PRINT May 1995


Fashion Week in New York

You can never have enough hats, gloves, shoes and bags.
Patsy Stone ( “39”), Marie Claire Ab Fab Mag, December 1994

AS YOU STYLISH PEOPLE may have heard, the first week of April brought all the major style mavens to New York to view the fall collections. Fashion Week is like a conference for fashion people, with runway shows all day, and runway is like an education in fantasy: you study up on the fantasies that run our sartorial reality, because experts have proven we’re all unconscious anyway. The world is enchanted darlings, only properly charged with libido when we look at things awry, that is, through the distorting lens of our own desire, which means fantasy, sweetie-darling, fantasy. Seeing the runway shows is like going back to school for a refresher course on living in a fantasy, which is necessary, or else you could get depressed or totally enlightened, in which case you’d still have to wear something, or whatever.

Having broken my runway cherry last season in a supportive “alternative fashion context” downtown, going to the big shows in Bryant Park felt like going back to a big scary high school of style, with its own special pecking order, except everyone here is middle-aged and in black—and here, rather than dropping out, the coolest girls are the ones who never leave! The editors, big buyers, and celebrities rule the school; they get the good seats, closest to the runway. The rest of us jockey for proximity to the coolest clique. Anna Wintour (Vogue editress) is like the coolest senior girl, totally thin, everyone wanting to be her best friend. The day I saw her she was sporting the insider accessory combo of the minute: black sheer panty hose and white patent-leather pumps. Very cute.

Indeed, at your first convention of fashion people you see that fashion is like a big public institution where everyone has to go, not only the “in ” kids; so you have all the different levels of coolness, from cutting-edge jet-set fashion-forward types, older and younger versions, to others who look like they’re buying to second-guess the more style-impaired mainstream—the blah bulk of the class that permits the coolest girls to rule. Waiting to be seated for the Miu Miu show (which was ultra cool), I overheard a fellow behind me, another obvious first-timer, feeling very virile in the midst of all of this well-tutored girl libido: “Doesn’t look like there are many investment bankers here,” he seemed pleased to report to his “date,” “I’m the only man here—me and the security guys.” The room was indeed filled with ladies and honorary ladies if you know what I mean. Curious to check out this specimen of stud, I turned around to see: a bespectacled, narrow-shouldered, total wimp. Whatever.

At first fearful I would be busted as a noninsider, I gingerly looked over my fellow fashion fans as they stuffed their complimentary Absolut Sixth on Seventh clear plastic totes with all the free Evian you could drink, all the free magazines you could stand, Clairol hair-color samples, cute Glamour cookies shaped like cat’s-eye glasses, spectator pumps and chapeaux, Tootsie Rolls in teeny beribboned Harper’s Bazaar shopping bags, a huge unflattering Dean & Deluca/Vanity Fair T-shirt that I was glad to take anyway, even a darling little bottle of complimentary Absolut Currant vodka in a silver pouch, in case you get a little more fabulosity than you can handle, and a nice Timex indigo watch that my friend already filched. Clutching my plastic tote as a proud badge of membership in this tetchy community or, rather, mutual seeping society, I quickly felt at home grabbing free goodies, and chilled out to get ready for my first celebrity sighting: Ivana Trump, darling. Where: on line (waiting to crash) the Oscar de la Renta show (I succeeded darlings!). Overheard: “I just saw her hawking pink plastic bubble watches with flowers on QVC with matching skirt and top!” One chuckled, discreetly of course.

The de la Renta show was thrilling—having seated oneself in the fourth row, right across from Elsa Klensch, the Ted Koppel of fashion for heaven’s sake; one’s ingenuity was rewarded with total violation by a kind of Dynasty-meets-Prince of Tides middle-aged eroticism. The models were totally sexed up, around 20-ish, in attire perfect for one’s grueling schedule on trustee boards and charity-ball committees. One of these precocious grandes dames seemed to have gray streaks dyed into her hair, the better to appeal subliminally to the certain age of the de Ia Renta target consumer set. I imagined 50-ish de Ia Renta freaks identifying with girls who looked like their daughters dressed like their mothers, without a trace of irony. It was weird! These girls really knew how to move. At the end of the catwalk was a shockingly huge black wall of camera lenses swarming like locusts, supported by persons in black leather, mostly men. Like totally styled flowers offering nectar to attract the insects that will fertilize them, each girl glided to the end of the runway like a fecund organ of glamour, back arched, one foot crossing over the other in that peculiar model walk, staring straight ahead with that withholding come-hither stare—tautening for a moment with a special glance, as if to secrete the professional pollen required by the situation. One was literally aware that those tired feminist readings of the “gaze” had a point: we were definitely watching each girl , as she composed herself for this blind mirror, in her turn get f-d. We in turn greedily consumed these runway emissions through our glamour organs, kept in a state of low-grade stimulation as they are by total sites of fabulosity as seen in magazines and on TV. The de la Renta show was definitely a kind of soft porn for ladies, complete with cheesy New Age–ish music, then a kind of throaty operatic lady wailing (for the evening frocks): it was a couture version of a Jackie Collins novel, but with more beads.

The models in Prada’s Miu Miu show, by contrast, were downright anhedonic but also divine. Again I seated myself royally across from Elsa Klensch, who scowled most of the time and dispensed a smile midway through this exquisitely disabused collection. It was definitely the dark side of the Jackie moment, the dawn of Valium and cosmetic pharmacology: “deconstructed” ratted-up bouffants with lots of visible bobby pins and the bottom part hanging down, pointy early-’60s low sling-backs, handbags, cardigans, and demure skirts, some in slip material perfect for when you’ve woken up from your depressive afternoon nap and just want to throw on your coat over your housedress. In contrast to the de la Renta junior-geriatric sexpots, these Miu Miu girls looked like they were over everything. The palette was muted pastels and soothing creams. Nina was there, that’s the new model; she’s like 14, half-Russian, half-Chinese, who’s like totally tattooed. The models truly walked like scary zombies: bad posture, I could totally wear that stuff. I think they were supposed to look like they were wearing their mother’s heels, and not too comfortably. Some in white coats or dusters evoking lab coats seemed to be the attendants in a fashion sanitarium for girls whose nerves had been shattered by too much niceness. Irina, my favorite, looks like a smiley skeleton in th is paparazzi shot taken by me. I didn’t think the girl ahead of her was very pretty. The music was amusingly mod, like in a café in a Jean-Luc Godard film, followed by some chirpy bluegrass Christmas medley contrasting nicely with the models’ dejected mood. It was a kind of bored housewife-waif thing, like a bourgeois dropout look, the underlying structure of the early-’60s Jackie ladylike moment attractively falling apart. Supposedly inspired by Drew Barrymore, Hollywood house bad-girl , the Miu Miu models seemed to me more like the Jeanne Dielman type-the disaffected housewife, through her anhedonic depression, proposing her own disorganized critique of bourgeois suffocation. And workin’ it oh so well. I loved it. Or maybe that’s the Italian reading of Drew Barrymore. Whatever.

Rhonda Lieberman contributes this column regularly to Artforum. Later this month she can be seen in a tiny segment on Ooh La La (Lifetime television).