Fashion Week: Amid Bright Colors, Nanette Lepore Speaks the Grey Truth

Nanette Lepore: partly cloudy
Nanette Lepore: partly cloudy
Stacey Anderson

Yesterday, while interviewing dance-rockers Metric, I couldn't resist gushing about one of their songs, "Front Row." Of all the tracks on the dark and disenchanted upcoming album, Fantasies, this one seemed especially poetic for its jaundiced look at the world of fashion. After a week of watching fall collections along the runway, I told Metric's singer, Emily Haines, that I was hooked by their intelligent appraisal of couture and the concept of glamour.

And then Haines, sweetly but firmly, corrected me: "I usually let people associate songs with whatever meaning they find, but I have to tell you, that song isn't about fashion at all." It was about being in a band. Because they are in a band.

Fashion Week is getting to me, man.

This past week has been something of a surreal experience. Not because I feel lowly among such posh environs - this is where roaring egotism comes in handy - but because, to some extent, I've suspected that everyone in Bryant Park is fiddling as Rome burns. The constant expressions of excess, whether the diamonds dripping in the crowd or the $5,000 Carolina Herrera dresses charging forward on bony legs, grate quicker than before. This year, fashion feels even more removed, even more dreamlike, disconnected from the governmental and financal stresses that seem to drain all our reserves.

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Yesterday, Nanette Lepore reminded her attendees that fashion is politics, too. At her Bryant show, before the collection of gilded-bohemian wear that bucked every serene trend of this week, she distributed flyers and pre-stamped postcards crying, "Save the Garment District." They implored Mayor Bloomberg to halt the redevelopment of the neighborhood's factories and production centers, warning, "We are destroying one of the last manufacturing industries left in this country." Kinda put a knell on the show, which clipped along smartly with bright rose chiffon gowns, gold Eastern-print panels, and embellished paisley blouses.

Lepore was only the second show I've seen this week to refer outside the rag trade's bubble (Betsey Johnson was the first with her endorsement of Women in Need). And her move rippled around the trussed-up crowd; for the first time I heard conversation, not just vague inferences, about how shaky this industry really is. Even in the pared-down plenty of Bryant Park, it is easy to forget that Fashion Week employs so many people in satellite industries - catering, stage production, security, and, yep, journalism - that the success or failure of each individual show is more significant to our economy. Success means more orders from department stores, means more temptation to consumers, means more grease for a slowing wheel. Failure means every person in that company could be unemployed in no time at all.

So when folks like me are cynical towards the more outlandish elements, we don't realize how they could, actually, help us all. The glamour is far from whimsical. That's why this Fashion Week, at heart, is so sobering: Nanette knew it, and everyone else did too. She's just the first to say it.

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