I don’t understand fashion shows. And I don’t mean that in the Shalom-Harlow-rotating-on-a-wooden-platform-as-robots-spray-paint-her-dress kind of way, but more in the sense that I just can’t wrap my head around why a designer, especially an upstart, would spend so much money putting on a 15-minute show for a room full of people who aren’t even there to see the clothes. It just seems like a terrible waste of time and money. Sadly, what used to be a way for designers to hone their vision and forge new business partnerships has turned into a circus of fashion freaks. Some major designers, such as Oscar de la Renta, have already taken steps to make their shows more about fashion and less about farce. In September, de la Renta slashed his guest list down to just 350 people, arguing that editors and buyers “shouldn’t have to go through 30,000 people, and 10,000 who are trying to take pictures of all of those people who are totally unrelated to the clothes.”
This seems to be catching on in the fashion world. IMG, the entertainment conglomerate that organises Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, recently announced some similar changes to how its fashion shows will run as of February 2014. Among the changes, reports the Wall Street Journal, are two redesigned venues at Lincoln Centre, one of which has an industrial atmosphere, and the other more “intimate.” IMG is also working on making these events more exclusive by “controlling and reduc[ing] audience capacities,” which, as one IMG spokesperson states, will make invitations to these fashion shows an “exclusive pass for true fashion insiders.” What constitutes a “true fashion insider” remains unclear, especially as social media has opened up this industry with the swiftness and ferociousness of children opening presents on Christmas morning. Nonetheless, these changes are going to be enforced come February, and I suspect that fashion bloggers will be the most affected.
So does fashion week really need to make a return to exclusivity? Suzy Menkes, who wrote one of the most controversial fashion articles this year, The Circus of Fashion, seems to think so. With dizzying swarms of style bloggers and photographers outside, it makes it that much more difficult for journalists like her to do their job, and travel from place to place without the added stress of trying to avoid being buried under a pile of Lariat bags and printed peplum dresses. With the few invites available going to those with a “legitimate professional reason” to attend, more focus would be on the designer, not every A-, B-, and C-list celebrity within a 10 block radius. That includes, but is certainly not limited to, the children of models, moguls and aging rock stars.
Certainly, we must remember that the designers need business more than bloggers need the bragging rights to say, “Yeah, I attended the last Jason Wu show and I could see the back of Anna Wintour’s head.” And yet, I can’t help but notice the glaring hypocrisy in all these fashion week renovations, which, I might add, are also quite reactionary. In this day and age, when even traditional print journalists are tweeting about their sex dreams and breakfast menus, it seems naïve—no, foolish—to argue that enthusiasts of both fashion and social media, which extends far, far beyond the Bryanboys of the world (he is NOT the poster boy for fashion bloggers), do not have a place inside a fashion week tent. How can it be that an industry that prides itself on innovation, knowledge and craft, would deny media passes to bloggers who actually want to be there for the right reasons? Despite the cascades of visual noise and embarrassing hashtags (#grunge #hipster), I am ready to argue that there are some fashion bloggers who have a genuine interest in the clothes.
My first experience of a fashion show was a stressful, surreal blur. Granted, it was much smaller than the shows in New York, but it gave me a glimpse into another world– a world that, up until that moment, I had in my gross ignorance imagined to be elegant and civilised. I was working as a volunteer for the organisers of the 2012 L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival, and, true to its marketing, it was as flashy and frivolous and festival-like as could be. Given the careful screening process that successful applicants had to go through before being given our identification lanyards—validating that we were somehow more capable of faking smiles and handing out wrist bands (that was my job, anyway. I’m sure the volunteers backstage did something more exciting) than those who had been rejected—I expected to meet more people like me.
I expected to meet people who were genuinely interested in fashion, who studied it (either in a formal institution or just as a hobby, it didn’t matter to me), who were compelled by it and demanded to see more of it. I wanted to talk to people who were there to see the clothes, not the celebrities, and who were hoping to learn something new, meet someone new, and, if the organisers were kind enough to give us free seats (which they did—thank you!), see something new. I left the event just after midnight, feet swollen and back aching, and remember looking longingly into the river as I crossed the bridge to catch my bus home. It was a very Catcher in the Rye moment for me for two reasons: firstly, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate word than “phony” to describe what I had just witnessed, and, secondly, my heart sank upon realising that I was never going to attend a fashion show for the first time ever again.
I’m not telling this anecdote just for the sake of telling it. I want to make a point about how fashion events can be full of “phonies”, “social climbers” and “peacocks,” but there are also people who just want to be there to learn and experience something new about an industry they admire so much, and someday hope to work in. My first time at a fashion show wasn’t all eye-rolls and exasperated sighs; I had some rather lively conversations with the other volunteers, one of which was about a comparison of Ghesquiere’s Balenciaga with the work of New York’s own Proenza Schouler (this requires its own post).
As I finish this post off, I continue to see headlines telling me that London-based designer David Koma has just been announced as the new artistic director of Mugler. Oh god, remember Mugler? A famed designer of the 80s and 90s, whose name was synonymous with glorious fetish fantasies and bionic couture, now languishing in the fragrance sections of duty-free stores and discount pharmacies. When Nicola Formichetti became artistic director in 2010, it was all the fashion press could talk about. Mugler this, Lady Gaga that—it was beyond ridiculous. As Lady Gaga walked down the Mugler runway, dancing in a reverie of self-worship under the red boudoir lights, I just knew that this brand was going to suffer if it were to become less about creativity and more about celebrity. And I was right.
That, in fact, is the real problem here. Bloggers aren’t ruining the fashion week experience, nor are they (or should I say “we”?) to blame for the flocks of photographers outside the tents. Indeed, we’re not the objects of so much blind fascination. It seems absurd to say that bloggers, curious new journalists, have less connection to the clothes than celebrities who just enjoy seeing a pretty dress coming down the runway. I’m interested to see how IMG’s new scheme will affect the fashion blogosphere’s involvement at New York Fashion Week in February, and whether the plans to make it more exclusive will ultimately backfire. Fashion shows are just short, expensive parties, and isn’t it everyone’s worst fear that nobody will go to theirs?