The big event this week in Washington was the president’s State of the Union address. In New York it’s Fashion Week, when designers show their fall collections. And though there is no comparison between the importance of these occasions, I bet that what only a small minority of women will be wearing a year from now may get just as much attention as the president’s remarks.
Sure, in D.C. reporters and commentators will be analyzing and debating every word of the president’s proposals. But in New York, 1,800 members of the worldwide fashion press–yes, that many have been accredited to attend the shows–will be focusing on some really important stuff, like whether the new collection that publicity-guzzler Jennifer Lopez is launching will be more upscale than the lollipop-colored sweat-suits she has palmed off on her fans in the past. That’s news for scores of TV shows, feature sections, and magazines.
Starting Friday, there will be 70 shows held in billowing white tents set up for the occasion in Bryant Park, a couple blocks east of Times Square. And while Washington debates the formation of a new government in Iraq and the restructuring of social security, New York columnists and editors will be jockeying for seats at the more sought-after shows, including those held by fashion favorites Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta, who designed the gowns First Lady Laura Bush wore to balls during Inaugural Week.
“It is an absolute hierarchy about who sits where,” says Judy Licht, co-founder of and commentator for Full Frontal Fashion, a style show on the WE channel. “It is the biggest display of raw ego you’ve seen and even when you know how stupid it is, it is impossible not to get caught up. Each year when you attend the shows you find out where you are on the scale–whether you have gone up or down.”
Here’s how it works. Fern Mallis, the executive director of 7th on Sixth, which organizes the shows, says that the press–which includes fashion-, beauty-, and women’s-magazine editors as well as newspaper reporters from throughout the country plus Europe and Japan–apply to her organization for accreditation. Their names are then given to the designers’ public-relations directors who allot tickets. Editors and reporters are called the night before the show and given their seat assignments.
And if an editor or a reporter–horrors of horrors–is not called? “It is a mess,” admitted one editor. “You have to stand in line before the show to get your seat. It is mortifying. And sometimes when you finally get to your seat someone else is sitting there and won’t move. They pretend not to see you. They talk on their cell phone. It can be very, very annoying. You can end up in the nosebleed seats.” Said Judy Licht, “It is like a hot restaurant. Sometimes people are thrown right out of their seats. It’s the ultimate degradation.”
Of course, some fashion editors, along with their retinues, are assured of the very best places. First among equals is Anna Wintour, the svelte editor-in-chief of Vogue. Anna, who is known in the industry as “nuclear Wintour” and who was allegedly the model for the monster editor in the novel The Devil Wore Prada, always gets the place of honor. She is so powerful that one Vogue editor, Andre Leon Talley, has said, “The Red Sea parts when she walks through the room”
After the war in Afghanistan, Anna, deciding to save the world one hair-roller at a time, thought the best way to help the women in this beleaguered country was to start a small beauty school in Kabul, where aid workers could get their roots done. Vanity Fair, edited by Bush-basher Graydon Carter, cheered her great humanitarian effort.
On the cover of the current issue of Vogue, Melania Knauss, Donald Trump’s sharp-visaged bride, is featured wearing her over-the-top 50-pound $200,000 wedding gown, chosen for her by Andre Leon Talley. It looks just like the wedding gown the Phantom of the Opera might have wished for his own beloved.
Before the wedding, a New York drycleaner had one of his minions iron all of the 500 pleats in the megafrock; it took the iron-welding slave eight hours of hard pressing. If only Marie Antoinette could have gotten service like that. Allegedly Anna dumped Oscar-nominee Hilary Swank off Vogue’s cover, choosing instead to help fuel the Trump-wedding publicity machine.
“Look, fashion is important but everything is done during the shows to make it seems very exclusive and to give things a buzz even when most designers today have trouble selling their clothes,” an editor admitted. “Everyone sits around looking at each other, saying they are working so hard, and swigging bottles of Evian as if attending a fashion show is the equivalent of patrolling the streets of Mosul. Nobody says anything during the shows but they burst into wild applause at the end. But on the way out you hear people murmuring, ‘I hated that. Didn’t you hate that?’”
Okay, I know fashion is big business and, hey, I like to shop once in a while myself, especially at sale time. But frankly, I am sure the best-looking woman in the world this week will not be the ones striding down the runways in Bryant Park come Friday, no matter what they wear. That honor has already been taken by the Iraqi women in their plain black abayahs, who carried their babies in their arms and held their children by the hand as they waited in long lines to vote in last Sunday’s election.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.