It was a splendid relic, this February’s New York Fashion Week. Twice a year, in February and September, some 250 designers introduce their collections for the upcoming season. Most of the superstars stage runway shows beneath improbably glamorous temporary tents in Bryant Park, while the Next New Things and the famously edgy hold presentations in galleries and formerly grotty lofts in Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. To the natives, it’s a semiannual rite to be endured: a constant stream of town cars and cabs cleaves the middle third of Manhattan, relaying models and editrixes, photographers and trust-fund interns, store buyers and fashion aficionados and their hangers-on (beauties with surly boyfriends, celebrities of various grades with somewhat dicey entourages). Hotel bars and neighborhood boîtes close for private parties, and block-long lines of Parsons/FIT/Pratt students, sartorial exhibitionists, and other species of the young and hip take over downtown sidewalks, emitting their Gauloise smoke and studious sullenness (the latter exacerbated when the fashion world’s A-listers steadily breeze past them to the head of the queue).
The point of it all is hardly obvious. Decades ago, these presentations were hushed, semisecret affairs for a very limited audience made up of a designer’s select group of private clients (the ladies who lunched at the Colony and Le Pavillon); buyers from Bonwit Teller, Bergdorf Goodman, Peck & Peck, and, probably at the top of the heap, Saks Fifth Avenue, who would place orders for the dresses they would sell to their ever so slightly less select clients; and the elite of the fashion press (actually, fashion being then so rarefied, there was hardly a non-elite fashion press)—the blue-rinsed Carmel Snow of Harper’s Bazaar and the equally blue-rinsed Edna Woolman Chase of Vogue, along with their minions, “tall, cool Vassar graduates,” as S. J. Perelman described them, all in their pillbox hats and white gloves. Fearing piracy of their upcoming designs, the handful of American fashion houses shunned publicity and prohibited even sketching.