Fashion week: Your nagging questions answered.

The language of style.
Feb. 7 2005 1:23 PM

Fashion Week FAQ

Your nagging questions answered.

(Continued from Page 1)

You may have seen Jay Alexander, who works with Elite Plus in Paris, on America's Top Model. He's famous for teaching models to walk and is rumored to make quite a bundle doing so. But not every model takes walking lessons; some have a natural sense of presentation. "It depends on where the models are from," according to Andrew Weir, a New York casting director. "If they're from Brazil or South America, the walk is innate. The other girls have to watch the Brazilians for a season or two until they catch up."

There are a few walking styles. "If you say to the girls 'Do a Versace walk,' they know what that meansa va-va-voom, shake-it-like-you-might-break-it walk," says Weir. " 'Street' means no swish. It's strong, like the way people walk down a New York street." Most shows now use a near-natural street walk, described by Weir as " 'Street' plus a little bit more." That means a pretty natural stride with no hands on hips or posing. But the walk is still slightly exaggerated: Some extra swagger makes skirts swish dramatically and gives tailored looks a bit of extra power.

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4) What does a fashion editor look for at the shows? What does an editor do with what they see at the shows?

People often think that the job of a fashion editor is completely mysterious. And, to the extent that theirs is the business of trafficking in taste, it is. But fashion editors are also journalists looking for news such as a novel silhouette or a new talent. They are looking for incipient trends, and are thinking about how best to bring them to life for their readers. While watching a show, they might jot a few ideas down, and many make tiny sketches of the clothes to trigger memories later. As the shows build from day to day, trends become clear. There is similar news at every important show, as though certain ideas are in the ether. The trench coat, let's say, or satin shirts.

In addition to looking for specific trends, editors are in search of what might best be described as a "mood." Fashion communicates something about a way of living. So Marc Jacobs' slightly retro silhouettes can recall the childlike exuberance of playing dress-up while Albert Elbaz, designing for Lanvin in Paris, favors erotic colors like apple green and acidy violets that make his classic lines roil with sexual tension. Editors suss out a prevailing mood, usually the one that seems most contemporary. That mood will then set the tone for the photography and the content of the magazine for the entire season.

Everything that follows is a matter of scheduling. Editors at a given magazine or paper hold fashion meetings, decide what to photograph, what location to photograph it in, and which models should wear it. They choose a photographer they feel is suited to the theme. They map out when to publish certain stories. Shopping habits are taken into consideration: A woman is likely to buy a new fall dress earlier in the season than a heavy coat. The stories fall in line.

5) What does a stylist do?

A fashion show is essentially a parade of outfits (or, as they are known in the business, "looks" or "exits"). In many cases, these outfits are put together by a stylist. The role of stylists as creative counselors to designers is understandably confusing, given that the depth of their impact on a designer's work varies from designer to designer. But a stylist's role is basically twofold: He or she works with the designer to put the various separate elements—jackets, pants, skirts, blouses, dresses, coats, and accessories—together in a way that best expresses the designer's vision for the season. The stylist also oversees the casting of the show, selects the models' outfits (and directs hair and makeup), and determines the order in which the clothes will be shown. So the stylist's taste—their personal sense of proportion and color, their knowledge of history and pop culture, their ideas of what seems fresh and modern—can have nearly as much impact on the fashions as does the designer's own taste.

Why would a designer need a stylist? A good stylist acts as an editor. They can refine diamond-in-the-rough ideas, galvanize a stalled mind, find the gold in the stacks of sketches that are all equally beloved by their creator. Remember, too, that the clothes shown on the runway often constitute only a small fraction of what is actually available for sale in a designer's showroom. A line might have 10 jacket shapes for sale, each of which might be made in five fabrics—that's 50 jackets!—but only three of which are shown on the runway. In short, collections can have thousands of pieces, so the selection of pieces for the runway show, which ultimately translates into international exposure that generates sales, is no slapdash affair.

6) What is the relative importance of the various fashion weeks? Is there a hierarchy? For example, is Paris more prestigious than New York? Does each week have different participants? Its own flavor or mood?

Fashion week occurs twice a year in New York, London, Milan, Paris, and Los Angeles for both men's and women's collections. There are also fashion weeks in São Paulo and Tokyo. * Designers show in only one of these cities and not necessarily in their country of origin: American designers, like Rick Owens, show in Paris, as do British designers such as Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. While it's true that each city has certain connotations—Milan is the commercial heart of fashion; Paris the seat of originality and innovation; the designers who show in London are often less established and edgier; and New York is known more for sportswear than for high style—the relative importance of a given fashion week is somewhat based on which city has more big name designers showing at any given time, and more major retailers and members of the press in attendance. Still, it's important to remember that commercial traffic is not necessarily equal to creative quality; and often the more obscure and less popular commercial collections are the most interesting.

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