Fashion week: Your nagging questions answered.

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

Fashion Week FAQ

Your nagging questions answered.

Is that a Versace walk or "Street"?
Is that a Versace walk or "Street"?

Last year, during New York's annual fashion week, Josh Patner—former assistant designer for Donna Karan and co-founder of the popular label Tuleh—answered a few questions posed by the Slate staff: Just what is fashion week about, anyway? Is it, as one editor put it, "a snooty scam perpetrated by New Yorkers on poor slobs elsewhere"? Or is it an occasion for designers to present their artistic ideas? This year, we found we still had questions: How do you get your own fashion show? Why do the models walk like that? And do they eat at all? So we asked Patner back for another round.

1) How long is a fashion show? Are there refreshments? Do they start late or are fashion designers known for their punctuality? Do fans wait outside the shows to try and get a glimpse of their favorite models/designers?

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A show can be as short as 7 minutes or as long as 20. The length really depends on how many looks are shown and the extent of the spectacle that accompanies the fashion. Sometimes designers open their shows with a brief film—say, the quasi-political montages favored by Kenneth Cole. Some houses, like Imitation of Christ, favor theatrics. Last season's show began with grating patriotic music. But while these extra bits can help round out the show—it is, after all, a show—they are more often than not annoying distractions. (Remember that it's hot in those venues, which are usually flooded with lights for video and television.)

Sometimes champagne gets passed around, or finger food. But rarely. Editors and buyers sometimes go to 10 shows or more a day, so they want to get in and out as quickly as possible. And some venues seat more than 1,000 people; that would be a lot of champagne.

Some shows begin promptly; some don't. Often the delays have more to do with changing the models' hair and makeup between shows than with the designer's grandiosity. Of the 30 models cast in a show, five of them might be the season's "top girls" who do five or six shows a day. Another 10 likely do four or five shows. The shows are not always in the main tents at Bryant Park (located in Midtown Manhattan). Designers show all over the city in gallery spaces, museums, and clubs. That means that the models—and the hair and makeup crews—have to hustle to be on time. And even models get caught in traffic.

Fans do wait outside shows, especially in Europe, where fashion has more of a cult status than it does in New York. But fans (fashion students, mainly) are likely waiting for an editor to pass them a spare ticket so they can see the actual show rather than just waiting for a glimpse of the designer. For most fashion fans, the clothes are the real star. It is an unspoken tradition among insiders to pass an unneeded ticket to the best dressed groupie. And sometimes fans forgo the ticket altogether and sneak past the bulky guards and army of PR people to see a show. It's considered a badge of honor to sneak into the shows of cult designers like Jean Paul Gaultier.

2) How do you apply to get to do a Fashion Week show? Is there some fashion board?

There is a fashion board: The Council of Fashion Designers of America, or CFDA, is the not-for-profit governing body of the American fashion industry. A trade organization, CFDA promotes the efforts of its member designers, works with nascent brands with an eye toward helping them to expand, and holds a yearly award ceremony. Their prize is the top prize offered in fashion, and considered a huge honor.

However, CFDA does not organize the fashion shows. 7th on 6th, an arm of the mega-marketing corporation IMG, coordinates the shows, the venues, and the calendar. (See last season’s FAQ for further explanation.) Venues range from $22,000 to $42,000 and are offered according to availability. So, in theory, if you can write the check you could have a show. Of course, there are some limitations: The anchor brands of American fashion are accommodated first, and many designers have held the same time slots for seasons. With approximately 150 designers showing over seven days, space is very limited. Some designers do not show in the 7th on 6th tents, and sometimes shows overlap.

3) Tell us about the models. Where do the models learn to walk? Does their agency teach them? And why do they walk like that? Why can't they just walk normally? Do the models really not eat? Do they diet before the shows?

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