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I'm going to Fashion Week the way I usually look, in the clothes I already own. Because I'm a normal person who happens to work in fashion, and that's okay.
Still, despite all this — or maybe because of it — I've got some anxiety about the coming days. It happens every season. In the summer, the PFWPs (Pre-Fashion Week Pangs) hit around August 5th. They start as tiny, acorn-sized knots in the pit of my stomach, and by Labor Day, they've grown into a full-on watermelon of dread. My palms itch and I feel jittery. Right now, with NYFW just a couple days away, I'm shaking like a leaf in my two-seasons-old Rachel Comey jeans.
And I don't know why I feel this way because, honestly, I don't hate Fashion Week. I actually kind of love it. I mean, I love it. In fact, I can't wait! Well, no, actually nah, I'm not going. Well, okay, fine, I just can't decide.
If you've worked in "the industry" for more than three years and your name isn't Anna Wintour or Anna Dello Russo or if you are not a star blogger like Bryan Boy, I'm guessing you're not immune to this kind of Fashion Week-related psychological turmoil either.
I'm going to Fashion Week the way I usually look, in the clothes I already own. Because I’m a normal person who happens to work in fashion, and that’s okay.
Don't get me wrong: There's a lot to love about this crazy eight-day marathon of clothing and peacocking. I love dissecting every look that saunters down the runway, figuring out why a designer chose a certain song, pondering every styling decision whilst drinking the free boxed water they give out at the tents. I look forward to running into old friends, catching up on industry gossip, and trading notes about every single thing we've seen.
I love the buzz of anticipation at the start of a show, when the lights dim, the audience hushes, and the only sound is the rhythmic click-click-click coming out of the photographers' pit. I'm even captivated by the insane swirl of street style on the sidewalks outside, the little spectacle that unfurls like some kind of warped red carpet. Who are all these people in turbans and neon? Who knows.
There's also the potential for some kind of undeniable magic to happen at these shows, and that's why I love to go. That's the real reason most of us — the people who actually really like fashion — run from Milk to Moynihan to Spring Studios in a state of tunnel-visioned determination. Sure, we're getting paid to be there, but we're also waiting for something weird or funny or beautiful to happen, too.
I remember sitting with 200 others in total silence at a show a couple of years ago. The sound system had broken, and so had the lights. The designer decided to show anyway. As the models glided down the runway, the room was so quiet you could hear the swish of their skirts, the sound of their hair whipping as they turned. No one dared to so much as to tap the touchscreen of their iPhone. There was nothing to do but look on in glorious silence at all those gorgeously printed, Japanese-inspired clothes. "That was amazing," we all whispered to each other at the end of the show.
But sadly, those transformative moments are few and far between. There's a lot of noise: too many shows, too many people who — to put it in reality TV terms — simply aren't there for the right reasons: bloggers who sit front row in oversize sunglasses and rainbow fur just to take selfies during the entire Altuzarra show. Or senior editors who spend the whole of Proenza whispering to each other about their co-worker's unfortunate shoe choice. Or, saddest of all, collections so uninspired that all anyone has to say afterwards is "did you see Kimye in the front row?"
It's enough to make you embarrassed that you are part of this whole thing, shake your head in disgust and threaten not to go ever again.
I didn't always feel this way. It takes time for the tiny seeds of confusion to grow. Nearly a decade ago, in the baby years of my career as an editor, the feelings brought on by the bi-yearly flurry were easy to identify — simple, even. There was the tiny thrill when, as a lowly fashion assistant just out of FIT, my boss handed me her unwanted invites with a dismissive shrug. ("These are on Sunday morning and I just can't even.")
There was pride when, later, as the associate editor at a small but respected fashion news website, I received invites with my own name scrawled across them. And later, exhaustion, when, as the editor of the same website, I stayed up until 3am for 9 days in a row to write reviews for every single one of the 65 shows I attended. The long hours sucked, but I was thriving. Reporting from the shows gave me a sense of purpose and determination I'd rarely felt before, and under the intoxicating haze of sleep deprivation and adrenaline, it was easy to ignore the more unsavory aspects of the seasonal circus swirling around me.
I stayed up until 3am for 9 days in a row to write reviews for every single one of the 65 shows I attended.
It wasn't until halfway into my stint as an editor in the fashion department of a major magazine that my attitude toward Fashion Week started to shift. Suddenly I didn't have to write reviews anymore and I had time to take a good look around. What I saw wasn't pretty. On a big staff, with only a limited number of invites to go around, there was bound to be someone who didn't get invited or someone who wasn't seated in the "right" row. It was a virtual battleground of bruised egos and trickery: I saw one editor steal a stack of invites off another's desk when she was at lunch, and yet another throw a hissy fit when her name wasn't listed first on an internal invite request list. By the time Fashion Week rolled around, half the staff wasn't speaking.
Which isn't admirable, but it's also not difficult to understand. No one is immune to the feeling of rejection, and nobody wants to feel left out or get left behind — especially after they have dedicated their career to an industry that prides itself on moving forward. That, coupled with the exclusionary nature of the shows and a seating chart based on a ruthless hierarchy, is bound to make even the most zen amongst us turn vicious. After all, is there any other industry in the world with a bi-annual convention so restrictive that hardly anyone who actually works in said industry gets to go? Or, one in which people are sat according to some sort of arbitrary clout ranking system everywhere they go? Or an industry where being thinner and better dressed than everyone else means you might eventually get a promotion?
The stakes feel extra high, and it's the seating charts, small venues, and air of prestige that breeds the bad behavior that makes me hate Fashion Week the most.
But it's also precisely those elements that make it so damn enticing.
This season, I'll be staying on the fringes as a freelancer, somewhere between love and hate and gratitude and ambivalence. I'll go to whatever shows I'm lucky enough to get asked to, and I'll be dressed in regular outfits. I'll catch up with former colleagues and I'll roll my eyes when someone blocks my view with their iPhone. I'll silently take note of who's sitting in the front row and what they're wearing. I'll probably even feel a twinge of FOMO when I'm scrolling through pictures from the events I didn't get invited to on Instagram.
But mostly, I'll just be waiting on the edge of my seat for something beautiful or funny or weird to happen. Because when it does, it has the power to wipe all the super annoying little things away — and, as I said earlier, it's the real reason we all go anyway.
Christina Perez is a freelance writer covering fashion, beauty, travel, and lifestyle. Follow her at @christinalperez