Each week, the Open Thread newsletter will offer a look from across The New York Times at the forces that shape the dress codes we share, with Vanessa Friedman as your personal shopper. The latest newsletter appears here. To receive it in your inbox, register here.
Happy first Friday of fashion month, the four-week circus that spans NY, London, Milan and Paris. Stock up on green juice. We’re going to need it.
As promised, this newsletter is dedicated to Fashion Week questions and answers. Next week we will return to the more usual format — though if you have more questions as we get deeper into the shows (and I always do), please keep asking away.
Q: I am in my 60s and one of my dreams has been to attend Fashion Week in Paris. Is there any way a “civilian” can obtain access?
A: It’s tough. Despite the fact that shows tend to bleed into the general pop culture experience, they a really are just a very fancy trade show — and they are for the trade. Sometimes very loyal clients get invited, but non-affiliated civilians are limited to watching on Instagram, live streams and Facebook.
Q: How do you trust your eye for all those shows? You’re looking at hundreds (thousands?) of garments in succession. Do you have a mental checklist like a surgeon in the O.R. that keeps you oriented toward utility?
A: Experience plays a big part. I have literally been doing this for 10 weeks a year for almost 20 years, so I have a body of knowledge on which to draw. Plus research, when you are starting out, so you understand where a style or silhouette was born, and how it evolved over time. Then I generally look for three things:
1) What is the designer saying with clothes about how he or she sees female identity in this particular moment, why are they saying it (does it make sense?), and how has it changed?
2) How does it relate to the heritage of the brand and what has come before?
3) Would a woman wear it? (I do not believe any woman, for example, wants to wear diaper and bloomer bottoms or hobble skirts.)What I almost never think about is: Would I wear it? To me, my personal preferences are really besides the point.
Q: We know the audiences at the shows are made up of celebrities, editors, writers, bloggers, buyers, photographers, executives and P.R. people, but who are the people standing in the far back, or the very casually dressed individuals sitting directly in front of the livestream cameras on their phones the entire duration of the show?
A: Those casually dressed people on their phones could be editors and reporters who are telegraphing the fact they HAVE NOT drunk the Kool-Aid, but there are also fillers in the back — students, fashion groupies — and staffers who sit in any empty seats so there are no embarrassing gaps in photographs. Some designers give select, very good clients seating in the first few rows. Photographers are mostly confined to the photo risers, which is a very crowded, scary place to be. Executives generally get pushed to the back, unless they are the C.E.O. All of which means a show will always look incredibly crowded. That doesn’t mean it’s crowded with decision-makers.
Q: How do publications/editors/writers get invited to shows? Do lesser-known outlets or writers have to request to get into a show to cover it?
A: We all, no matter the publication, send in request lists to brands each season with the names of all the staffers we’d like to attend. The houses then allot tickets as they see fit, and according to the space they have in their venue. Sometimes we will argue a case with them if we think it’s crucial for a certain reporter or editor to be in a show, or to be seated instead of standing, and sometimes it works. I’m not going to kid you though: Familiarity and name recognition (and attrition) helps. When I started out, everything was done with paper invites, and people often got creative with them in order to improve their seat, adding star stickers or color coding, but now it’s almost all digital, which makes it harder.
Q: What are the most anticipated shows this season?
A: Check out this recap of what to watch for this season: There are a few important debuts coming up, which is always exciting. Plus it will be great to see if (and how) Alessandro Michele takes Gucci forward, how Rei Kawakubo follows up her Met Museum exhibit last May, and if the fact that Burberry’s Christopher Bailey has ceded the CEO role to Marco Gobbetti, who officially started in July, makes a major difference to the depth of his designs. To name a few. (To catch up on where designers work now, consult our handy cheat sheet.)
Q: And finally, are there still thrills? I sure hope so.
A: Absolutely. It is really wonderful to see a show and think: YES, that is exactly how a woman might want to look now. I often compare it to going on a long art gallery walk. A lot of what you see is derivative, some is boring, some is plain silly, but when you see one truly original exhibit that upends expectations and reframes assumptions, it’s invigorating.
Join us for a TimesTalk with Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 at 7:00PM. Buy tickets here.