NYFW as an Inside Outsider

· Navigating the cutthroat world of Fashion Week ·


As fashion month plugs along in Milan, I’m reflecting back on New York Fashion Week which ended a week ago. Covering a handful of shows for The Fashion Conversation, I attended as what I felt was an “inside outsider” – I had every right to be inside but still didn’t quite feel like I belonged.

Fashion week is a blur of events and tickets, big personalities and even bigger fashion. Before this year, I had only attended the Central Saint Martins MA Fashion Design graduate show at London Fashion Week in February 2016. I worked as a volunteer at this event and didn’t see the masses waiting outside to be let in, so I didn’t have much knowledge of what fashion week was truly like.

Fashion week started off well for me. The first show I attended, I went with a friend. It was Friday evening and we had both RSVP’d late for the show and weren’t on the list, but it was a big show with multiple emerging designers and we were told to just be sure to sit in the second row. Feeling sneaky, we got our glass of champagne and admired the view; the show was taking place on the eleventh floor of Studio 450, an event building in midtown Manhattan that had a view of One World Trade Center and the rest of lower Manhattan.

The view from Studio 450

I had come straight from job interviews, so I felt a little conservatively dressed, but at this show, there were so many different styles that I didn’t mind too much. People were generally friendly, something that surprised me. We continued to enjoy champagne until the show started. We sat in the second row and watched as six or seven designers showed their collections. It was genuinely exciting to see the debut of new clothes to loud music, with the sunset continuing in the background. It was my second night in New York and it felt like a personal welcome.

Later that weekend, I attended two shows at Skylight Clarkson Square, the main headquarters of this year’s NYFW. Interestingly, it seemed a bit off the beaten path; indeed, their neighbour across the street is a large facility for all of New York’s UPS trucks. The first show I arrived for was at 9am, but there was a large line of fashion lovers dressed to the nines. Free magazines and fragrances were being handed out as we all waited, bunched up together, waiting to be allowed in.

Francesca Liberatore. The lighting of the runway, the seating arrangements and movement of the models make it almost impossible to get a good shot – especially on an iPhone.

Once up to the front, it was clear that no one without a ticket would make it inside. And if you didn’t have your ticket out and ready, you risked being left behind. You were either in or you weren’t. The line pushed and pulled, as anxious show-goers hoped to get the best seats. It was every fashionista for her- or himself. Again, it was exciting to watch the debut of a beautiful collection, but the cutthroat environment was less than appealing. I watched as NYFW workers asked the front row to see their tickets – those without front row privileges were asked to move and even some who did have those privileges were asked to move for VIP guests. No one was safe.

And that’s what I took away from NYFW. It’s so easy to get caught up in the need to be “in.” I never felt I was fully in – I didn’t dress in the latest trends, and I came to objectively watch the shows rather than play into the spectacle of it all. It’s hard not to feel a little out of place when you’re in a plain jane black dress and flats. Fashion week attendees worship the scene like a religion – one with a strict class system based on how “in” you are.

In the end, it’s all about your invitation. You must have one to get in and even within the tickets there’s a hierarchy. “Standing” often means anywhere behind the second row – whether that’s actually standing or seated but farther back – while a seat assignment ensures your place in the second or third rows. It’s easy to get caught up in the elitism; I was pleased when I ran into an old colleague from Central Saint Martins in the seated line at one show. She, however, works for Vogue and was whisked off to her special front row line. At the last show, standing literally meant standing and almost didn’t guarantee me entry. I was one of the last admitted (despite arriving 20 minutes early) and had to stand in the second row of standing and could barely see the show. Many hopefuls behind me didn’t make the cut.

At least I was in.

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