When I was a student, sneaking into a fashion show during London Fashion Week was a solemn rite; show jumping. I remember the nonchalance of the women strolling by, their cigarettes dancing ahead of them like will-o-the-wisps, their other hands clasping invites that, to my covetous eyes, seemed spotlit. I remember the expensive smells, the snatches of inconsequential conversation, but also my reeling stomach as I stood outside a Vivienne Westwood show in the winter rain, peering past my friend to the huddle of PR officials blocking the entrance. My friend scooted past them, feline and haughty, and I got nabbed by the collar and thrown back into the street. I sloped away believing my failed attempt signified a lack of character. Show jumping was similar to celebrity stalking. I was stalking fashion and kept coming back in the hope of sneaking inside the gates of her estate to catch a glimpse.
But then she used to be a regal beauty, Lady Fashion, worth a viewing. Now the diva’s greasepaint has melted and we recognize her for the vulgar, bloated slattern she has become, with liquor on her breath and her best days behind her. Now she goes by the name of Blanche and entertains questionable types in her dressing room. Fashion bloggers, they’re called. Cocky young citizen journalists without credentials who wear wacky hats. They are allowed to see her in her underthings, as long as they praise her performance, tell her how beautiful she is, and acknowledge her as a legend. But most of them are too young to know her as anything other than Blanche.
This New York Fashion Week which draws to a close tomorrow saw most designers livestreaming their collections and Instagramming their backstage photos. Diane Von Furstenburg posted her show on Facebook. We saw magazine editors strutting around wearing Google Glass, the space age eyewear that allows you to live stream everything in your direct line of vision. You can now be in the front row and be backstage without ever leaving your couch in Idaho. No one is left out in the street in the rain. Not anymore.
But in the industry there is a palpable sense of fatigue. I have felt it build. Everything has sped up. Many of my designer friends have suffered burnout, exhaustion, are contemplating alternative careers––and they are not the figureheads walking the catwalk at the end of the show. Joseph Altuzarra, hardly a jaded oldie, described fashion week as “depressing” then corrected himself: “Not depressing so much as panic-inducing.”
Fashion weeks for menswear, womenswear, couture, resort, add up to a spiraling schedule that stops for no man. It’s like the movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? but for designing instead of dancing. Customers tire quickly. No one is satisfied. There is no time for anticipation or savouring the great reveal because we must press on. “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” announces Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit with quavering knees and quivering voice. I have experienced that trembling barely suppressed panic, the dizzying projection of images like I’m falling down a chute past bookcases, a cat, a jar of marmalade…
And so Balenciaga is suing Nicholas Ghesquière after he described conditions at Balenciaga as “dehumanized” claiming he was being “sucked dry”. Ghesquière announces he is countersuing, a miserable ellipsis to his heroic ten year stint within the previously languishing house. While Tom Ford is four and a half years sober, John Galliano cited the relentless, revved-up catwalk cycle for the increasing dependency on alcohol and pills which led to his cataclysmic fall. This system could never have nurtured longterm a sensitive soul like Alexander McQueen. Maybe I am thin-skinned because, entering St Martin’s some years behind those two greats, I, like every freshman, felt the heavy shadow they cast. Now one of them is no longer with us, the other is no longer regarded as one of us. There must be a reason why Martin Margiela never revealed his identity.
Celebrity has become too central to fashion. Actresses and singers don’t come to see the shows; they come to be seen at the shows. However, two seasons ago, when Tom Ford reintroduced himself to the catwalk after a 7-year sabbatical, he presented a collection in which celebrities walked the catwalk––earning their admission––and select industry professionals sat in the front row. The venue was small and intimate; there was a fireplace with a marble mantle, bouquets of flowers on stands, gilt framed mirrors. The audience sat on chairs, not white cubes. The catwalk was not raised; it did not light up, no pyrotechnics. Pre-show, in his three piece suit, he wandered among the guests before stopping at the fireplace to deliver a few words of welcome like the host of a dinner party from a more gracious era. He allowed entry to only one photographer and the release of no photos, No mobile devices were permitted. Models as diverse as Beyonce and Lauren Hutton laughed, sashayed and caressed the clothes as they made the short walk. I used to think models interacting with their clothing was hammy; now I think it’s adorable. Elegant clothes and lovely manners, what a striking couple.
If someone was to herald the dawning of a new era, he’s the man to do it, I thought, and waited to see how others would follow.
So far, they haven’t. And as of last season, Tom Ford has returned to staging shows as flash and big budget as any during his days at YSL or Gucci. He has climbed back on the not-so-merry-go-round, forgetting the whiplash he once complained about. Fair enough, sometimes change happens in fits and starts.
But a change will come. For we have reached a tipping point in this industry of ours, that now allows everyone a say so that no one can be heard. It’s a cacophony. Diane Von Furstenburg speculated this week that all fashion shows might soon be digital. What would that mean? No long lines, no banks of photographers, no socialites in the front row, no travel, no traffic jams.
I hope the President of the CFDA is wrong on this one. I think digital shows would keep everyone at arm’s length. That’s not what the industry needs. I think we should look back in order to go forward. If everyone can participate,, but from a distance, there will be no desire to. I queued outside Vivienne Westwood because there was a strong chance I would get turned away. That was the thrill. Not everyone is deserving of an audience with Lady Fashion. I want to see a return to the presentations of the forties and fifties, intimate affairs in salons where, from the first row, you might reach out and stroke the fabric of the passing garments, hear it rustle, possibly ask the girl to slow down, twirl. She will smile and accommodate your request, give you a wink. Lady Fashion will have a personality again. She will make students want to show jump.
Wrinkles and all, there’s life in the old girl yet. She’s just been waiting in the wings for her comeback.
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