to be coherent enough to give reporters items they need to write about him. He's not tripping over his words the way he used to, yet for all his media grooming he isn't high and mighty enough not to talk to me, as Michael Phelps was at an event shortly after his Olympic wins four years ago. But he also doesn't seem that excited about everything happening around him, for him, either. He seems tired.
Puzzled by Lochte — who lives in Florida and might wear Speedos more than anything — landing on a list of stylish New Yorkers, I wondered what made him a stylish New Yorker.
"I'm not," he said.
Not stylish or not a New Yorker?
"I was born here, so I gotta give credit that I’m a New Yorker. But at the same time, I’m just new to this fashion world, I’m getting into it, but I know my style, I know what I want. I know what looks good on me and I know what I want to design." (Translation: kind of a New Yorker and new to being stylish?)
Fashion can be a cruel business, so I asked if the industry had been accepting of him as a designer and clothing enthusiast.
"I have no idea. That’s up to you guys."
Well, if Sears designer Kim Kardashian is a star of one of Fashion Week's premiere front rows, I'm sure the fashion world won't have any trouble making a little room for him for at least a few more seasons.
You wouldn't think Kanye West would give you a dirty look for taking his picture. Especially when he's at the side of the person he's dating, who is more famous-for-nothing than anyone else alive. Kim entered a cavernous Grand Central Station Fashion Week venue with Kanye on Wednesday afternoon to watch the show of Marchesa, the preeminent red-carpet designer that just made Blake Lively's wedding dress (squee, etc.). Kim wore a gray woolly mammoth hide over a skintight gray satin cocktail dress. It was hard to tell what was pulled tighter: her heavily hair-sprayed hair or her frock, but neither reveal any splits in their shiny, silver-y finish, having been applied as carefully to her person as her airbrush foundation.
Somehow this should be an exciting moment, standing next to one of the most famous couples in the world. But, social media ass that I am, I didn't even give myself a chance to enjoy this absurdity — a reality star wearing more makeup than two news anchors combined to watch ten-minutes of models walking by wearing evening gowns, with her super famous rapper boyfriend — because my only impulse was to take out my iPhone and snap a picture to tweet. As I did this — and I was RIGHT in front of their faces so they could have smacked the phone out of my hand if they so desired — they quickly disappeared in the scrum of foaming-at-the-mouth photographers and found their way to their seats. Instead of thinking to try to ask them questions, which is what reporters should do, I managed to take these two bad photos of them:
I figured there is no point in being discreet at all, because Fashion Week and being discreet stopped going together long ago. Kanye seemed to be looking right at me as I took the photos, and slightly furrowed his brow and widened his eyes, either because he was about to shoot lasers of scorn into my forehead or because he was very concerned about something. Or maybe he and Kim had just had a fight. Either way, neither of them looked happy, and if Kanye was trying to make me feel guilty, it worked! Because I felt instantly cheap inside, like a person just trying to raise her own profile in whatever way possible (live tweeting photos of Kim Kardashian wearing something slightly weird) to get RTs and then more followers. But hey, Kimye of all the self-promotional couples in the world, would be huge hypocrites to fault me.
It's a rule at Fashion Week that the most famous people at a show arrive last. Kim and Kanye were preceded by Stacy Kiebler, who was also wearing a skintight dress (but in red lace) and had spent enough time on her hair and makeup that her head looked fit for an Oscar ceremony. Certainly it's a lot of work for just a few minutes at a fashion show, and these dressed-up celebs never don't look out of place amongst all the people who just got up, got dressed, threw on a touch of makeup and went to the shows, like this was just a slightly less normal day than usual. And certainly, in a world where everyone's so overexposed as it is thanks to social media and the Internet, you would think showing up to a fashion show for the photo op wouldn't be necessary. If they were there just to see the clothes, why dress with the same amount of care Miss America contestants put into their pageant looks? But this is Fashion Week, and it is nothing if not an attention pageant — and all the people with Twitter accounts, like me, are guilty of capitalizing on it, too.