Cocktail Chatter: How to fake your way through Fashion Week.

The language of style.
Feb. 1 2008 6:15 PM

Vanguard Is the New Edgy

Cocktail Chatter: How to fake your way through Fashion Week.

Bryant Park preparing for Fashion Week. Click image to expand.
Bryant Park prepares for Fashion Week

It's Fashion Week—again! For style-challenged readers who don't know Rag and Bone from Rodarte, and who can't think of anything to say about Fashion Week besides "It's Fashion Week—again!" we offer this conversational cheat sheet. Read the following, and you'll talk like an insider, even if you don't look like one.

1) Don't call it a "catwalk."

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A brief note on terminology: Fall Fashion Week kicks off in New York on Friday, before moving on to London, Milan, and Paris, where the season will wrap up on March 3. During this time, an international battalion of editors, stylists, buyers, celebrities, reporters, and fans will see thousands of looks (fashion-speak for "outfits") paraded down what's known as the runway in New York, the catwalk in England, la passarella in Italy, and le podium in France. 

If a look is particularly stunning, the editors will pronounce it to be genius. (Geniusis still the new brilliant, while vanguard is this year's edgy.) The stylists will have their edit done at the end of every show. (An edit is a list of favorites to be called in for meetings about upcoming sittings, or photo shoots.) But the buyers won't lay down paper (retail jargon for "place an order") until they've reviewed the collections at writing appointments.

2) Defend Marc Jacobs.

Fashion conversationalists in 2008 must take sides on the great Marc Jacobs brouhaha of 2007. Jacobs, the most influential American designer working today, caused a ruckus last season when his show—scheduled at the I-can-do-whatever-I-want-to hour of 9 p.m.—started two hours late. (Big name designers often start their shows late, but this show made their shows look punctual.) Jacobs kept an audience of 1,600 waiting to see his take on celebrity sex appeal, which included a skirt pulled down below a model's panties. The late start did not go over well. Retailers told Women's Wear Daily the delays were "frustrating" and "disrespectful"; and International Herald Tribune critic Suzy Menkes slagged the collection, calling it "a bad, sad show." Miffed, Jacobs threatened to move his fall show to Paris.

Jacobs' show remains in New York, and, as much fun as fashion folk had last year griping and speculating about the reasons for Jacobs' lateness—drugs? A fashion glitch? Unmitigated arrogance?—they are pleased. For starters, rather than being the first major show of the week, Marc Jacobs will be the last. The 7 p.m. Friday slot will give the designer extra time to finish his collection, and should get the faithful to dinner before restaurant kitchens close.

More important, Jacobs is such a closely watched designer that a move to Paris would have diminished New York's stature in the fashion world. Jacobs is known for his must-have accessories, radical extremes of proportion (very small or oversized), and a nostalgic eye that can somehow make the old seem new. But he is seen as irreplaceable because he celebrates a different kind of American heroine than other designers consider: She's the smart one, the goofy dreamer, the anti-sex pot, the real star. New York will embrace him, no matter how late the show is.

3. Discuss "the Anna effect."

Support for new designers in New York is at an unprecedented high, due in no small measure to Anna Wintour, Vogue's editor in chief, who helped initiate the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award for emerging fashion talent in 2003. (The $200,000 prize is awarded yearly, and, perhaps most important, the cash comes with mentoring from some of the biggest names in the fashion business.) She also makes a point of featuring young talent in the pages of Vogue; see this month's spread on "Fashion's Latest Breakout Designers," which features seven New York designers, all of whom have been Vogue Fashion Fund finalists at some point in the past five years.

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