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Fashion Week diary


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POSTED: Thursday, September 24, 2009

NEW YORK » It's been two years since I last attended the Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week, and a year since the recession hit the fashion industry in a big way. I wanted to return, in part to see the Spring-Summer 2010 collections firsthand, but also to see if I could get a sense of the direction of the economy, of any optimism and mood of the designers, based on their collections. Will they be able to do enough to lure shoppers into stores again?

;

Sept. 9

Leaving tonight, though I don't know what I was thinking when I made my flight reservation. I'll sleep overnight on the plane, get there at 10 a.m. (4 a.m. Hawaii time), arrive at my hotel at 11 a.m., check in, and my first shows will be those of Nicholas K, Whitney Eve and Mara Hoffman at 2 p.m. and Ports 1961 at 3. I should have just enough time for lunch before heading to the back-to-back shows. I booked my first days' shows early, before I found out Gwen Stefani is staging a L.A.M.B. show that afternoon as well, but I'm arriving too late to bother requesting a backstage appointment there, which would be at 11 a.m. Oh well.

Sept. 10

11 a.m.: The flight on Delta/Northwest was great, arriving on time, and I'm at my hotel at 11 a.m. I'm even able to check in before normal check-in time at 3 p.m. The only glitch: I was only able to sleep about two fitful hours on the plane, so I've been awake 27 of the last 29 hours and I have the whole day ahead of me.

2:45 p.m.: Still waiting for the Nicholas K, Whitney Eve and Mara Hoffman show to start. I am proud that I have walked nine blocks from my hotel to the tents in heels. I'm anxious about the 2 p.m. show's late start because I want to make it to the Ports 1961 show on the other side of the tent at 3 p.m. I was warned by Twitter respondents not to book back-to-back shows for this very reason, but the advice didn't make sense to me. So I booked as many as I thought realistic. I worry that once the show starts, I'll be trapped because they won't want anyone crossing in front of the photo gallery, so I decide to stand near the exit so I can flee when I have to.

3 p.m.: I keep looking at the time and leave after seeing the Nicholas K show of men's and women's sportswear. I really want to see Mara Hoffman's dresses, but I don't want to risk losing my seat at Ports and becoming part of the standing-room-only crowd. So, after one long wait in line, I'm back in another line.

3:20 p.m.: After about 10 minutes in my seat at Ports, I see people from the first show trickling in. OK, now I remember the shows usually start 20 to 30 minutes after posted times. The Ports show is beautiful, with minimal styles, a touch of Japanese Zen spirit—the idea is to visit a new port of call each season—and a lot of whites shown by Tia Ciabani. I always love her designs but wonder why I never see them at retail.

6 p.m.: Should I walk home or take the subway? I decide to walk and after five blocks am dealing with an open blister. Ow! (I now swear by Band-Aid brand gel bandages with antibiotic.)

7 p.m.: I head out for Fashion's Night Out after seeing Rosa Cha's swimwear show in the tents. I was gonna head to Bergdorf Goodman to see if I could spot Victoria Beckham or the Olsen Twins, but stop into Saks first, where I end up staying, just missing Justin Timberlake, I hear.

Sept. 11

I worry about bombs going off on the anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers. The last three times I've been to the city, bombs have gone off, each one closer to where I was staying. Maybe because of the date, my shows are nowhere near the public tents today. First up is Jason Wu at the St. Regis Hotel, where I first have a backstage interview at noon with M.A.C makeup artist Lucia. I've already missed the 9 a.m. Cynthia Steffe show because I went to sleep at 5 a.m. and couldn't wake up.

12:45 p.m.: Media is shooed out of the dressing rooms while the models are being dressed. I'm bored and trying to catch up with Twitter updates on my iPhone when someone brushes quickly past my left. I look up and spot the familiar bob and svelte figure of Anna Wintour, heading into the dressing room to chat with Wu before the show. A visit from Anna means Michelle Obama's designer has arrived.

1:30 p.m.: The show is so beautiful, full of sporty, sophisticated jackets and separates and pretty spring dresses with fitted bodices and full skirts. I start crying, a fashion first. My video looks shaky in the end.

3 p.m.: I have a backstage meeting at the Luca Luca show in the Altman Building in the Flatiron District. There's some mess-up in arrangements so I'm assigned standing-room-only, which is OK, it gives me run of the gallery. I spot Nicky Hilton in the front row and take her picture. She's wearing Luca Luca, of course. After the show of red carpet-worthy dresses, I take a photo of Tiffani Amber Thiessen.

4 p.m.: This is my biggest break of the day because the Twelve21 Gallery, where I'm about to see Carlos Campos' presentation, is only about four blocks away and doesn't start until 6. I hole up at an Internet cafe for a bite to eat.

8 p.m.: There was a lot of white and silver shown at the Campos show. I really liked the clean, sporty lines he presented. I hope we'll see these at retail as well.

9 p.m.: Next up is Indashio's show. He'll be coming back to Hawaii next month, so I want to get an idea of what to expect from the street designer. He still comes up with designs only a showgirl or dancer would wear, but there are a handful of “;normal”; pieces in his collection. Could it mean Indashio's growing up?

Sept. 12

9 a.m.: I was looking forward to seeing the Lacoste show, but I went to sleep at 6 a.m. and don't want to get out of bed now. My next show is Christian Siriano's at 4, so I can close my eyes again.

3 p.m.: Doh! Just woke up. I am NOT missing Christian's show. Gotta run.

4 p.m.: Hallelujah, got here right on time and breezed my way in. There's even my name on a chair.

4:20 p.m.: It looks like the master of black is showing lighter colors for spring, plus oceanic and volcanic prints, inspired by Italy's Amalfi coast, though, not Hawaii. Here are more fitted bodices and frothy skirts. The “;Project Runway”; designer shows a lot of maturity for his age and time in the business. I'm so happy for him and tear up in the finale, but not like at Jason Wu's show.

Sept. 13

After talking to M.A.C makeup artists for the Erin Fetherston show and feeling washed out the past few days, I decide to rim my eyes in spring 2010's new browns. It's a look too heavy at home, but works well against New York's backdrop of gray cement and concrete and stone buildings.

Sept. 14

11:20 p.m.: At Carlos Miele's show in the tents, I spot the one item from all the shows that I want to wear now: a cropped jacket with mirror and silver epaulets. That's awesome. He's showing a lot of sophisticated separates, including shrugs and boleros that continue in line with fall's shoulder emphasis. I'm glad designers are thinking of covering the arms. It's what older women want.

Noon: I'm standing in line waiting to get into the Jill Stuart show at New York Public Library when I feel a tap on the shoulder. It's Hawaii makeup artist Jessica Hoffman. So far, Stuart's the only one who's gone for glitz and drama on the runway. It's a fun show, but I don't know if these are pieces retailers will buy.

6 p.m.: We saw the taped-up look at Christian Siriano's show, and now at Tadashi Shoji, with form-fitting dresses that leave no room for bump or bulge. The dresses look great on 5-foot-10, 105-pound models, but what is the typical 5-foot-4, one-hundred-quarter-pounder to do? Looks like we do have six months to get ready for spring with an all-over workout. The goal: To be Victoria Beckham thin. If that's possible. I say, if Nicole Richie could do it, anyone can.

7:20 p.m.: At the Gottex show, I slip from second row to an empty seat in the first row where for once my view is unobstructed. Problem is, I'm not front-row material. I'm too busy and fidgety, turning this way and that for photos, when the videographers in back of the house expect the front row to be motionless, save for turns of the head. Any other movement distracts from the show. It doesn't help when I reach for my video camera and my bag spills over to the runway. Luckily, the contents don't fall out, but now I can't reach the handles, so there it stays. I take it personally when someone in the show's control booth shouts, “;Uncross your legs!”; Which also interferes with the shots. But then, I'm not the only one uncrossing.

Sept. 15

9 a.m.: The night before, I learned through e-mail that my morning appointment at Rodarte has been canceled. Later, I find that they have cut back on press because their body makeup, inspired by tribal tattoos, is labor-intensive and will require their team's full concentration. All is not lost. I had a conflict with the Badgley Mischka show, so that's where I head.

10 a.m.: Sitting in the Badgley Mischka tent, I realize I forgot to put the battery back into my camera after recharging it the night before. I'll have to go back to my hotel before heading to the Malandrino show.

1 p.m.: It looks like they're letting us in on time at Catherine Malandrino's presentation at the Chelsea Art Museum, which is good. I'm supposed to be back at the tents at 2 p.m. for the Max Azria show. Luckily, I had checked my Facebook page the night before and a Honolulu stylist has sent me Lynne O'Neill's phone number. I also checked my spam filter and, darn it, there were all these invitations I missed. Also a local girl, Lynne is producing 11 shows this season, including the Max Azria show and says she'll let me in through the back entrance so I won't have to wait in line. Because Malandrino's show is a presentation, I can walk through at my own pace. Her inspiration is the draping and wrapping of the body employed by the Nubas of Sudan, Berbers of the Sahara, Cashibo of Peru and Samoans of Polynesia.

2:20 p.m.: I make it by subway back to the tents and Lynne O'Neill introduces me to New York Fashion Week creator Fern Mallis. About then I look down and see Lynne is wearing rubber slippers. Just like me. I was wearing heels about every other day, but not on days when I need to run between art galleries and the tents. A lot of the women are also wearing flats and changing into heels a block from the tents. I figure, why continue the charade?

3 p.m.: I check into the next line for the Dennis Basso show. The furrier is showing mostly sweet ballerina-style cocktail dresses with sporty, saucy back details, and limiting furs to a few shrugs and boleros.

Sept. 16.

8 a.m.: I am too tired to make it backstage at Nanette Lepore, so I hit the snooze button and plan to head to Chelsea by 11.

11 a.m.: In line for the Koi Suwannagate show, with a theme of love and flowers. The Thai designer has handpainted dresses with lotus imagery. Lilypad, frog and flower forms in white line the room at the Gana Gallery, where the presentation takes place. This time I forgot to recharge my video camera battery and bring it along in hope of finding an outlet. I see outlets all along the gallery's baseboards, but most have a light unit plugged in. I consider plugging in but imagine causing a short circuit and seeing lights go out. I decide against shooting video.

Sept. 17

11 a.m.: My last Fashion Week event is Norma Kamali's presentation at the Apple SoHo store, where she is speaking about “;The Democratization of Fashion.”; The swimwear pioneer is now blazing a trail in the place where technology and fashion meet.

Kamali held onto her white iPhone throughout the event and proclaimed her love for the device. She started her tech track only a year ago, when retailers cut back on their buys. She tested sales direct to the public at wholesale prices and said that made up the shortfall. She believes technology is democratizing the distribution and availability of fashion, and that consumers are no longer willing to follow designers' and retailers' traditional schedules. So her pieces are available now at NormaKamaliCollection.com, NormaKamaliBay.com and in WalMart stores.

With Fashion Week set to move from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center in another year, I wonder about the fate of the event and whether it's still relevant. What started as an industry event has come to be seen as an exclusive, yet technology-enabled public spectacle.

Those now able to see the shows through traditional media, blog and Twitter often want the pieces now, not six months from now, so the wait for Spring-Summer 2010 is unrealistic. By then, knock-off artists will beat designers to market. Yet, designers' production schedules demand it. They will not produce items retailers won't buy.

Ken Downing, fashion director for Neiman Marcus, told me the the chain is well aware of the speed at which fashion news moves. He agreed that consumers are “;more focused on buying now and wearing now. Thinking about your wardrobe months in advance is less and less a reality,”; he said. How designers, retailers and consumers are able to work out their differences remains to be seen.