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Runway Runaway

Fashion is media, and judging by the number of photographers, it's more important than the presidential election. Our columnist got a seat in the front row, but he still doesn't get it.

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This was my first time going to the fashion shows during Fashion Week (going to any fashion show ever, actually).

I went with Ingrid Sischy, the editor of Interview magazine, with whom I've been having a long-running discussion about pop culture and the media -- which parts of both you have to take seriously has been the subtext. Ingrid, who wears white T-shirts and black stretch pants almost exclusively, was inclined to see the fashion world as I did -- frivolous and Eurotrashy and disreputable, even (this is the garment industry, after all). Then, ten years ago, she took over Interview and became a significant figure in the fashion-media world. Her advice is that you can't really think about the media if you don't think about fashion too.

I certainly get the inescapable economic point. Fashion is one of the largest advertisers in consumer magazines. The category is up there where automotive used to be (what's good for Gucci is good for America). We're saturated with fashion images.

On the opening night, I saw the work of a young man named Miguel Adrover, whom I had never heard of -- but then, I knew by name only the most unavoidable people in the fashion business. Ingrid described him as very hot, a renegade whose first show had caused quite a stir. Since then he'd almost gone bust and then had come up with a new backer, and now everybody was excited about what he would produce and how far he might rise in this world.

That excitement was one reason why his show was not in the tents in Bryant Park, the established area for showing your wares, but was held at nine on Sunday night in an old bank downtown -- because he was hot enough to get people to come where he wanted them to come. In fact, Adrover was slightly upstaged by some other hot designers called Imitation of Christ who held their show earlier that day in a downtown funeral parlor.

There were 600, 700, perhaps 800 people crowded into the old bank. It was a very makeshift setting, a plywood runway surrounded by bleacherlike seating arrangements, no doubt contravening all kinds of fire laws.

Fashion is not just about clothing; it's central to the way we think about brands and celebrity and even intellectual property, and how all this gets parlayed and monetized.

"The mosh pit," said Amy Spindler, the style editor of the Times Magazine, who was sitting next to us.

You had here, Ingrid explained, a small number of buyers and then, overwhelmingly, the media (you also had the designer's relatives): the fashion trade press, the women's magazines, indeed, virtually every consumer magazine, every major newspaper, and a large number of foreign reporters, hundreds of still photographers, and the cable outlets, which were broadcasting runway footage. In terms of numbers of reporters and editors and photographers, the fashion shows are a much bigger media event than a presidential campaign.

They are also less democratic and much more structured. It's a carefully regulated hierarchy (it's regulated by special fashion P.R. agencies), with ironclad seating assignments. There is rigor to the selection, and many people are excluded. Getting a position in the front row, where I sat with Ingrid, means everything.

Anna Wintour, Vogue's editor, presided here -- and at any show worth any attention at all -- in the front row like a languid queen. Or, possibly, like the bored head of a dissertation committee. Beside her (not behind her) sat the four lieutenants who accompany her to each show.

Although called for nine, the Adrover show did not get under way until nearly ten. It is impossible to be late for a fashion show, according to Ingrid. No one seems to mind the delays, however. The crowd obviously likes itself very much.

The show lasted for little more than twenty minutes.

There was a military motif to the clothes. There was one model who was overweight and seriously lumpy who was applauded (for being overweight), and another model who was butch and smoking a cigarette, which Ingrid reported to be an unusual thing -- women's sexuality in fashion shows is usually the traditional kind, apparently.

And then it was over and everyone tried to get out as quickly as possible. Afterward, we went to a party on the roof garden of a new and architecturally out-of-place hotel, the Tribeca Grand ("Atlanta," sniffed fashion pundit Fran Leibowitz in the elevator), for Diane Von Furstenberg, hosted by the Times' Spindler. Barry Diller, Von Furstenberg's longtime consort, sat in the shadows of the roof garden under a fake trellis. It was hard to tell whether he wanted people to pay him homage. They did anyway.

The next day, at the Marc Jacobs show, held in a clear plastic tent put up on a playground at Houston and Sixth Avenue, a Women's Wear Daily gossip reporter approached me in a breathless way and asked, sotto voce, what brought me here. I said I'd just come to have a look around.

"No one comes to a fashion show just to look around," said the reporter. There were no disinterested observers, I understood the point to be -- Marc Jacobs was no trifling thing. (The following day, I made my debut in a gossip item in WWD.)

We sat across the runway from the Vogue contingent. The Vogue people sat just down from the New York Times reporters. The Vogue people, beginning with Wintour, followed by editor-at-large André Leon Talley, a towering and commanding presence who seems to double as Wintour's bodyguard, had an amazing look -- iconic, frightening, commissarlike (this was, of course, the highest-ranking command of the fashion police). They really added to the show. You could see what made them Vogue. Whereas the Times people were schlumpy -- they looked like reporters everywhere.

Of course, the Vogue people get their standout clothes free from the designers, while the Times people are prohibited from accepting such favors.

The show began suddenly and, like all of the shows, had no commentary. Except for the loud music, a fashion show is a very silent thing. Mute like the models. "It's all about what's going through your head," said Ingrid.

Donald Trump and I came face to face in the crowd as we tried to get out -- he has started to age dramatically.

Ingrid, who made her reputation as an art critic, and who does not seem in the least like a fashionista, is trying to convince me not just of the high level of creativity and imagination in the fashion world but that fashion itself is at a historic moment of cultural importance not seen since the sixties. It is not just Ingrid. There are many people I know and respect who discuss fashion as a vital art form.

They obviously do not have teenage daughters.


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