It’s that crazy time of year again, which happens twice a year (In Sept/Oct and Feb/March): Ready to Wear Fashion Week, which is a misnomer right there, since it’s really Fashion Month, not Fashion Week, and is actually one week in each of four cities: New York, London, Milan, Paris. And store buyers and fashion editors and journalists race through a week of intense fashion shows in each city, then fly onto the next one, and by the end of 4 weeks, everyone looks frazzled and is exhausted. It is an intense event in the fashion world. The clothes being shown each season are for 6 months later (so what I am seeing on the runways now will be sold in stores in September for the fall and winter. And in the fall at ‘fashion week’, people are viewing clothes for the following summer). The practical purpose of fashion week is for store buyers to place their orders for the next season. It allows fashion magazine editors to see what’s coming and make comments and plan photo shoots, which are also scheduled 3 months in advance. Just like in my writing/publishing world, the book I write today will be published usually 18 months or 2 years later, or sometimes longer. In fashion, they show their wares and styles 6 months in advance, and for the designer of those clothes, literally the day after their fashion show, they begin designing the collection for a year later. And fashion is an intensely pressured, highly competitive world. And fashion is big business.
Fashion week and everything around it is an extremely high pressure, highly visible, high profile event. American designers show their collections in New York, British designers in London, Italian in Milan, and French designers in Paris. Millions of dollars are spent on the fashion shows, about 50 or 60 ‘looks’ are shown, usually with 40 to 50 models showing them on the runway, and a huge amount of money is spent to make those shows, and the clothes in them, both exciting and enticing. It’s not only about showcasing the clothes to sell them to store buyers, but it’s also a HUGE publicity event for a brand and designer, and invitations to the shows are highly prized and hard to come by. And to add to the excitement and hype, famous people, movie stars and celebrities attend the shows, so one is torn between admiring the clothes on the runway, worn by gorgeous models, but also one can’t help ogling the people in the audience, rock stars, singers, actresses, and all of the most famous editors in fashion (like Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue). And press comments and reviews can make or break a line, a season, or a designer. And the shows themselves are covered by hundreds of international reporters and photographers, so the audience are as much photographed as the models—-you can’t just slink in wearing some old comfy thing, you have to know that you will probably be all over the press for being there, so everyone makes a huge effort to look as fashionable as what’s on the runway. In many ways, the whole event is exhausting, but soooooo exciting and so much fun!!! And in addition to the many, many fashion shows every day in each of the 4 cities, week after week for 4 weeks, there are huge publicity parties and events between and after the shows until the wee hours of the morning, to make that brand’s wares even more notable and more enticing. As I write this, we’re in the home stretch, the final 4 or 5 days of Paris fashion week, the final city in the 4 week highly concentrated fashion event, and people are talking about how exhausted they are, how little sleep they’ve had in the last 3 weeks, and how they can’t wait to go home. But being here is heady stuff, and no one can resist going to the shows, or partying after, which usually means a choice of several major cocktail parties, some equally major dinner parties, and a last round of parties, with dancing, in night clubs, which go on til 3 or 4 am. There are lots of ‘grown ups’ in fashion, fabulous designers like Karl Lagerfeld who is 80, and other equally mature designers, and editors, but the fashion industry is also a mecca of talented very young people, who have the energy to work 18 hours a day, and still go dancing until 4 am. (Big party last night at a nightclub called “Club Sandwich”).
The essence of fashion week of course are the clothes that are shown on the runways by each fashion house, but the partying and social and publicity events are not negligible either, and are part of the whole scene. I’ve always had a passion for fashion, and went to Parsons School of Design at the same time I went to NYU, hoping to become a fashion designer, and right around that time, I got serious about writing professionally, and switched careers before I ever got started as a designer. But I still love to see both the haute couture shows (in January and July, only shown in Paris), and now the ready to wear shows at fashion week. And with 3 daughters who work in fashion, as consultants, stylists, one as a magazine fashion editor, and another as a designer, I take a keen interest in what’s on the runways, coming next season, and of course in my own daughters’ work, and I am VERY proud of all 3 of them, working in such a tough but exciting industry, and all 3 of them doing well. And our love of fashion is something we share. And it is really fun girl time when they come to stay with me in Paris, and I go to the shows, often with one or several of them, if they can spare the time, or to see the shows they’ve worked on.
So before I get too overwhelmed by the shows I’ve seen, I thought I’d write to you about the first 3 shows I’ve seen so far, which have been VERY exciting. The first was of course very special to me as my daughter worked closely as a design consultant to Alexander Wang for Balenciaga. Balenciaga is a very important French brand, which has existed since the l930’s, originally started as a couture house by Spaniard Cristobal Balenciaga. In the years since, it has become a hugely respected ready to wear fashion brand (and they stopped doing haute couture many years ago, and only do ready to wear now). And only a few months ago they hired American designer Alexander Wang to design it. This was his first ready to wear collection for them, and the entire fashion world held its breath waiting to see what he would do (and my daughter in close consultation with him). And the show was an absolute knock out. Far more than anyone could imagine, Alex Wang hit one out of the park on this first collection for them, with a fabulous black and white collection of really staggering beauty, with clean, simple lines, gorgeous fabrics, elegant designs. It was a major hit and just sensational, and especially touching for me since my daughter had worked so hard on it with him. Everyone loved the show!!!! And it set the stage for a very exciting week for me!!! And a real celebration both publicly and in our family for the success of the show. Even more than usual, the audience at the Balenciaga show was carefully chosen and very small, as the show itself wended its way through several rooms with a painted canvas runway that looked like marble, in an old French building. There were approximately 100 people at the show, the elite of the fashion world, and I felt privileged to be there!!!
The second show I saw was Dior, in a specially built tent, behind the Invalides (Napoleon’s tomb), in a futuristic decor, with several thousand people at the show. Unlike the Balenciaga show, where it was the elite of the fashion world and no one else, at Dior there were celebrities, clients, publicity seekers, and the people watching before the show was almost as good as what was on the runway. It is the second year of their new designer, Raf Simmons, a very talented Belgian designer who does both haute couture (all handmade and only special ordered) and ready to wear for Dior. It was a big and impressive show, and very exciting in a different way from Balenciaga. The Balenciaga show was small and elite, the Dior show was huge and like a major brass band playing, a lot to take in at once. (And there is always music during the fashion shows).
The third show I’ve seen so far was Celine, also a very old French brand, that has been around for years, with different designers over the years. Its most recent designer of the past several years is a very talented young British woman named Phoebe Philo, who does gorgeous, very simple, very chic, simple clothes. The show was absolutely exquisite (I wanted everything!!!). She always adds some special unusual touches, to her very wearable beautiful designs. It was a fabulous show held at a tennis club in the fancy residential part of Paris.
At all of the shows, photographers take photographs of the audience on their way in and out, focus in on celebrities attending (I sat next to the rapper Kanye West at Celine). Gwyneth Paltrow, Kirsten Dunst, and other stars are regulars at the shows. And during the actual fashion show, the photographers focus on the models on the runway, which is what they’re there for. But celebrity watching is an interesting side bar at the shows.
I’ve only been to three shows since Paris fashion week started. The hard core have been to three cities before this, and go to as many as 6 or 7 shows a day, and are seriously exhausted. And I have to admit, I’m already tired half way through one city!! But it’s all very intense and very exciting. And a fun experience for me every time, especially sharing it with my daughters. So stay tuned, more to come. I have 4 more shows to go to!!!