Insider’s View of New York Fashion Week

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 05, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Tina Fineberg is a New York City-based freelance photographer whose work regularly appears in The New York Times.

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It’s 8 a.m. on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I’ve just finished scrolling through my email to check on the day’s seat assignments and to fire off a few last-minute invitation requests. I have my schedule for the day, cab money, business cards, a Starbucks card and my laminated press credentials — everything I need to begin my first full day at New York Fashion Week.

Twice a year — in February for fall/winter collections and in September for spring/summer collections — the fashion world takes over the Big Apple as editors, investors and retailers from around the world converge on the city to spend a week attending a blitz of events, scouting, covering stories and ordering the best and the newest in the world of apparel for the upcoming season. Why just a week? Because the following weeks, the entire scene shifts to London, then Milan, then Paris.

Perhaps the most well-known event of New York Fashion Week is a collection of runway shows held in Lincoln Center, called Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. But there are myriad other fashion week events, singular and strung together, taking place almost around the clock at gallery spaces, studios and clubs everywhere from Harlem to the Bowery — more and more every year.

Each day is different, and you can never see it all. As a photo shoot stylist, it’s as thrilling to check out what everyone around me is wearing as it is to see the clothes on the runway. Ideas are everywhere, from new combinations of colors, patterns and accessories to interesting ways to play with proportions and layers. Sure there are the crazies in costumes who come just to pose for the cameras, and the self-promoting fashionistas crossing the plaza with a faux-frenzied “front door dash,” albeit in slow-mo to adjust for various shutter speeds.

But there are far more who are there for the sheer love of fashion. They’re purposeful about what they’re wearing, and that’s where I learn the most. Because I love purses, I also make mental notes of the latest “It” bags among major fashion editors and Upper East Side fashionistas. (Trapeze trumped Birkin this season.)

And just when all the trends and hems start to swirl together, I’ll see something so incredible, so stunning, so well-crafted that I want to run through the streets, high heels be damned, shouting, “You must wear this!”

By the time I arrived in the city this February, fashion week was already underway. When I first started attending in 2006, I used to hurry to the press-credentialing office on Day 1, eager for the opportunity to snag one of the official media swag bags — giant totes laden with a random assortment of freebies. Past scores included wine, makeup, underwear and an iron. Those vanished around 2008, though, so I switched my attendance to the latter half of the week to take advantage of an even better score: my coveted invitation to the Ralph Lauren runway show, which always takes place on fashion week’s final day.

Held in an intimate downtown gallery each year, the front rows of this show are always a who’s who of every major fashion magazine, and the clothes are always, always breathtaking. (This year, which also marked the debut of a new, casual line called Polo, was no exception.) Seeing Anna, Grace and company is always a thrill, and last February, I had the loveliest chat with Joe Zee, creative director of ELLE Magazine. The best part, of course, is when Ralph Lauren himself walks the runway after the final model, waving graciously to his adoring audience and stopping to grasp the hands of friends and family to thank them personally for their support.

All the shows are thrilling, but above all else, I love having the chance to meet the designers who are creating these beautiful garments while also trying to build and sustain a business. Creative types are everywhere — even attending the shows. Over the years, I’ve showcased many items from artisans I’ve met while standing in lines during fashion week.

Others, I meet because I’ve been given the rare opportunity to go backstage before or after a show.

Every time I attend fashion week, I create daily schedules that mix fashion shows with showroom visits, and large Lincoln Center events with independent, off-site shows. It’s this mash-up that I’ve found gives me the widest perspective on what’s going on and has the biggest potential for interesting things to happen.

For example, this season, I got to sit in Lincoln Center’s largest venue as one of maybe a thousand or so attendees as the music pumped, cameras flashed and J. Mendel’s spring/summer collection blew my mind. Also at Lincoln Center, I got to see the American debut of renowned Korean designer (and major talent) Lie Sang Bong, and I was once again able to share in the joy that is the always theatrical, always magical Zang Toi show.

When I headed downtown, I experienced an entirely different spectrum of amazing things. I got to try on an intricately handcrafted couture piece from a beautiful and talented young designer from Qatar, Wadha Al Hajri, who was showing her collection at The White Space, a stark, light-filled studio that belongs to Justine and Jeff Koons (yes, that Jeff Koons). After the Wes Gordon show, I was able to tuck backstage and meet Gordon himself, who is both a creative genius and a true gentleman.

One afternoon, I took a giant freight elevator to the second floor of a Chelsea gallery for the Joie presentation, and I still can’t figure out how I got lucky enough to spend so much time with the man behind the entire brand, Serge Azria. I learned about his inspiration for the new collection — different neighborhoods in France — and chit-chatted with him about the beauty of Dubrovnik and when he’ll launch a handbag line. Another afternoon, I caught up with Lexi Sacchi, owner of the vintage couture showroom Alexandra New York, to see her new handbag line made from vintage Lanvin dresses and to touch base about the Fort Worth trunk show she’s planning in May (details to come in Indulge, of course).

One crazy evening, at the American launch of the exclusive Euro-punk label Enfants Riches Déprimés, I went backstage after the show to interview the designer, Henri Alexander, and ended up helping him and his girlfriend carry all of the clothes — destroyed sweaters and hand-painted leather moto jackets — out of the main dressing room so they could avoid being fined by the management. I can’t wait to get my hands on those cool jackets again: I am already planning to showcase his wild, wonderful pieces in a future Indulge photo shoot.

Although my feet always start to hurt five minutes after they hit the New York pavement, I miss my family and I am always stressed out about making shows, finding seats and getting scoops, I really do love it all.

Sure, I can catch up on every collection online, but it’s the actual experiences — the people, the situations, the magical moments — that mean so much. They make me better able to represent and interpret this fabulous art form visually and in writing, and they affirm my respect and admiration for all those who dedicate their lives to creating style.

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