The Magazine

Where the Elite Meet

To see, be seen, and move the merchandise.

Oct 13, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 05 • By SAMANTHA SAULT
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New York

For most of us, early September is the end of summer. For the fashion industry, early September is the start of spring. And the week of September 5-12, designers, editors, and assorted admirers took over Manhattan for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, a showcase for the New York-based designers' Spring/Summer 2009 ready-to-wear collections.

Every September, IMG Fashion erects enormous white tents in Bryant Park--decorated this season with brightly colored slogans like "Vote Fashion" and "Accessorize Democracy"--to house Fashion Week headquarters and many of the runway shows, while more shows and celebrity-studded parties take place throughout the city. After New York Fashion Week, the industry packs its bags and heads to other cities, including London, Milan, and Paris, where last week the top of the top designers, from Alexander McQueen to (the late) Yves Saint Laurent, show collections. And in February IMG will pitch their tents again, visible from blocks away, for the Fall/Winter collections--and the cycle continues.

"Fashion Week is as important to those who work in fashion as getting dressed in the morning is to the rest of the population," stylist and fashion expert Kate Schelter told me as we waited for the Peter Som show. "This is where we tap into all of the very exclusive information that's only available and accessible to those who work in fashion."

That "exclusive information"--a glimpse of trends nearly a year in advance--is the Holy Grail for the fashion-obsessed. It's surprisingly easy for journalists to get inside the roped-off, heavily guarded tents, and I arrived with time to spare before my first scheduled show, Hervé Léger, one of designer Max Azria's three shows during the week. With my official Fashion Week press badge I breezed past security, past the dozens of paparazzi and tourists hoping to spot a Desperate Housewife or Project Runway star, and past the requisite protesters: PETA in red-stained faux furs and buxom women calling for "curves on the catwalk."

Of course, upon entering, I quickly realized that insiders don't actually wear the badge--even a Mercedes-Benz lanyard clashes with $700 Christian Louboutin platform heels--and I tucked my badge in my bag.

And although I had the official neon cardstock Hervé Léger invitation, the public relations representative told me I'd have to wait for standing room. So I got in line with a large, decidedly pushy crowd of women with massive, weapon-like shoes and bags, and waited. Twenty minutes after the scheduled start time, another Fashion Week rep told the crowd of at least 100--all holding official invitations!--that only 40 would be allowed inside.

I managed to get inside the Promenade tent, the medium-sized of the three Bryant Park runways, and squeeze through a crowd of socialites--or people I am guessing are socialites--and high-strung PR reps with headsets to a spot beside a photographer where, if I craned my neck slightly, I had a perfect view of the red-lit runway.

For anyone with the slightest interest in fashion, a runway show, especially one's first, is exhilarating--if your feet can stand waiting for it. Three-quarters of an hour after the scheduled starting time--and actress Michelle Trachtenberg (Gossip Girl) and tennis star Maria Sharapova had been ushered in--the lights went dark and the packed tent fell silent. Dozens of stage lights popped alive and an ear-splitting techno beat pulsed through the room as the first model took the stage. And for the next 10 minutes, a chorus line of leggy waifs with perfect cheekbones paraded the runway in time to tunes like "Wild Thing."

They wore the signature skin-tight Hervé Léger bandage dresses, in yellows and pinks and metallics, then skin-baring black dominatrix-style dresses--and then bandage bathing suits that only a runway model could wear. According to a blogger, the bandage dress "is fast emerging as the outfit to be seen in," and if I had the life and legs of a jet-set model, I'd want one, too--which means the show was a success.

Even after waiting 45 minutes for a decidedly brief presentation, the elated audience pressed on to wait in line for the next show, eager to get a glimpse of next spring's color and design trends before the rest of the world.

And so goes Fashion Week--unless you're an editor at a magazine like Vogue, a buyer for a high-end department store like Neiman Marcus, or a New York socialite, or Hollywood starlet who might actually purchase that lemon yellow Hervé Léger dress for a red-carpet event. These citizen-insiders don't wait in the lines, of course; they are escorted to the front row, where a swag bag awaits.