Your Fashion Week(s) Primer 

Whether you think it’s sexy, ridiculous, or just plain inconvenient, you have to admit that Fashion Week in New York is a fascinating cultural phenomenon. Legions of society’s arguably most vain and self-important folk willingly pack themselves into tight, sometimes tented spaces like cattle (by invitation only, mind you) — all for a loud, high-intensity show that often lasts under five minutes. Oh, and then everyone repeats the entire process up to fifteen times a day for a full seven days. Wearing stilettos. It’s utter lunacy, but it’s also the kind of madcap style that’s so often missing from New York in the age of a cleaned-up Times Square and a big chain-driven Soho.

 This September’s Fashion Week might end up being the most interesting in recent memory. For starters, we’re three-quarters into one of the most depressing economic years in most young peoples’ lifetimes, which casts a serious shadow across a week filled with — let’s face it — somewhat frivolous affairs. (Even if, as Anna Wintour so sagely put it, “Frivolity must have its foundations.”) Not only are boutiques shuttering like flies and clothing lines declaring bankruptcy, labels are finally raising their voices in protest over ever-shortening periods between design and manufacturing, as well as ever-increasing “seasons” (pre-fall, holiday, resort, etc.). After a while, the debate came to include Fashion Week itself — the usefulness of a massive gathering of industry people for what often amounts to an expensive parade.

 Tensions came to a head this year at an improvised town hall-style meeting hosted by the CFDA, which gave designers and editors alike a chance to voice their opinions. Shortly thereafter, cosmetics giant MAC announced that it would sponsor a separate Fashion Week from the traditional Bryant Park melee — this one downtown at Milk Studios. That’s right, two Fashion Weeks. At the same time. What’s more, the lineup at Milk looks, well, way cooler than Bryant Park’s (Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, Vena Cava, Preen, Band of Outsiders). While the Milk organizers insist they’re not trying to compete with Bryant Park, they’re certainly giving the old-timers at the tents (Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera) a run for their money by putting on a slicker and more affordable production. How will all the editors ferry back and forth between 42nd Street and West 15th Street? Well, they’re still figuring it out. Especially since they can’t spend money on taxis anymore.

Oh, that’s right, I forgot to mention: Budgets at the glossies have shrunk dramatically, creating an atmosphere that’s decidedly less jet-set than, say, the September portrayed in R.J. Cutler’s recently released documentary about the erstwhile heights of Vogue (awkward!). Editors will be coping with shrinking budgets, hawk-eyed managers, and a dearth of eager-to-please assistants to take their place at less-interesting shows. The whole thing’s creating an interesting “If a show happens in a tent and no one’s there to see it, does it make a sound” scenario.

 To lighten the mood, Wintour and the CFDA have organized a massive worldwide shopping event on September 10th (the first night of Fashion Week) called “Fashion’s Night Out,” during which 700-plus retailers in New York City alone will stay open late and play host to celebrity- and designer-filled parties. It might be an insider-fueled excuse to party and shop, but this editor, for one, is pretty excited about anything that promises an all-girl block party in Williamsburg hosted by Bird and Vena Cava and Alexander Wang giving catwalk lessons at Barneys.  Finally, the cherry on top of this year’s Fashion Week bonanza is that the MTV Video Music Awards are bang in the middle of it on September 13th. Does this mean celebrities like Beyonce will be making paparazzi-and-security- fueled visits to the tents? Well, we’re certainly betting on a Kanye appearance, and Lady Gaga is apparently co-hosting the Marc Jacobs after-party, so there’s that. If we all make it out of this alive, it’ll be a miracle.

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