Full disclosure: I am not a fashionista. My knowledge of the exclusive fashion world is based heavily on “The Devil Wears Prada” and the occasional glance through Vanity Fair’s Oscar issue. At New York Fashion Week last Saturday, Feb. 12, I turned down an interview with Betsey Johnson—I didn’t know who she was and would have sounded like a fool trying to invent questions—and the publicist who offered it to me looked offended.
So, yes, I felt out of place roaming around the tents set up at Lincoln Center—but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a hell of a good time. I attended three shows this fashion week: Diego Binetti, an up-and-coming Italian dressmaker, Charlotte Ronson, a young but fairly well-established English designer, and Imitation by Tara Subkoff, an American designer known for her shock factor.
There is something so overly ridiculous about these shows that it, in a way, makes Fashion Week lovable. Let’s be real: most of the clothes I saw being modeled will never end up in the closet of anyone I know—or of anyone with some common sense as to how to dress in public, for that matter. But there is a reason Old Navy doesn’t do runway shows. You couldn’t pay me to sit in an auditorium to watch a bunch of people parade down an aisle wearing jeans and monotone polo shirts. Unless the people included Gisele Bündchen and Ryan Reynolds, of course.
At the same time, Fashion Week is just plain mystifying. The first model who walked out at the Imitation show I saw on Sunday, Feb. 13 was wearing a bathing suit that covered her stomach and her crotch—but nothing else. At the other extreme, the last model wore a black-as-night, full-body covering that could have passed for a burqa. Huh?
This whole weekend, I knew I stuck out. As I walked towards my seat at one show, an assistant reached out to prevent me from entering the ticketed area, obviously thinking I belonged in standing room. “What company are you—oh, I’m so sorry, keep going,” she said, correcting herself as I flashed my press pass.
Fashion Week truly distinguishes fashion from other forms of art. You can go to the movies and not know who in your row is a cinephile and who is just there for the popcorn. You can attend a concert without being able to tell if the guy next to you could discern Bach from Beethoven, or Bieber from Britney. But the audience for fashion is a little more parsable.
And yet, at every show, all fashion styles seem to be welcome. Sure, you may be looking at a very select taste in clothing on the models themselves, but the people who flock to these shows are a cast of characters from a movie with a very diverse wardrobe department. I kept running into a dead ringer for Melissa Leo’s character from “The Fighter”—same 90s costume, same blonde mom hair, and a lot more makeup. I nearly tripped over someone wearing one of “those” dresses that you think will never have a life after the runway. And then there were the folks wearing flannel shirts, skinny jeans, and sideways Yankees hats. After donning a J.Crew button-down underneath a Brooks Brothers sweater the first day, I went more casual for day two and opted for a gray Uniqlo T-shirt underneath a Gap sports jacket, realizing that the outfit would not be out of place.
The eclectic fashion of the audience anticipates the shows’ own eccentricity. As if trapped in some sickening alternate-universe zoo, Binetti’s models were on display at the center of a black cube aptly titled “The Box.” Onlookers circled the models like lions circle their prey, but they stood strong, relentless, stoic.
The styling was also puzzling. Every model’s hair was covered with what was essentially a black do-rag, and many wore eyeglasses or purses that were just downright ugly. One bag—I think it was a bag, but really, who knows?—was made out of metal and shaped like a goat horn.
At Imitation, I felt like I was on the set of a Lady Gaga music video—every stereotypically hyper-tall and hyper-skinny woman had platinum blonde hair. They walked with determination in their steps and ferocity in their eyes. But bared breasts and burqas aside, the collection was an odd mixture of nightgowns and evening dresses, styled on many models underneath overcoats that they would seductively take off halfway through their walks.
Charlotte Ronson blew me away, though. There’s something really powerful about being in a tent filled with 1200 people—half of whom are shoved into standing room at the back, while a stream of camera flashes barrages you from all sides and techno–indie–pop blends blast at full volume (by DJ Sam Ronson, Charlotte’s twin sister and Lindsay Lohan’s ex).
And to borrow a term I overheard my neighbor use to describe the collection, it was actually “closet-friendly.” Ronson has a touch for finding a blend between wearability and runway dazzle. The designer’s 30 or so outfits showcased a military style influence, an earth-tone palette, and a sweater that—if I could cough up the money—would be a great birthday gift for my mother. There was a grunge feel, too, with holey stockings, long leather boots, and one standout model with pink hair.
As the models strode down the runway—unerringly looking directly ahead, faces unflinching, knowing the huge weight on their shoulders to make the show a success—I felt a tremendous sense of respect for them. It takes an actress of sorts to pull it off.