"All the best-dressed people here are wearing translucent pants," reads the first note I take while waiting to attend the Jeremy Scott show in the lobby of Milk Studios. I caulk my mouth with another coat of red lipstick, which offsets a matching marble notebook-patterned crop top and leggings set, plus a faux leopard Forever 21 jacket I got at a Salvation Army in San Francisco last summer. The whole look is very "female Screech from Saved by the Bell."
The second annotation: "I want to tell everyone how good they look. What's stopping me?" The hack part of me wants to explain that shyness away by writing something akin to, "I'm so unfashionable! I don't BELONG here!!" Despite this gross urge, which is half comprised of internalised misogyny, I can't play-act like I'm some "fashion outsider" in good faith. Facts are facts: I'm a relatively young, relatively thin, able-bodied white person with a closet full of translucent pants of my very own, and it's lazy to pretend that THAT's who's being marginalised at New York Fashion Week. I won't indulge in that disrespect. We're trading in the emetic codes of designer-clothing pageantry; I am not like the othered girls.
From what I observe in the lobby, I'm far from the only person who feels like a preening charlatan today – which actually reinforces that I'm even less of a sore thumb than the worst part of me would like to have you believe. I don't mind long lines – I think there's a camaraderie to having a unidirectional goal with a bunch of randos. That only intensifies when the moneyed-looking older man next to me freaks out about having to wait with the rest of the stalled proletariat. I find his fear of being typified as JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE HERE, WHICH IS TO SAY, UNWORTHY very soothing. He's kitted out with two assistants, both of whom he sends around to make sure he's in the right line (he is, of course), a suit in a "witty" print – if you're guessing little moustaches, you would be absolutely correct – and the kind of expensive, clear eyeglasses that let you see right through to the JACKPOT cherries and sevens that whir maniacally behind a certain kind of wealthy person's eyes when he's discomposed about not having been presented with whatever arbitrary prize he feels he's unquestionably due.
Another outburst borne from the collective worry about being seen as individually subaltern: as I take my seat in the second row, I watch as a girl wearing one of Jeremy Scott's hamburger-ish monster sweaters with a fountain-like ponytail centred on the top of her head bops around the long pews. She screeches, "I'm so hungover – I don't know how to beeee here! I slept for, like, 30 minutes!" I immediately and ungenerously dislike her, though I'm sure I've been her before. "Shout out to the ATL Twins! They're still passed out at the Ace!" (These homages are not proffered to any specific person.) My opinion of Hamburger Sweater softens a moment later when she's sharply upbraided by a man even louder than she is for trying to casually snatch a gift bag from the vacant front-row seat before me. "THAT DOESN'T BELONG TO YOU," he snipes, and everyone turns. She withers, looking very much like she wishes she stayed put at the Ace, safe in narcotic slumber with the ATL Twins, dreaming idly of some paradise far from this place where she does not know how to be.
The bag's rightful owner appears a few minutes later. Miley Cyrus, the designer of Jeremy Scott's new line of jewellery is as blithe and unconcerned-looking in this room as she is in all other states of being, not least of which are her appropriative music videos.
Her social ease takes up room: I am asked to move back a row to accommodate her entourage. Climbing out of Miley's personal (assistant's) space, I run into Dazed contributor Katherine Bernard, who shows me an Instagram shot of the view from her seat – taken a breath before Miley came in and occupied the exact spot she was photographing:
"Fashion week is full of stylish surprises, you never know what you might see."
The show begins. Today, Miley and Scott reference the drug culture of the privileged young of both today and decades past, trotting out a PLUR-tainted rainbow of designs, many of which sloganeer for drug use and appreciation. Some of the clothes are fantastic in their absurdity, like the Shrek-patterned knits (would wear them all), the Jack O'Lantern sweaters, and every other outfit that looks like a homemade Halloween costume originally made by some 1970s aunt, then copped second-hand at a Midwestern thrift store (probably the closest thing I have to a "personal style," honestly). I hear Miley excitedly repeating "I MADE THAT!" to her companions in her gulping twang, as if the people sitting next to her, with whom she ostensibly came to this show, would not know.
Accompanied by music that I think many in this room would wrongly characterise as "trap beats," the parade of loopy clothes ameliorates the audience's terse self-consciousness, including, for the most part, my own. Despite myself, I'm into it: How can you feel lesser-than when a model just walked his paces in a patchwork quilt worn as a cape as though he's a four-year-old playing superhero – and looked stellar doing it? There's a wacked-out convivial thrill animating the air after the satisfied pair of designers bop around the runway together, wave to the crowd in thanks, and disappear backstage.
On my way to the exit, I work against the crush of bodies fixing to follow them and am stopped by a forcefully blonde woman in her late 30s. "I can't let you go like that, baby girl," she says. What? "Fix your lipstick." I'm holding my notebook, a pen, and my phone, so I can't reach up to fix it. Somehow, in that instant, it makes sense to flirt with her like the total scumbag that I feel most closely resembles my being: "Youuuu do it." Did I just wink at her? Either way, she doesn't hesitate, and I accept a pink nail that looks like a Barbie surfboard between my lips. It makes audible squeaking noises against my front teeth. She hurriedly rightens me, then canters off in the other direction without a word. I'm touched – literally AND figuratively! I am no longer apprehensive about telling anyone how great they look anymore, all thanks to the bizarre kindness of a stranger who did just the opposite as she put her nice manicure inside my face. Keeping her generosity of spirit in mind, you had better believe I compliment the hell out of some only technically clothed lower halves as I leave the show. We're all in it together! – well, the "all" that are considered worthy of taking part in the lofty pursuit of looking at a sweater with a Shrek face on it, anyway.
Next up is Proenza Schouler, and I have a few hours to change my outfit first – from what I can tell, this will be a show that most likely won't include graphic tops that read "DON'T DO DRUGS" on one side, then "GIVE THEM TO ME" on the back, so I should probably step it up a little. I wear all my favourite things, which always girds me, even when I don't need it. Later, when I explain this stratagem to a lawyer named Sophie who stands next to me at the show, she says, with great sympathy in her voice, "Well, honey, even if they don't all go together, at least they all go with YOU." FOSTER ME, SOPH, YOU GENTLE AND DIPLOMATIC QUEEN; I'M GLAD YOU FEEL ME ON THIS LOOK YOU CLEARLY HATE BUT ARE BEING WILD NICE ABOUT:
When I arrive at the shadowy, high-ceilinged Wall Street space where the show will be held, I'm taken aback. A steady processional of all the mega-famous people I only learned were famous after moving here from New Jersey a few years back (at which point I was suddenly made to know it like religion) saunters by: Grace Coddington, PAPER Magazine's Mr. Mickey, Anna Wintour, purposeful and Kanye-like in sunglasses when she finally sits to spectate. Her haircut's notoriety, always so puzzling to me, snaps into logical place as immovably as itself. I refuse to believe that head wasn't transformed into dyed glass as some sort of mythic retribution by a Greek god whom she declined to get with hundreds of centuries ago.
I scuttle to my spot as the lights get even dimmer. I swear the whole room sinks. My stylist friend Laia has promised that the clothes will inspire me, but as I try to keep my eyes trained on the models, who are scant of body and largely snowy of skin, all I can focus on is the cricket-chorus of a million – more? – shutters going off in the corner, where the cameras are. The sound overwhelms the already-pugilistic percussion of the music. It overwhelms everything. What planet is this? How far removed from the people in the world outside? These are cartoonishly dire, death metal concept album-worthy thoughts, I know. After the show, I try to be sunny, but it's tough when it's contrasted by the stark tone of the rest of the room. I go backstage, waiting next to Cathy Horyn, ex-Style critic at the New York Times. Horyn, as she says to some rich guy who identified her to me as he greeted her a moment ago, "LOVES her free time."
I hang around with my skirt deflating as I wait to interview the designers, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCullough, overhearing them say to another reporter that their collection draws from "classic America – anoraks and Oxfords." When it's my turn at the fashion plates, the men become visibly put off by the shattered iPhone 4 I hold out for them to intone into – sweetly, they express this by smiling super super extra and complimenting my headband. "Whose America are you talking about? Who are the people you envisioned when you were working on this collection?" I ask. Hernandez says, "We really wanted to examine the codes of American culture – to deconstruct all the fucked-up parts of it." They talk about how they expressed this by punching holes in garments – anoraks! who knew? – but, in a roundabout way, the atmosphere of their show has utterly succeeded in communicating their stated intent to at least one woman tonight. The collection is beautiful, but I don't think it's possible to attenuate "all the fucked-up parts" of America's social, cultural, and political history to some tears in a prohibitively expensive dress, as presented to a homogenous group of elites. The codes, however they've been examined – or not – through the lens of the clothing at today's shows, remain unchanged.
I get lost on the way out of the building, end up in a fire exit, and momentarily have to go do breathing exercises in a Burger King. Welcome to the vanguard of fashion in 2014!