Butter Piping and Nipple Flowers

A young designer takes on New York Fashion Week

When Albert is asked what he'll be doing tomorrow, the day before his show on Super Bowl Sunday (an event that passes completely unnoticed during Fashion Week), he says he'll be attending to last-minute details, which include solving his most pressing problem: shoes. Somehow he didn't realize that young models' feet were all size 10 1/2 or 11, plus, since he ordered a lot of shoes from the Internet to save money, there are the usual problems when you can't see things in person: The two-tone spectators he got from Bluefly are a peculiar mustard color, and there are plans to go to Pearl Paint and buy something to remedy this.

When they're asked who would sit in their dream front row on Sunday, Whitman, Schneider, and Albert are taken aback for a moment, then say they'd be happy with anyone from any magazine, really, or ideally, a buyer from one of the "B's," the collective nickname for Bergdorf's, Bloomingdale's, Barneys, and Henri Bendel. (A fifth B, Bonwit Teller, went out of business years ago.) Then suddenly Whitman shouts, "I want Oprah to come! I want to meet the O!"

The designer takes a bow.
photo: Jennifer Snow/jensnow.com
The designer takes a bow.

Cigarette girls: Taking a break before the show
photo: Jennifer Snow/jensnow.com
At 11 a.m. on Sunday, an hour before the show is set to begin, the atmosphere backstage is strangely relaxed. Though Albert is waiting anxiously for his mom to bring boob tape (to allay jiggling) and nipple flowers (for strategic concealment), and Whitman has made an emergency run to Filene's Basement for still more shoes, Albert wears an expression of almost beatific calm. The models, with their hair in curlers (the designer says he wants their coiffures to look like "the sort of British girl alone in a big house and down on her luck who does her own hair for the ball and this is the morning after and it's all loose at the ends") and wearing their own raffish outfits—jeans and little furry Kate Moss–ish jackets—take part in a technical run-through to make sure the lights, music, and pacing are all in sync.

Then suddenly a rumor rustles through the room, whispered in tones of frank disbelief: Anna is coming. This seems highly unlikely—it's an incredibly busy week for the famed Vogue editor, and to be honest, there hasn't been all that much buzz about Albert. But no, one of the MAO principals says, Wintour's teenage daughter, Bee, has heard about the show and wants to bring her mom.

Ten minutes before the show begins, the audience is shaping up: the usual enthusiastic fashion students; a small number of junior-editor types with stick-straight hair and Goyard tote bags; the ubiquitous Sylvia Miles; a mysterious guy in paisley pants and high rubber boots, carrying a Muppet purse. But then, incredibly enough, Wintour herself materializes. Dressed casually (for her) in jeans and a spectacular fur parka and with daughter in tow, she slips into the front row.

"Now I'm a little nervous," Albert laughs when her attendance is confirmed, but he is not too rattled to tell the girls to smile—"I want happy models, not pouty models!"—and deal with a last-minute pinning emergency.

The lights go up, the music surges, and the models begin their rapid stride down the catwalk. None of the catastrophes that can befall a runway show occur: No one's breast pops out; no one loses a shoe and falls down; two models don't bang into each other. Just minutes after Albert takes his bow, the models are already back in their jeans, slinging their big bags over their shoulders and rushing off to their next jobs; Wintour has melted into thin air. Albert, in his quiet way, is ecstatic.

Over the next several weeks, Wintour will attend scores of catwalk shows in four cities. She will gaze at thousands of pencil skirts and sweater sets and sequined evening gowns. Whether Albert's caramel mink-trimmed overcoat or his chocolate taffeta skirt suit will linger in her memory is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, by Tuesday the designer will be back in class in Cambridge, trying to keep his mind on his studies but all the while worrying about magazine mentions, boutique orders, and who or what will set fire to his imagination and inspire his spring 2007 collection.

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