Why Are Fashion Shows So Absurd?
An insider's guide to the most bizarre and upsetting things about fashion week.
Last week, in an upper room in the New York Public Library, Thom Browne sent out a gaggle of girls dressed as old-school nuns, complete with flying wimples. With the addition of porno-heels and long lashes, they recalled the legendary '80s San Francisco gay "performance" troupe known as The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Arriving at an improvised altar, each sister was divested of her habit—underneath lurked the "real" clothing—by two sinister-looking lads in knee shorts.
"Duh!" I hear you say, "Everyone knows that the world of fashion is totally bananas." Trust me on this one, dear Slate reader: having just attended about eight jillion shows during New York Fashion Week, I can assure you that it is all so much kookier and more deranged than you ever imagined.
Allow me to present the top 10 most bizarre aspects of fashion week.
1.How much is that frock on the runway? Imagine spending a day looking at real estate or sports cars without having any price information whatsoever. Inconceivable, right? Not in the world of fashion. All manner of random information is provided to we show attendees (and wee show attendees like petit moi) on the line sheets that adorn each seat: hairdresser credits, models' names, arcane sources of inspiration, everything except the only tidbit which really matters: THE PRICE! Let's face it, if that party frock retails for $650 it's pretty groovy. At $4,678 it should be horribly ashamed of itself and screech its way back down the runway. Naughty frock!
2. Grim and grumpy. When the models strut their stuff, their expressions are terrifying: "Leave me alone," "I hate you," "I hate my mother," "I'm about to go postal," their morose expressions seem to say. Cut to: backstage après-show, where a jubilant affability rules. Those stony visages are suddenly enlivened and made beautiful with cheekiness and charm. This is counter-intuitive: When they should be warm and engaging the models are homicidal and bitchy. Once out of sight, they magically turn on the playful allure.
3. Extra pickles, please. Whether you are at a state fair, a music festival, or a sports stadium, the stench of hot dogs and molten Velveeta invariably fills the air. Where people gather, snack vendors follow, unless of course you are part of the wacky, metabolism-denying world of fashion. Last week, Band of Outsiders' Scott Sternberg made history by placing a Lemon Tree Hugger cookie on every seat; he is the only designer in the history of La Mode ever to thus acknowledge the plunging blood sugars of his guests. Eventually somebody will have the presence of mind to take advantage of the long pre-show waits and, as they do on planes, flog some scrummy fare. "Chicken or fish? Chicken or fish?"
4. What f**king season are we in? Spring fashions show in September. Fall fashions show in February. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week inevitably occurs at a crucial moment in the cycle of retail: The moment when all the new deliveries—the merch that was shown and ballyhooed six months prior—are finally brought within the grasp of the customers. God forbid the fashion devotee should be allowed to engage with these new items, or get excited about spring clothes when spring is around the corner. Instead the media bombard madame's brain with endless fashion week coverage, eclipsing any attempt to shine a timely light on the season at hand. The media machine is always one season ahead, thereby over-heralding the unobtainable.
5. Paging Helen Keller. The deafening, dismal, atonal music at fashion shows—it's so loud it makes my floral shirt-cuffs vibrate on my butch little wrists—would force normal people to cower under their seats and cover their ears. Terrified of appearing uncool, the fashion flock wordlessly endures this torture, while the last vestiges of its hearing are destroyed.
6. Garmentos a go-go. Bette Davis and Ava Gardner would never have been caught pushing a rolling rack, but today's celebs cannot wait to give it a whirl. Permit me to explain: In the olden days Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton would sweep into Gucci Roma and empty the shelves. The celebs of yore loved to drop their cash. What was the point of being a movie star if you were not going to recklessly shop your brains out at every waking opportunity? Then things began to change: In return for attending fashion shows, stars began to receive freebie frocks and purses. Not content with this river of graft, the A-listers are now taking it one shocking step further. Blinded by their own sense of omnipotence, they are actually going into the schmatta biz. Despite the fact that the manufacture and distribution of clothing is clearly one of the most operationally challenging and annoying undertakings on the planet, every celeb—from Gwen Stefani to Jessica Simpson to Madge to Katie Holmes—has elected to become a full-fledged garmento. (FYI, Katie Holmes' line is called Holmes and Yang and is really rather fab!)
7. Hello. I love you. Oh! Hello again! At every show, attendees screech and air kiss even though they just saw each other half an hour before at a previous show. The fashion world convenes and reconvenes and re-reconvenes at runway shows in a way that can only guarantee the spread of malicious gossip and horrible germs.
Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.(Photo by Roxanne Lowit.)
Photograph of Thom Browne fashion week show by Dan and Corina Lecca. Photograph of IVANAhelsinki fashion show by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for IMG.