Hitting The Runway

Frivolity, Flashbulbs, Fashion Week, and Fabio

New York’s Fashion Week is the Harvard of American runway shows: elite, innovative, and bound to produce the next big thing. Of course, Fashion Week is also graced with the presence of iconic ’80s model Fabio.

Okay, fine. So maybe Fabio doesn’t attend your Core section, but in many ways, Fashion Week and the Harvard undergraduate community have a lot in common. We both exist in bubbles and set the benchmarks for our fields.

New York City Fashion Week is a nine-day fashion binge featuring 221 designers, numerous celebrity sightings, and plenty of attitude. The semi-annual event previews designers’ fall lines in a series of giant tents in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan.

For two days, we explored this unfamiliar fashion world. And for the record, we did sit next to Fabio during our first runway show.

Feb. 2, 9:15 a.m.

We enter the central tent, surrounded by impossibly tall PR women and the city’s chi-chi crowd. You might be thinking, “A tent? Are we going camping?” And we are entering a jungle of sorts. Dramatic blue, pink, and white lights illuminate the massive ceiling/canopy. Fashion Week attendees replenish not at a canteen but at the Moët & Chandon champagne deck and a Lotus-sponsored complimentary bar.

Heading to our first of five runway shows, we muscle our way to the front on the line, overpowered by the sudden cloud of arrogance and impatience from the other reporters and fashionistas.

After standing in line for 30 minutes, we finally make it inside the tent. Our first show is a collection from Harvard alum John P. Bartlett ’85 in “The Salon.”

10:30 a.m.

Inside, the fashion world’s upper echelon mingles, and everyone scans for A-listers in the audience. We spot the casts of “Queer Eye” and “Project Runway,” as well as many men sporting the “Stanford Blatch” look, made famous by the “Sex and the City” character: bald, scarf-wearing, dark plastic glasses. Pulsing Euro beats pump into the small tent, overwhelming the audience as they await the start of the show.

Tim M. Gunn, “Project Runway” personality and fashion guru, sits front row center, in a fitted grey pinstripe jacket, surrounded by the who’s who of the fashion scene.

Suddenly we are thrown into darkness, and the music stops. Then the lights hit the stage, the music throbs again, and the first model steps down the runway. Our pulses are likewise thrown into a state of hyper-excitement.

Heads turn in sync, following each model’s graceful strut down the lit up path. They strike pose after pose for the mound of photographers at the head of the runway, assaulted by the whirring and flashing of cameras.

As for the clothing, Bartlett uses three main palettes: beige, brown and green, and black with red. Each palette is accompanied by a different unrecognizable techno song.

“I have a prejudice towards John Bartlett,” says Gunn in an interview with The Crimson after the Bartlett show. “He’s a classic American designer with a twist...always pushing the envelope.”

Bartlett’s collection is ideal for your next garden party or five-year prep school reunion. His outfits combine traditional preppy with a kick, featuring bright red accents, creative color blocking, and enough cable knit to outfit the entire Harvard freshman class.

1: 45 p.m.

The Lemonheads’ “Mrs. Robinson” plays overhead, breaking the unspoken Fashion Week rule that all runway music must be foreign and violently bass-heavy. Unfortunately, Fabio has chosen a new seating buddy. We stand in the back, watching the Perry Ellis models swagger down the runway.

Jay McCarroll, winner of the first season of “Project Runway,” also watches nearby from behind his bug-eyed sunglasses. He’s styled in a black beret and boho-chic attire.

The Perry Ellis collection is a slightly more mature version of Bartlett’s—a little less color blocking, a little more après ski. And as all experienced cabin-goers know, no wardrobe is complete without a full knit robe. Several shirtless models sashay down the runway in these robes and long underwear.

At the end of the show, the model army takes its final walk down the runway, tan, cut, and richly clad.

3:20 p.m.

After a brief hiatus, marked by rounds of complimentary coffee, magazines, and a Kim Catrall sighting, we are again overrun with overzealous reporters and show attendees. We secure our passes and prepare to enter “The Tent” for the BCBG Max Azria show. No more small venues: this is the big top, reserved for the most prominent designers.

Vast, shadowy, and crammed with people, the atmosphere in “The Tent” resembles that of a circus or Roman Colosseum lion show. Spectators peer down at the extra-long runway. The photographers at the head of the show are so crowded that their faces are entirely hidden behind a wall of camera lenses.

We have been looking forward to seeing BCBG, which has probably outfitted every Harvard girl for at least one homecoming, prom, or formal. This was a brand we knew and loved. We expect good things.

Everything is here: the booming Euro music, the dramatic lighting, the electric atmosphere. What’s missing are the chic and contemporary BCBG fashions we had expected. It seems the models are barely here either.

Wrapped in shapeless sheets of fabric, they stride down the path looking deprived of all essential vitamins and minerals usually obtained through exposure to food, water, and sunlight. Instead of BCBG’s signature wearable fashions, the show features drab colors and eyesores, a hodgepodge of loose fabrics and textures, along with hard-to-wear ankle boots.

Clearly, the designers have not taken Gunn’s advice. “The biggest fashion foible you can make is wearing clothes that are too big or too small,” he says.

But don’t call us disappointed. Maybe we hate the clothes, maybe the girls were dangerously emaciated, but that hasn’t tainted our religious experience at the Mecca of all runway shows.

Feb. 3, 12:15 p.m.

Until now, we haven’t witnessed the “Zoolander”-esque ridiculousness that defines a stereotypical fashion show. Where is the Mugatu-styled hair? The “Derelicte” high fashion concepts? The brainwashed assassination attempts?

Toni Maticevski’s over-the-top line answers our prayers.

Upon entering the tent, also known as “The Showroom,” we encounter our first taste of zany fashion absurdity—what everyone imagines couture shows to be like. It’s not Mugatu, but we do spot a woman with mile-high coiffed hair. Then the parade of high-concept fashion begins.

Out of all the designers we’ve seen, Maticevski is the most original. He showcases several different styles, including puffy, soft gowns sculpted like a butterfly’s wings to create ethereal silhouettes in bright lemon and peach. Like BCBG, the clothes are hardly street-wear material, but Maticevski elevates his line to sculpture instead of aimless fabric layering.

He next juxtaposes that style with petite black nightwear—mini dresses, fitted jackets, complicated necklines, and lots of silver metallic long gowns and accessories.

Fear not, fashion followers. Maticevski more than satiates our appetite for edgy, contemporary, artsy fashion.

9:40 p.m.

As our fashion weekend comes to a close, we head in from the center tent for another up-and-coming women’s wear designer label, Venexiana.

Our first evening show requires more ritual than the previous four. A quick change of outfit, and we are back. The zany but focused fashion week crowd has adopted a more carefree Saturday night attitude, and Venexiana plays to the crowd perfectly.

Instead of Euro beats, the show begins with hip-hop throwdowns mixed with Beyonce and Justin Timberlake. Colorful lights flash everywhere, creating a club vibe in the tent and significantly more buzz than the daytime shows.

As has come to be routine, the lights drop, the music pauses, and then both fire up again simultaneously. We almost see a model smile, a first for the weekend. This line, unlike some of the others, is absolutely wearable, offering a larger and more diverse showing than the previous collections.

Models show off flirty skirts, evening gowns, and plush fur coats in blacks, browns, and deep shades of purple. Metallic silver appears frequently. The last model strikes her pose, the designer takes a bow, and we wave goodbye to reality stars, fashion reporters, underfed models, and, of course, Fabio.

10:00 p.m.

As we walk away from the tents for the last time—passing models in street clothes drinking diet Red Bulls and smoking cigarettes—we realize that our two day fashion bender has come to a close. We’ve consolidated our learning experience into three key tenets.

1. Metallic is still in. Feel free to keep those ’80s accessories in the closet.

2. A fresh, bright color pallet will spice up the most conventional of outfits. Think yellow, cerulean (not blue!), magenta, and red.

3. You can’t have too many minidresses and skirts for the fall. We’d also recommend stockings, unless global warming makes fall the new summer.

But what ultimately matters is what Tim Gunn told us after the Bartlett show.

As he says, “Ask yourself, who are you? What is your message? How do you want to be seen?...Own your look and you can wear anything.”

—Staff writer Aditi Banga can be reached at abanga@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Lindsay A. Maizel can be reached at lmaizel@fas.harvard.edu.