The Run-Up to Fashion Week: Andy Warhol as Napoleon in Rags


We’re always irrationally happy when it’s no-tax week, those few days each year when you can avoid paying New York sales tax on clothing and footwear that costs less than $110. (It ends this Sunday, February 6.) The hard part, of course, is finding anything you like for less than $110, or even, if you’re a Bloomingdale’s customer, less than $1100.

Or so we must assume from that full-page Bloomies ad on page 28 of last Sunday’s New York Times, in which a bored-looking model wears a perfectly drab jersey shell with a bow and what is described as a “midnight floral metalasse flare” skirt, whcih are priced at an astonishing $780 and $1725 respectively.

Oh well, maybe the price inflation is an homage to that gorgeous fossil known as couture week, which has just ended in Paris. In a typical attempt to be achingly hip while presenting insanely lavish ensembles affordable by only a few dozen people in the entire world (this is literally true), John Galliano called his show “Andy Warhol is Napoleon in rags,” an apparent mis-hearing of a line from Like a Rolling Stone which is actually “You used to be so amused, at Napoleon in rags and the language that he used,” with Andy nowhere in sight. (Guess Galliano didn’t have time to check the back of his old Highway 61 Revisited album, or Google the lyric. But, hey, we’re no one to talk—for years we thought Bob was stuck inside a sculpture, only to finally find out all he meant was Mobile, Alabama.)

Still, when you think of it, maybe Andy Warhol as Napoleon in rags isn’t such a bad metaphor for a fashion show. By all accounts, Andy was a taciturn fellow—glittery and striking on the surface, unfathomable in any real way. And isn’t this how so many fashion shows are—stunning to behold, but hard to fathom in terms of their relevance?

Ready-to-wear catwalk presentations are fantastical enough—but the couture? Who could believe that in 2005 the petit mains would still be feathering and beading and embroidering until their fingers are bleeding? Would anything really be lost if couture went the way of serfdom? Gaslight? Horse-drawn buggies? Typewriters?

Oh, well. For better or worse, there’ll be nothing approaching couture at New York Fashion Week, where most designers keep a keen eye on the price dictates and middling aesthetic values of Seventh Avenue. Still, now and again, someone comes creeping out of the woodwork with a debut collection that doesn’t compromise and isn’t calculated purely to catch the attention of a Mr. Moneybags in the audiences. Mainstream presentations—your Bill Blasses, you Diane Von Furstenburgs—can be almost instantly retrieved on, or by watching channel 95, a real godsend to fashion junkies (not to mention editors in the cheap seats who can only see the models from the neck up) but we have our sights set on virtually unknown designers, showing for the first or maybe second time—novices whose own little hands are increasingly needle-pricked as their show date draws closer. In some fetid school gym or dusty union hall or storefront gallery, we’re praying there’s another Andy Warhol as Napoleon in rags ready for his—or her—close-up.

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