“I don’t have the education about fashion, and I have the vocabulary of a 12-year-old,” Grey-Yambao admits when I get him on the phone at his Manila home. His ambition is to become a star for its own sake: “I’d rather create desire among my readers than anything. It’s so much better to have a dream, fulfill your dream, and inspire other people. Fashion is really just a tool.”
In an age of streaming runway shows and storming amateurs, the industry is more populist than ever. But with the loss of exclusivity comes a loss of magic, and from the perspective of some designers, it’s high time for a strategic retreat. “The cultural moment,” Foley says, “is that everyone has access to everything in an instant, and what Tom [Ford] did was in juxtaposition to that.” What Ford did, last September, was stage a women’s wear show for an audience of 100—and zero press photographers. Video arrived three months later. “It took someone with the fascination factor to pull that off,” Foley says, “and he had to be willing to forgo the instant publicity.”
The achievement of Alexander and her peers has been to steer fashion journalism away from mere “hems are down this season” cheerleading. The project of their flashiest successors is to revert to unmodulated enthusiasm and to exert a special kind of commercial influence. “The one thing I think you can do as a journalist is to bring attention to young designers,” Menkes says. “It’s great if you can put the name in front of someone.” Meanwhile, the teenager from Oklahoma, modeling the latest hem length for her cult of personal admirers, can exist as a one-woman advertorial for the major labels.
Back onstage at the CFDA ceremony, Alexander hoists her heavy trophy and promises to use it as exercise equipment for fighting flabby arms: “I won’t have bingo wings!” Outside in the smoking section, aquamarine toes twinkling under a night sky, she explains to well-wishers that, after all these years of doing anthropology on the fly, she’s going to college to study archaeology next fall. She’s relieved that, for once, she doesn’t have a story to file. “It’s so hard to write about yourself,” she says. “Who would want to do it?” Bill Cunningham shuffles over in his Reeboks to snap her picture for his society column in the Sunday New York Times. Marc Jacobs comes by to kiss her on both cheeks and invite her to his after-party, at which point Alexander goes off the record and into the night. A young photoblogger with an all-access pass around his neck asks to take my picture and then tells me to write down his name—“and add a dot-com at the end.”