Fashion—it’s big business; it’s flashy tabloid fodder; it’s on television, on celebrities and online. It’s everywhere, a high-profile feeding frenzy of dos, don’ts, high, low, conservatism, outrage, teensy start-ups, public offerings, looking ahead and in the rearview mirror, ultimately with billions and billions of dollars at stake in an ever changing global marketplace. Yet for all of that, fashion is also a remarkably intimate industry, perhaps even bizarrely so, one that in many ways operates like an idiosyncratic little club. That characteristic is never more apparent than when it comes to the four-times-a-year ritual of the major-city collections.
As Fashion Weeks continue to pop up around the world—Moscow, São Paulo, Australia and on and on, some even with merit—the European and New York shows remain “the collections,” an interdependent block of events staged by competing firms who nonetheless share a handful of producers, DJs, outside publicists, and hair and makeup people, not to mention models and stylists. One designer’s demand for a daylong exclusive on models, in fact, impacts everyone else who shows that day; a radical schedule change affects the entire industry.
The recent spring collections in New York were marked by two mega-events that got very personal: the shows of Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs. Spectacular in wildly different ways, they demonstrated how fabulous New York fashion can be—and how diverse. Consider the divergent preshow commentary: “It’s exuberant; it’s pulled together; it’s glamorous and elegant,” noted Lauren. Conversely, from Jacobs: “It’s a vulgar, crass, disgusting world out there. But I love it, and I’m enjoying it.” It’s not difficult to distinguish between their inspirations: My Fair Lady and a witty warping of common notions of sexy, respectively.
Forty years after launching his label with a drawerful of ties in borrowed showroom space, Lauren hosted a celebratory anniversary fete that, while on a huge scale as far as Gotham fashion shows go, felt in some ways very private. He brought his guests to his de facto front yard, Central Park’s small, gated Conservatory Garden, situated just blocks north of his Fifth Avenue apartment. Lauren chose the venue because he loves and uses the park and knew that, given its 105th Street location, it was a jewel unknown even to many New Yorkers, and he wanted to show it off the way a homeowner might his new sapling plantings. He definitely viewed the evening as a working event—“I’ve a collection to show that will be judged,” he said—but also as a thank-you to the people who work for him and to others who have worked with him over the years. Thus, this was no cheesy celebfest. The front row shone with star wattage, not of the typical Hollywood ilk, but with an emphasis on accomplished New Yorkers, starting with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his girlfriend, Diana Taylor; Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; Diane Sawyer; Barbara Walters; Charlie Rose; Martha Stewart; Dustin Hoffman and his wife, Lisa; Stephen Schwarzman; Robert De Niro; Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick; Robert Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Mary; Edgar and Clarissa Bronfman; and Bruce Weber, along with some ultrasupportive competition—Donna Karan, Carolina Herrera, Vera Wang and Diane von Furstenberg.