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Fashion Weak: a manic meltdown in front of Cara Delevingne

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In the first of five essays, writer Alex recalls a moment it all went wrong – perched on a sofa uncomfortably close to the supermodel

This is Fashion Weak, a five-part salacious/spiritual/sometimes sad series of essays about how a former unconvincingly closeted musical theatre major managed to get past the VIP New York City “fashion world” ropes, making a trainwreck of an entrance.

The “fashion world” is a trigger for my bipolar II, broken-ish brain. So, because self-awareness and self-care is very on-trend right now, I consciously and responsibly uncoupled with New York Fashion Week last season. I wasn’t getting much (see also: any) assignments for what was once my most psychotic work week of the year, anyway. Which is weird, because I’ve been doing the freelance fashion writer thing throughout all of my twenties, and I’m thirty and shockingly stable-ish now.

That’s right – I’m not a masochistic mess anymore! Rage-cutting the VIP line at Alexander Wang after-parties to intoxicatedly bark “I’m press!” at publicists who had just murdered my ego with immaculate vocal fry (“Sorry, you’re like, not on the list...”) is a thing of my problematic past. I’m (hopefully) through with epitomising everything I continue to hate: the privileged, delusional, fame-hungry, OD-friendly hedonist. AKA, the gross millennial cliché. Desperate for the “likes” in any way, shape or form.

That was then. It’s 2017, and everything is way more fine now.

Pause on that – ‘fine’. That word haunted me for forever. Fine. You look fine (in a Forever 21 outfit covered in cat fur.) You sound fine (I’m a theatre school dropout.) Your article was fine (die!)

I wasn’t fine before, during or after my interview with Cara Delevingne, which went down in September of 2014 during NYFW SS15 at Cara’s Mulberry bag collection launch party.

This wasn’t my first time at the being-assigned-to-interview-a-famous-person-I’m-indifferent-about rodeo, but I was feeling off when I needed to be on, and it was freaking me out. I’ve never been a fan of these chaotically crammed in-store events – they take place in the early evening, so most guests aren’t wasted just yet, and the lighting is unforgiving, particularly when I’m not feeling so cute (which, when I wasn’t shitfaced, was always). Do not get me started on the floor-length mirrors – on that night, I was the last person I wanted to see.

I was unusually nervous for my interview. I was denied a chain-smoking break, because the paps/fans were losing their goddamn minds on the SoHo cobblestone streets outside, so I was glued to my cracked iPhone in the back of the store, furiously deleting emails I wasn’t going to respond to from pushy publicists with their relentless pitches concerning the next “It Girl.” I ignore the professional and confident Teen Vogue reporter who’s standing next to me (okay, he’s actually the one ignoring me). He’s obviously priority to interview Cara first, and he’s designer-clad, cool as a vodka-infused cucumber cocktail, and you know, not fat.

He is summoned by the publicist. My heart beats faster. Within seconds, I hear Cara cackling in the distance. They’re BFFs! And then... A SELFIE! Meanwhile, I’m grinding my teeth like I gargled with amphetamines. Everything’s FINE, I tell myself – that word again – as I wait and I wait. Totally fine. I’m wearing the sweat/fat-veiling and also predictably “fashion” all black outfit. I’ve got this.

I have not got this.

The Propranolol – usually a godsend for stage fright and its symptoms of clammy hands, stuttering, not breathing – is failing me. I knew I shouldn’t have inhaled that lavender whatever the fuck cocktail they offered me at the door.

Suddenly, it’s time.

“You have five minutes with Cara!” growls the publicist. I awkwardly plop down next to the model, my severe fear of intimacy triggered by our proximity on this tiny couch. I push back the panic, and open with a “Hi girl!”

So far, so good. Chill Girl Cara acts like she loves me, so I have no reason to not be fine... for about 45 seconds. Am I breathing? Will the perma-cracked iPhone that I’m using to record our interview spasm free of my convulsing hand and chip Cara’s beautiful teeth?

I can’t hold it back. On the sofa in the Mulberry store, perched sweating next to Cara Delevingne, I let go. There’s a tear or three, which I maybe veil via the perspiration super-slide racing from my hairline. She tries to comfort me with compliments re: my Janet Jackson ‘Rhythm Nation’ tour t-shirt, my deteriorating nail art, my Britney-related tattoo (free – in exchange for my Ultra Music Festival raver makeover piece for ELLE.com, which, according to my lovely editor, "performed poorly.")

“It’s so hot in here!” I gay squeal as my apologetic goodbye once it’s over. Cara can see right through me. She’s so nice and normal, probably just figuring I was a crazy fan. She’d be right about the crazy part.

Am I breathing? Will the perma-cracked iPhone that I’m using to record our interview spasm free of my convulsing hand and chip Cara’s beautiful teeth?

Unlike the Teen Vogue writer, I float through the champagne-spilling socialites who have filled the store without a selfie with Cara, which sucks because it would’ve surely skyrocketed my sad Instagram following. My article for Yahoo Style was fine though – I went for the “Cara Made Me Straight!” angle. It hurt to RT it – until Cara did, and then I felt special for like eight minutes.

But I’m not special. Everyone comes to hate their job and themselves, and who isn’t mentally ill!? I don’t have a talent fee. I RT too much. No one’s flying my ass to Paris for fashion week. I prefer random press trips that do the luxe escapism job – like when I went to Shenzhen Fashion Week for this website you’re on right now. Also, the masseuse (escort) an editor may or may not have bought me made up for the light food poisoning.

But there was a time when I was fantastic-ish at interviewing celebs, especially circa my thirty-pounds-lighter days. (Thanks, Mononucleosis.) Confident, carefree, a burgeoning Famous Only Below 14th Street type! Special! I lived for this! I yearned for the superstar auras to rub off on me! Ashlee Simpson showered my studded Converse (I know) in champagne! Wendy Williams praised my smile! I INTERVIEWED PATTI SMITH. ‘Twas all dreamy and easy-ish, even the many times I gave minimal shits about whoever I'd be assigned to interview. I’d do it for the readers and the like, $150! (Tip: Just ask these special somethings what their zodiac sign is and/or tell them they have really good energy. They love that shit).

And even when I’ve been dissed (Karlie Kloss perpetually sashays away from me; Zoë Kravitz’s publicist email-screamed at me; Sofia Coppola called me out: “You have nothing to ask me, do you?”), I get the job done. Like, I asked Jessica awful Alba for a quote for Paper magazine in 2011, with her deadpan response being “I’m okay...” before she vanished into an even more famous crowd. My six-ish second exchange with her was my best performing post of that season. It's all about the clicks, the likes, the shares. Because the only kind of substance that anyone cares about (and, if you’re lucky, shares) these days is the illegal kind you’d find packed into an impractically tiny baggie. I would know.

The Cara meltdown wasn’t supposed to happen. This was meant to be my comeback! I’d returned to my rent-stabilised (#blessed) apartment less than a month before this from the no-frills Pride Institute, located in a sad Minnesota suburb, housing only LGBTQ fuck-ups. Thirty glorious days in treatment to save me from myself! I wasn’t a traditional addict – I guess I was maybe addicted to feeling special and I absolutely was suffering from imposter syndrome, desperate for a break from the fashion world fuckery. But rehab was too dangerously real, and I bounced in the middle of my seventh night, back to my hedonistic heaven/hell. I’d lie to my friends and blame a Medicaid coverage error for the reason the month was unceremoniously cut short.

Fine would just take... a while. Good things come for those who don’t overdose, or something. There wasn’t a singular rock bottom, no one devastating point of no return. And things did get better. The shrinks and psychiatrists, the Ted Talks, the one-week-in-rehab thing, the hanging with real friends, the no longer comparing myself with Instagram poets and meme-maker “friends” with 100K+ followers... that all helped. And, sorry, but here’s another famous namedrop: Courtney Love. I’ve interviewed her a ton over the years, and she helped most profoundly by introducing me to Buddhist chanting. This soul-saving happened the NYFW season after the tragic Cara thing, but that’s another essay, so, stay tuned.  

I wish I could’ve chatted with Cara about her mental health journey and how she got better. I wish I asked her if any happy pills were rolling around inside her Cara x Mulberry bag along with her eyebrow gel. Alas, my questions had to be approved pre-interview, and her responses wouldn’t have made the cut, anyway. It is what it is. It’s just a job. And, besides the pathetic pay, a really cool one! I mean, I recently interviewed my childhood icon, Ginger Spice, for my Vogue.com debut! The highs, the meaningful ones, help me deal better with the lows.

“Cara can see right through me, probably just figuring I was a crazy fan. She’d be right about the crazy part”

Actually, I’m often better than fine these days, which is crazy. And when I’m not fine, when the “nothingness inside of me” feeling makes a cameo, when the doom scolds my internal inbox like Zoe Kravitz’s publicist did my Gmail, I’ll look up at my inspiration wall. Up there is a xeroxed copy of the “Personal Bill of Rights” I took with me from my one-week-in-rehab. 24. I have the right to believe I am a worthwhile person, JUST BY BEING HERE AND ALIVE!!!

Still, there are times when I’m just not there. I’ll be psychotically happy while on an eleven-hour flight en route to a comped dream trip. And then the clouds make a cameo, and I’m in a window seat. I prefer aisle (and, worst case scenario, a tiny dose of Klonopin) because I can escape to the toilet where I’ll whisper a Buddhist chant, and maybe throw in a grounding rehab exercise (Instructions: stomp on the floor to feel present). I’ll remind myself that I’m not alone re: actually being sick in the head, that many are afraid of “getting better.” We’re comfortable with the clouds because we know that’s where we really belong. Last row, in coach, with connection-failing WiFi. Fight or flight! But those thoughts aren’t anything special. They’re just sad.

What is “special”? I think it’s all about being here and being alive. I think it’s being fine with fine being enough.

Follow Alex on Instagram @acatinheat, and our illustrator João Victor @mirror_dsoul. Stay tuned for part two, coming soon.