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 2)

7) Is it considered inappropriate to boo at a fashion show? How do you express dislike? Only catty comments afterwardor during the show?

It's hard to imagine a cattier business than fashion. While most insiders carefully consider a designer's work, it's hard not to snicker when the clothes being shown are pretentious or downright ugly. Neither is uncommon. And so while no one boos like they might at a sporting event, nasty comments can fill the tents like Naomi Campbell's bust fills a bikini. Fashion insiders would be dishonest if they did not admit to enjoying the disapproving glance shared with a colleague across the runway when a dud look trots by. I admit I've even passed a note or two. But sometimes a bad show is compelling, like watching a car wreck, and you can't tear your eyes away. But when a show is great, that's when it's truly compelling. There's a real thrill in beholding the work of a master craftsman or a canny provocateur.

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8) Are there certain critics/writers whom designers love or loathe? Do designers read their press?

In the fashion world, there are only three influential critics (of those writing in English): Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune, Cathy Horyn of the New York Times, and Bridget Foley of Women's Wear Daily. While other major newspapers cover fashion in a service-oriented way—that is, they suggest what to buy—the writers are not critiquing fashion as they might film or books.

Surely some designers secretly loathe their critics. And some critics secretly loathe certain designers. But the relationship is really one of co-dependence. Critics write, designers show, and neither can do their job without the other. Suzy Menkes, for example, was often very critical of Tom Ford's work for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, but it was also clear that she respected him as a hugely influential talent. Designers—though they may deny it—care about the reviews. Even if they refuse to read them—and many do—they know when the reviews are bad. Friends tell them; they feel it in the air. And show me a designer who can resist reading a great review?

9) If I see an outfit during fashion week that I like, is it OK for me to copy it? Is it copyright infringement if I buy my own fabric and sew it myself?

Good luck. Can you draft a pattern? Can you sew? Make a buttonhole? Clothes are difficult to make—especially the styles you see on the runway. Even if you were a killer seamstress, you'd likely have a hard time matching the fabrics many designers use: They are often expensive and hard to come by in a fabric store. But there's no harm in copying the silhouette of a designer; fashion thrives on the imitation of ideas. Should you really manage to copy a designer's work, however, be warned: G. Thompson Hutton, a Manhattan attorney specializing in the fashion business, says, "In the U.S., you might be an infringer if the design had a design patent. But many designers fail to protect their designs and therefore their designs end up in other collections." And though designers rarely trademark their work, it would be hard to determine if the one you've decided to copy has done so.

10) Tell us a little more about the things or people one might see at a fashion show. For example, who are the famous fixtures? If you had to take a neophyte to a fashion show, who or what would you point out?

It's often said of fashion people that if their industry didn't exist they would find themselves unemployed. Who are these women wearing towering heels in the snow? Or the men in floor-length fur coats? Why do they have on sunglasses inside? Why do they look so mean? And why, for god's sake, are they kissing each other on both cheeks, European-style, on the corner of 38th Street and 7th Avenue?

Fashion is indeed a comic world, filled with overblown characters that are tantalizing to some and odious to others. While it's easy to see the people under the tents as one-dimensional cartoons, who they are and what they do is obviously more complex than any cartoonlike depictionor brief descriptioncould do justice to.

But were you at the shows, a few people might stand out: Anna Wintour, the chic and steely editor in chief of Vogue, likely dressed in Chanel couture, or Anna Piaggi, a longtime contributor to Italian Vogue who makes getting dressed a piece of performance art, often wearing an itty-bitty hat perched over her brow, like a circus clown. Or you might notice the difference between the magazine editorsdressed top to toe in the latest trendsand the retailersusually dressed all in black, or in business suits. Maybe you'd see a TV star or two, or young Hollywood royalty like Sofia Coppola at Marc Jacobs, for whom she acts as muse.

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