I didn't expect to enjoy New York Fashion Week.
Frankly I had a hard time picturing myself amongst its crowds. Armed with a preconceived notion of the industry as an elite pastime of the super wealthy, I suspected fashion and I had little in common. And yet there is something positive to be said about an event which fully encapsulates a sense of decorum long lost in American life.
I couldn't help but find myself overwhelmed by the presence of so many different types of people, dressed to the nines (and then some) at 11AM on a Friday morning. Who were they? How many tireless hours had gone into each and every element of their pristine outfits? Was this the moment they had been waiting for all year?
As I wandered around Lincoln Center, casually dressed in a pair of blue jeans rolled at the cuff and a new white cotton t-shirt from the Gap, I found myself hoping that no one would notice the copious amounts of coffee I had spilt on my shirt in the rush to make it uptown for my first foray into fashion. Perhaps my tried and true statement necklace from J. Crew (about as fancy as I get in terms of my own fashion) would help steel my anxieties as I prepared to enter a world I had only ever seen in movies and magazines.
Pulling out my phone, I showed the QR code representing my ticket and coveted seat at a show to the bouncer stationed outside the famous white "tents." I made it inside, and so far no one had called me a fraud. In fact, no one had really given me a second glance, good or bad, because everyone was seemingly too busy trying to get noticed to notice anyone but themselves.
This was the other element of Fashion Week that I found so fascinating.
An entire sea of people existing just as much to look as be looked at, a living museum of sorts. Except instead of the subjects appearing quietly on the walls, they were walking about, noisily, excitedly and idly chatting as they waited for something interesting to happen. And yet while the general electricity of Fashion Week existed all around us, nothing too crazy really happened. Such is the nature of the industry's over-production that fashion's fun spontaneity is now often missing.
Instead, simply, a mass of well-groomed people stood around — quietly assessing one another for any insight into the other's relative importance. Relative, that is, to others milling around in the vicinity. Much like the rest of New York, and perhaps society at large, most of the attendees seemed to be near-solely concerned with the little screens in front of them. (Or, in the case of those people brandishing iPads, not so small.) They instagrammed, facebooked, and tweeted every moment they could squeeze out until the essence New York Fashion Week had turned into little more than a selfie-centric #NYFW.
After about twenty minutes spent waiting in a relatively amorphous line/crowd, the giant white doors opened, revealing the scene we had all been waiting for. The stage. The set. My anticipation was building, and yet as I walked inside, I must confess it was not quite what I had expected.
The lights were dimmed, the grey bleachers bland, and the pristine white runway was covered in a heavy plastic tarp. Practical, sure, but it all added to the feeling that this was Fashion Week, but somehow muted. Slowly but surely, the pace began to pick up as we grew closer and closer to the runway spectacle starting up. From my seat in the second row, my view was largely unobstructed, allowing me to take in everything that was going on around me. Cameras flashed, pleasantries were exchanged, and finally seats were taken just moments before the real show began.
In an instant all the lights in the tent went out, and the heavy bass of a tribal beat was all that could be heard. A single light appeared behind the designer's name Carmen Marc Valvo — helpfully projected onto the back wall of the runway, should anyone in attendance not be sure quite what/who they were seeing. And with that the models began parading in.
Each wore an identical platinum blonde bob wig, dip-dyed black at the ends... for dramatic effect? This being my first runway experience, I found myself quite mesmerized by the "reality" in front of me. All of a sudden, the bright lights, poppy music, and general spectacle was certainly something to behold. A part of me felt like I was living in The Hunger Games, a member of the Capitol elite waiting hungrily for the next tribute/model to emerge.
But as quickly as the show had started, it rapidly came to a close. The models streamed back out in a line, showing off the entire collection. A second chance to score sponsors/buyers, I suppose. When they had left Carmen Marc Valvo himself appeared, for just a second, to lift both hands in thanks and bid the audience goodbye.
And, just like that, the strange fantasy world of New York Fashion Week disappeared before my eyes. Among the post-show crowds, I walked out of Lincoln Center, back into the bright streets and real world. There was nothing left to do but walk to the subway with the rest of the "elite" (ok, those who didn't have car service) as we waited for the train to come, and for our real lives to resume once again. At least until the next show started up.