Donk’s piece in The Guardian:
I’ve never been in combat, but I’ve seen GI Jane, and from the looks of it, fashion weeks like last week in New York, or opening today in Milan, bear more than a passing resemblance to a regimented boot camp, in the middle of a highly organised, unrelenting mosh pit of well-dressed editors, reporters, buyers, models, photographers, press and flaks with competing agendas.
Six years ago, when the now-famous New York fashion week was still held under huge white tents covering Bryant Park on the chaotic, touristy intersection of 42nd Street and 6th Avenue, I attended my inaugural fashion show. Just 23 then, I sat fourth or fifth row and gaped, slack-jawed, at the models parading the clothing of a designer I’ve forgotten. My first impression was the ultimate industry cliche: “Goddamn, these models are really skinny.”
Four years later, as the editor-at-large of STAR magazine, my boss asked me to cover fashion week. I had never covered fashion before, and I had absolutely no idea what or how to do so. I got there with my videographer and my press pass and expected it would be no trouble. And it was quite a bit of trouble indeed.
Unless your last name is Wintour or Roitfeld, covering fashion week requires stamina, fortitude, old-fashioned wiles and a substantial amount of (preferably unassailable) self-esteem, because it will be rocked heartily by the jockeying and politics of the fashion week pecking order. You think you’re important? You’re not. You think you’re thin or attractive? You’re not. You think anyone cares whether you get your interview? They don’t.
Many regulars fight this paradox: they adore fashion week, but they also count down the days until it is over and congratulate each other on “making it through”, as if it were some sort of painful experiment involving dark green vegetables.
It’s been seven long seasons since I first stumbled with my microphone into the tents, and there are certainly stages to the experience. First, uncomprehending wide-eyed wonder as the glamorous chaos swirls around you, coupled with a palpable fear of doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, sitting in the wrong seat, arousing the attention or ire of the ubiquitously lean, black-clad PR girls. Then a gradual onset of confidence begins: yes, only the neophytes ask Anna Wintour for a photograph. Press requests are made early, but there is no such thing as a confirmed interview. Ever. You’ll be body-checking people – literally – to get that soundbite, and that’s just part of the job. One has to prepare for bruises, blisters, even blood (my camera guy once started bleeding after he was shoved in the giant pit of photographers that stand at the base of the runway).
You have to become a liminal figure; too aggressive and you piss people off, too passive and you won’t get any coverage whatsoever. It is crucial to dress in subtle designer frocks, but never jeans (unless you’re an editor) and always unconscionably expensive, outrageously high heels (they are regularly studied). Too showy, and you’ll attract attention as an outsider – only front row celebs and total newbies dress like it’s a red carpet – too casual, you’ll look out of place.
Fashion week may sound frothy. In reality, it is anything but. It is a multibillion-dollar global business. The best comparison I’ve come up with is that of 90 weddings, with 18 to 30 brides each. All in the span of eight days. This season I asked designers, “Do you consider fashion to be an art or a business?” It is both of course, but it’s also entertainment. It isn’t, after all, a fashion tell. It’s a fashion show, which isn’t limited to what walks down the catwalk, or the lighting and thumping music. The show is in the seating, in what the editors are wearing to the shows. It’s also an enormous art presentation: the installation being the tents, and the art being attenders, their arrangements, interactions and the way they react to the clothing (I have seen standing ovations before). The way a beautifully constructed dress can actually make a crowd gasp. And to a certain extent, it’s also an incredibly nuanced, unbelievably complicated multi-layered competition – who will get the most press, the choicest front-row seats, the hottest celebs and most powerful editors in attendance? What results is sometimes a battle of egos, sometimes a celebration of craftsmanship.
Astounding creative visions are realised here. It’s this mix that makes fashion week so defiantly brilliant, so exhaustingly frustrating. But sometimes you’re cold, bored, you’d rather be in sweats and trainers and your ego is wounded because some PR lady put you in the third row and you couldn’t think of anything else to ask Diane von Furstenberg other than “what was your inspiration?”. And if you did make it into the first row by some chance, isn’t it true that your thighs are simply too big to be there and everyone will be judging you against the backdrop of 0% body fat and oh God, why are you here anyway? You’re a fraud. You just want to go home and eat chocolate bunny from last Easter.
And I’ve done that, too.