What Nobody Told Me: The Thrills and Perils of My First Fashion Week

Every baby’s got to have a first

09.15.16
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I didn’t go into my first New York Fashion Week with many expectations but, of the few I had, none included crying so much. The street-side sobbing didn’t come until Saturday (Day 3), though, right before the Simon Miller presentation, which was hauntingly held in a graveyard. I’ll resist the metaphor there. (IT WAS THE DEATH OF MY INNOCENCE.) (Sorry.)

Back on Day 1, I was eyes so bright and tail so bushy as I hurried to my first-ever runway show, Hellessy. By the time I arrived, five minutes before its 2 p.m. start time, I was sweating profusely from the hot, broken subway – a physiological state I’d scarcely shake for the next week – and from running several blocks to Pier 59 out of fear of being late.

Anyone who’s been to a show is probably chuckling; it didn’t start until 2:25 p.m., which was so obvious to everyone but me. As I waited, I studied the people mingling around the beautiful sun-drenched room, took note of their structural skirts and expensive-looking bags and quietly decided I would drop $5,000 dollars somewhere after the show. The debt will be worth it, whispered the devil on my shoulder.

Don’t worry, Mom, I came to my senses later. Barely.

When the lights dimmed and the recording of chirping birds gave way to pulsing electronic music, the room fell silent. I learned later that this moment is the great equalizer of fashion week. Who you know and the value of your outfit dissolve into the ether when the art takes the stage. Your breath goes, your heart thumps, your body buzzes. Unfortunately this only lasts about ten minutes, then it’s back to crippling self-doubt.

🙂

That first show turned out to be an accurate sample platter of what was to come: five days of adding new depth to the expressions “mad dash,” “imposter syndrome” and “out of body.”

Part 1. Mad dash

I’ve heard that non-fashion week attendees find it incredibly annoying that their counterparts whine about the exhaustion incited by looking at pretty clothes and partying with celebrities. I totally get that, and a fear that my frazzled emotional state was not reflecting enough gratitude and humility to a jury of one (me) was like a rotten little cherry on top of a stressful sundae.

I won’t deny there was something thrilling about the novelty of rushing around the city, trying to write all my stories and feed my body outside the typical quotidian constructs of 9 to 5. The subtext of “OMG, look at me eating this apple for lunch at 4 p.m.!!!” could certainly be interpreted as “I’m so important I literally don’t have time for proper nourishment.” And I did occasionally feel a little special, I’ll admit, but it was always quashed the moment I actually walked into an event and assumed my position of so-low-on-the-totem-I’m-practically-underground.

Part 2. Imposter syndrome

It’s not that I think it’s surprising or a reflection of my character that I didn’t know anyone attending fashion week, own the right designer clothes nor understand what the F I was doing. I just moved to New York and changed careers (in case you hadn’t heard by now in a million different ways). It’s that intellectualizing those realities didn’t help. It still felt like shit, to plunge into such a tangible reflection of my newness. I felt like I was on a disorienting time machine back to high school, to see people talk and laugh and make plans right in front of me and not include me.

Being a part of something I’d observed from afar for so many years was such an exhilarating experience — I was overcome with waves of awe and gratitude 102 times — but it was punctuated by such a profound loneliness and generalized stress that occasionally I couldn’t help but break down and cry. Sobbing over an artisanal Pop-Tart on 2nd Ave while masochistically tossing in thoughts of my ex-boyfriend stands out as particularly absurd.

What certainly did not help my sense of isolation was the fact that I lost my iPhone in the kerfuffle, also known as a party, also known as I’d been drinking. It happened on Friday, it was completely my fault (save your pity) and I spent the following days walking down city streets holding my computer like a giant flip phone, maniacally searching for Wifi so I could send Amelia a text message. Or writing down subway directions like it was 2002 and I was MapQuest.

Let it be known: Fashion week is a horrible time to conquer technological separation anxiety.

Part 3. Out of body

What I’m not sure I’ve captured, yet, aside from my ability to find the cloudy lining in a silver spoon, is that on the other side of my fashion week ledger was something far more appealing. It was less taxing on my actual organs and just as moisturizing for my lower eyelashes. Euphoria.

You don’t even have to love fashion to respect the artistic prowess and creative energy designers put into the clothes they present. You don’t even have to respect celebrities to appreciate the shocking impression their physical presence leaves on a newcomer like me. You don’t even have to like to party to file a private concert on top of a New York parking garage as one of the most fun of your life.

So I guess you could call me a sucker, because if my deadlines, anxiety and imposter syndrome had me primed to lose my shit during fashion week, my love for fashion, culture and dancing on rooftops left me just as vulnerable to lose my mind.

Feature photograph from BFA courtesy of Hellesy. 

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