Notes on Fashion Week

What's Everybody Scribbling About in Their Notebooks?
Notes from different corners of the world.
Feb. 8 2008 6:41 PM

Notes on Fashion Week

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Anna Wintour (far right) and Team Vogue

Maybe you've seen them on TV: the fashion people taking notes. As the lights dim and the music rises, men in suits and women dressed to the hilt grab their Smythson notebooks and start scribbling. What, exactly, are they writing down?

Fashion is big business, and the income generated by magazine publishers and retailers begins in those scribbles. In the midst of the free promotions, the film crews, The Donald and The Melania, the furs, and the attitude at New York Fashion Week, hundreds of professionals are getting down to the business of logging their first impressions. The rapid-fire notes fashion people make often include adjectives describing mood or attitude, notes on colors or fabrics appearing repeatedly from show to show, and emerging silhouettes and proportions. These trends—pattern-mixing, for example, or metallics—will be discussed in fashion meetings at magazines, buying offices, advertising agencies, and cosmetic empires. Who is the woman of fall 2008? And how do we sell her?

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But the clothes aren't the only things being studied. Everything at a show is a signal, and everything gets written down. Even the music, which is carefully selected to help convey the season's mood and attitude, gets noted. At Michael Kors' Mad Men-in-Camelot show, Kennedy-era styles paraded in front of a huge projection screen with live video feed of the 200 photographers flashing away at them. The message was: Big Time Glamour. Zac Posen stacked gilt ballroom chairs from floor to ceiling at the entrance to his runway. The message: Big Time Skirts. (In a ballroom with gilt chairs, women wear big ball skirts.) If the New York collections—and the notes fashion people were making on them—are any indication, both will be big-time trends this season.

Bergdorf Goodman Fashion Director Linda Fargo
Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Linda Fargo

Note-taking methods are as idiosyncratic as the note-takers themselves."I list the clothes on the left side and the accessories on the right," says Anne Slowey, the fashion news director of Elle and Elle Accessories. "The silhouette gets a big arrow in the top corner." Linda Fargo, the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, who is responsible for registering the trends in advertising and in the buyers' selections, tabs her notebook into sections. "I have different pages that I drop ideas into. I cross-reference the book by designers, trends, and ideas for how to promote them throughout the season," she says.

Harper's Bazaar Editor Glenda Bailey takes avid notes. "I'm editing," she said, flipping through her sketches. "Choosing what goes on the cover, what stories go in the well, and when. That's my job. That's what I'm paid to do." Adam Glassman, the creative director of O, The Oprah Magazine, takes notes on how to distill esoteric trends for the masses while also looking for more glamorous clothes for the stars to wear on the cover. "Pattern-mixing with florals and textures," he gives as an example, "how does the everyday woman take that information into a department store or mall?"

Linda Fargo's notes on next season's trends
Linda Fargo's notes on next season's trends

While most designers produce "look books" (numbered photographs from the runway), and everyone has access to the complete collections on Web sites like Style.com, many fashion people prefer to jot down what they see—and what they think of it. "I don't work with a computer," says Grace Coddington, Vogue's mythic creative director, who is famous for sketching nearly every outfit that passes by her. "Taking notes is more personal."

But not everyone is a note-taker. New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horynisless attached to her notes. "Sometimes I take them, sometimes I don't," she says. "I draw little drawings, and if I have a thought, I write it down." And some of the fashion world's most important powerbrokers don't take notes at all. Susan Morrison, the articles and fashion editor of the New Yorker, watches the shows intently and lets them "marinate and percolate" without writing anything down. Anna Wintour—undoubtedly the most powerful person in the industry—doesn't carry a notebook. "I have wonderful editors who have much better memories and drawing skills than I do," she says. Kim Hastrieter, the editor of Paper magazine, also skips the notebook. "I don't like too much stuff," she says. "My eyes are my notes."

Question of the Day(send yours to josh.patner@gmail.com): I would like to know, seriously, why fashion people think that some of these super-super-starved-looking models' bodies look good? I get that clothes hang better on skinnier bodies, and I'm not asking as some kind of feminist statement, or because skinny models send a bad message or make us feel bad about ourselves. I just seriously think that a lot of them look BAD. What gives?

I couldn't agree more with you: Nothing is less stylish, or more inappropriate, than showing clothes on unhealthy looking models. But I also can't help wondering if you have been looking at the models this season. Anorexia was much in the news last season, when the appearance of bony spines and knobby elbows on the runways caused enough concern that Anna Wintour and the Council of Fashion Designers of America held a press conference to discuss initiatives to address the problem of malnourished models.

Because of the heightened awareness this season—or perhaps just the damaging scrutiny from the press—New York runways have been essentially free of the offending, anorexic models. "The CFDA sent out letters reminding designers of the issue," says Fern Mallis, the senior vice president of IMG, which oversees Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York. "I don't think it looked like an anorexic season. The message got out. Everyone thinks it's an important issue. The models' agencies are being more careful."

I think the industry can proudly say their reaction was swift and effective. "I've only seen one girl that I thought looked too thin," says Teen Vogue Editor Amy Astley. Astley pays particular attention to the issue because of the impressionable age of her readers. "Chanel Iman, Karlie Kloss, I know these girls," she says. "They've been on my covers. I know their mothers. They are healthy girls. They eat."

Anorexia isn't this season's issue. "The models are not getting skinnier, they're getting younger," says Astley. "They are very tall and slim, and they can maintain their model weight because they are young. It becomes harder when they hit 22, and that's when a lot of them stop doing shows." Karlie Kloss and Allie Stephens, two of the hottest models, are 16 years old. * (Underage models are accompanied by a parent at all times when they work.) But before anyone pulls out the soapbox, it's important to remember that fashion's obsession with youth is nothing new. Modeling legend Carmen del'Orifice began her career at the age of 14.

Wouldn't it be great if the fashion industry has truly left the promotion of anorexia behind? "Every Fashion Week has its issue," Mallis says. "This season, it's the recession."

Correction, Feb. 12, 2008: This piece originally misspelled Karlie Kloss' name. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

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