So, What is Fashion Week, Exactly? Here’s Your 101.

jen kao
The Thread

Most New Yorkers are aware of a seemingly fancy event called "Fashion Week", about which you may have a vague idea or no earthly clue. We'll get you up to speed for sufficient cocktail party chatter.

Lesson #1: Fashion Week is a trade show, and it starts next week.

Right around now, you may start to hear people subtly drop comments about their oh-so-arduous Fashion Week commitments, throwing around the first names of mainstream and obscure designers and shorthand like "the shows", "the tents" or "Wang".  Basically, what we're all melodramatically preparing for is a week-long tournament of runway fashion shows and presentations (more on the difference between them in a minute) for tradespeople, which includes members of the media and retail execs and buyers. 

Here's the kicker: Next week's fashion week will showcase the coming season of Fall/Winter 2010, so although we're living in February 2010, we're thinking ahead to the fall. Still with us?  

Lesson #2: Runway v. Presentation

Most major designers show their collections in a runway show, wherein a gaggle of models showcase the original designs in motion.  Collections vary, but typically, shows last only about 10 minutes to display 30-plus looks.  At the conclusion of the show, all models return and parade down the runway again, all together, to show the line as a cohesive whole.  And then, the designer (usually bashfully) pops out for a wave and a bow.  And, you're done.  Buyers and editors file out planning their season's orders and editorial coverage, respectively -- what you'll see in stores and magazines come next season.

Presentations, on the other hand, are a somewhat lower-key vehicle for new collections.  They typically last for a couple of hours, and consist of a group of models standing on stage while attendees snap photos and take notes.  Usually, the entire collection is shown in batches, switching out the group every couple of minutes before they all return for a finale photo-op.  The best presentations serve champagne.

Lesson #3: Seating based on status

As you may have suspected, there's a hierarchy to the fashion week proceedings.  Front row has become the ambitious destination of many an aspiring career, and is always home to celebrities and a sliding scale of senior-ranking fashion editors.  If a show warrants Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour's attendance, she'll obviously be front and center, with her top staff flanking her on one side and most likely a celeb on the other.  However, the rise of bloggers -- most notably 13-year-old Tavi, as well as many other intrepid instant-news outlets -- has landed them in the front row to get a good glimpse of the clothes and endlessly irk the likes of Ms. Wintour. 

The rest of us are seated somewhere in the rows behind and sometimes, are given tickets for standing room only.  We have gotten first row (usually indicated as A on your ticket) at several shows, don't get us wrong, but despite what you may think, it's not a given.

Lesson #4: Fashion editors don't dress the way you may think

Our first fashion week inspired dread at the prospect of showing up looking the part among the city's fashion elite.  Much to our surprise, dressing up often means dressing down.  Granted, these are some beautiful ensembles strutting around but for the most part, we're talking about matted hair, loose layers and destroyed finishes on bags, belts and blue jeans.  Footwear matters (immensely) and often defines the outfit.

That's not to say that everyone's dressed the same.  If you're attending fashion week you're probably clothes-centric enough to notice the variety and specificity of the fashion week wardrobe and can appreciate the elite group of fashionistas whose bonkers ensembles represent the highest of the high chic.  Whether it's canary yellow fur, one-piece canvas bag jumpsuits or heels exceeding six inches, these are looks that have ruled fashion week crowds long before the days of Lady Gaga.

In short, our general rule of thumb: be comfortable, be chic, but for heaven's sake, be second-fiddle to the glorious clothing around you.

Oh, we could go on and on about fashion week -- and we're not saying we don't get run down as the week blazes on.  But in the end, fashion week is what this industry is all about.  There's truly nothing like that feeling when the lights drop down, the music starts and the clothes -- the actual living, breathing clothes -- around which we've based our careers go so marvelously down the catwalk. 

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