A Tour of Fashion Week

The catwalks, the clothes, the chit-chat: "Which of the Palin men do you think is cutest?"

Why am I bounding into a vast white loft in far West Chelsea on the hottest day of September? How come I'm boiling with resentment that a lot of other people in the room have car service at their disposal while I took the 23rd Street crosstown bus to get here? Because it's the first day of Fashion Week, and the Cushnie et Ochs show is about to begin!

Ordinarily, that et would annoy me—these gals ain't French—but since they're so young and have been the happy recipients of lots of positive advance buzz, I forgive them, especially when I remember that there was a time when I tried to get people to call me Justine Yaeger.

The clothes are incredibly accomplished for a pair of recent fashion school grads, though I long for the days when kids made clothes out of glitter and cardboard. Still, I’m all for the duo, especially when I find out that these maiden efforts are priced at $150 to $900 wholesale, which means $330 to about $2000 when they hit the stores, which, believe it or not, is positively peanuts in these crazy times.

Hot ticket: Rodarte's runway
Karl Prouse/Getty Images

Hot ticket: Rodarte's runway

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Then it's on to Bryant Park, where I'm stopped by a staffer with a petition from the CFDA, the official hosts of Fashion Week, urging healthy standards for models. "Put fatties on the runways instead!" I hiss, then sign, though I'm not sure exactly what I'm signing. At the Erin Fetherston show, a reporter in a wonderful outfit—which turns out to be Libertine for Target on top and Fetherston for Target on the bottom—is asking me questions like "Which of the Palin men do you think is cutest?" This query, though inane, is actually miles above "What's your favorite color?" or "What's the coolest trend?"—the sorts of questions that will surface with increasing frequency as the week wears on.

On Saturday, the remnants of Hurricane Hanna batter the city, but that doesn't prevent hordes of skinny minnies, some of whom have reluctantly traded their stilettos for Havianas, from pouring into the Alexander Wang show, where the giveaway is a marbleized notebook (Office Max is a sponsor) that says "Life Is Beautiful, Work Can Be Too" on its cover, which to my mind is just a little too close to "Work Will Make You Free," the words inscribed over the gates at Auschwitz. It appears that I am alone in my profound dyspepsia—in fact, the guy in the next seat, nearly jumping out of his skin with excitement, turns to me and says, by way of apology, "I'm only 22!" (Is that young?)

Outside in the rain, staffers are wearing pins that read "Vote for the Stam," a reference to Jessica Stam, a model. My face-blindness prevents me from recognizing Stam, or anyone else, on Wang's runway, but a woman I know gushes that "they were all supers in that show!" and she doesn't mean the guy who sweeps the floors in your building.

Three as Four! Band of Outsiders! Elise Overland! How is it that I can go to so many shows and miss the one with Lindsay Lohan in the audience? Why did I believe the guy who told me that Lohan wouldn't be at the Charlotte Ronson show, even though Charlotte's twin sister, Samantha, is what the tabloids call Lohan's gal pal? Lindsay was there, and where was I? Tromping around the Lower East Side at shows by people you never heard of, in the unfulfilled hope of discovering something new! And next! But finding only old, and last.

Still, all is not lost. The evening ends with a nutty installation from Miguel Adrover, who has made eight or so odd outfits that look like they're for the talking trees in a high-styled version of The Wizard of Oz. Adrover, who went belly-up a few years ago, was famous for making a coat out of Quentin Crisp's mattress and putting a goat on his runway in 2001. I welcome his fresh weirdness, and I'm dreadfully disappointed that the look-book they give out offers a selection of ordinary pants and jackets by the designer. (Guess he just wants to make a living like the rest of us.)

The next morning begins with Isaac Mizrahi—not his new line for Liz Claiborne, which he's now doing in lieu of Target—but a very expensive group of ensembles, all of which have been named after bugs. (Won't it be fun to call Barneys and say, "I want No. 31, the dung-beetle trench?") Then I hop over to Thakoon, since he made the dress that Mrs. Obama wore for her husband's big speech, but this collection, which features bare backs and bondage straps, would be more be at home at the White Party than the White House. I go home for a quick Lean Cuisine and watch half of Gossip Girl (anyone else think Blair's British boyfriend isn't really English?), because at 8:30 I have to set out for Marc Jacobs.

Oh, that kooky Marc. His show either starts way too early or two hours late, and you just never know. I slip into the Armory at 9:05, and there's a voice already booming over the loudspeaker: "Ladies and gentlemen, take your seats—the show is about to begin!" Hold your horses, fella! Gimme a second to climb to row 1000, where my seat is! I barely make it in time to see a parade of cracked Colette Claudines in little straw hats, braided pigtails, and faux–Comme des Garçons turn-of-the-century outfits parade down the runway.

The next day at Rodarte—a hot ticket that I'm very happy to have—the models are made to wear humongous platform heels and walk down a steep ramp (who says these teenagers don't earn their money?). At Betsey Johnson, my friend Mickey Boardman and I seem to be the only ones eating the free cupcakes. (C'mon, people, these are healthy, CFDA-endorsed snacks!) Outside the Dennis Basso show, the PETA picket line is chanting "Gassing! Trapping! Anal electrocution!" (Lucky I already ate that cake. I'm losing my appetite.)

This is fun, but quite frankly, I've almost had enough. On Wednesday, I go to Philip Lim, but I hate my seat, and because I hate people who complain about their seats, I descend into a self-loathing vortex that only lifts when I attend a party that night honoring famed street photographer Bill Cunningham at Bergdorf Goodman. (Full disclosure: A gigantic picture of me that Bill took a few years ago is in the window of BG as part of this tribute. I am ecstatic about this.)

Thursday's here! Do I schlep back to the wilds of Chelsea for the delicate meanderings at J. Mendel? Or trek uptown for Calvin Klein? Or brave the tents one more time to see what's shaking with wunderkind Zac Posen? It's 9/11, they're reciting the names of the dead on TV all morning, but so what?—Fashionland started treating this anniversary as nothing special years ago.

Can you believe it? Just when you think you can't stand another minute, it's the last day of Fashion Week! I check the schedule, but who am I kidding? Even if the runways featured Michelle, Cindy, Hillary, and Sarah donning Galliano couture and dancing the hula, I don't think I could stand to watch another fashion show. Know what I'm going to do instead? Rest up all day, then put on my best raggedy downtown duds and go to the Costume National store in Soho for a fete hosted by the glorious, ageless, incomparably chic Patti Smith.

Now there's a fashion icon.

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