While people living on the East Coast were bracing for a hurricane named Isabel, a tornado called Fashion Week has been blowing through New York's Bryant Park for the entire week.
As the staging area for the event, Bryant Park is a sea of colorful characters that include famous designers, fashion journalists, retail buyers and people who are "somebody," such as Miss Universe, who blew in to see what American fashion designers have in mind for us to wear during Spring 2004.
Designer Diane von Furstenberg's recent advice to a reporter who would be covering Fashion Week, currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, was to "get plenty of sleep before it starts."
Officially called Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in honor of the event's primary sponsor, the event is so important to the U.S. fashion industry that it even has its own official fragrance, called 7th, after the show's organizers, an offshoot of the Council of Fashion Designers of America called 7th on Sixth in honor of the geographic location of New York's fashion district.
And if you didn't know better, you would think that the event had official shoes, too.
Bryant Park is a sea of women hobbling around in Manolo Blahnik heels, gingerly walking so as not to catch a heel in the crack of a stone sidewalk. The "basic" Manolo shoe retails for around $450 at Neiman Marcus.
Typically, the first thing one notices about a person is their face. But during fashion week, all heads are down and it is the shoes that attract your attention first.
Rumor has it that senior writers and editors at Vogue and other high fashion magazines are allowed to visit special closets at their publication offices, which are packed with all kinds of perks and treats, such as Manolos in various styles and sizes.
How do women walk long distances in skyscraper shoes? The breaking point for me was reached when I was ready to rip off my high-heeled Naturalizers, throw caution to the wind and go barefoot on Fifth Avenue.
By the way, Naturalizers are no longer your grandmother's source for shoes. The company gave its designs a facelift a few years ago, and they really are quite "up-to-date" looking.
A colleague and I made a beeline to a discount shoe store to purchase an ugly, but extremely comfortable, pair of pink flats-that were worn out of the store. These shoes were promptly stolen 30 minutes later as they were being slipped off and replaced with the painful, but more appropriate, footwear to wear to the Oscar de la Renta fashion show. Whoever took the pink flats was fast on their feet and obviously not wearing heels.
In addition to the chic shoes, another hallmark of fashion week is earrings-or the lack of them. On the runway, the models either wore the long, dangling types called "chandeliers," a la Nicole Kidman, or else they wore no earrings at all. When it came to earrings, there was no in-between length.
Something else that also stood out was short hair. And if the hair was not short, it was swept back (not up, but back). If you are going to wear chandeliers on your ears, you want them to be seen-and not concealed by your hair.
One thing noticeably missing was midriffs. I predict the trend for adorning belly buttons is going to be replaced with a renewed emphasis on the bust. Exposed navels were noticeably absent, for the most part, on the runway. But the design of the clothing for spring 2004 emphasizes breasts with body hugging jersey materials, and deep v-necks.
Another thing that stood out-on the catwalk and the regular New York City sidewalk-was women wearing a white blouse or dress, with a black bra underneath, making for a kind of naughty look.
Fashion Week kicked off, at least for journalists covering the event, with a party held by Vogue magazine last week. Diane Dunne, a former Bloomingdale's buyer and a seasoned fashion writer and columnist for the New York Sun, helped point out some of the colorful folks in attendance.
One man looked like Boy George. "Oh, that's just Dennis," Diane explained. "He shows up at these events always wearing eye shadow and that cape."
There were many Manolos at the Vogue party that night. Apparently, the girls had raided the closet in their office en masse pre-party.
"It's all about money," said Ms. Dunne of the fashion industry. "Fashion has no soul, no spirit," she said, and explained that she enjoys the business for its "excitement and glamour."
One editor who asked not to be named offered jaded remarks about fashion designers, saying that in a year or so some of them would be dust. "With some designers, like Oscar [de la Renta] …what you see on the runway is what you get [in the stores], but others simply put on these [over the top] fashion shows for the press."
The Imitation of Christ is one such designer. Three years ago, the house created quite a stir when it held a fashion show in a working funeral home downtown, late at night.
The models were made up to look like corpses or mourners. The stunt was not at all well-received by the industry. Although there has not been a similar stunt since, the shows are, in the words of one well-known New York fashion editor, "over the top."
Speaking of Litchfield County's Oscar de la Renta show, some of the fashion journalists attending switched name tags on their seats, in order to get a better view of the runway, which caused a little stir.
As I discovered at the Vogue party, an invitation to Mr. de la Renta's fashion show is the most coveted of Fashion Week, so I was happy to have any seat.
Fashion designers and editors, when they learned that I had an invitation, approached me during the party with the hope that I had some kind of connection to the de la Renta camp and would, therefore, be able to score an invitation for them as well. Sorry, guys.
Seat-hopping aside, I was curious to learn where Staci Sturrock, a fashion editor in posh Palm Beach, Fla., shops when she is in New York. Ms. Sturrock, who works for the Palm Beach Post, was delighted to participate in my poll of fashion editors' preferred New York shopping destinations. "It's nice to talk about something I like, for a change," said Ms. Sturrock, referring to the fact that as a journalist she is always asking others their opinion.
The Pearl River Mart, which carries all imported, Asian goods, is at the top of her list. She said that one could pick up darling little slippers for about $5 there. H&M (department store), Face Stockholm (make up) and Petit Bateau (little French T-shirts for children), Delphinium's (stationery) and Amy's Bread round out the Palm Beach fashion editor's picks for New York City shopping destinations.
7th, the official fragrance of Fashion Week, is described by its creators as being daring, luminescent, spicy, and sensual-words that could easily express the goings on at Fashion Week.
On the 7th perfume bottle, a hangtag encourages those who wear the fragrance to "indulge!"
A pair of Manolos almost made their way back to Litchfield County in my suitcase, but I felt that such a purchase was a little too indulgent. Perhaps I did not indulge in enough of the perfume.
Melanie McMillan is Style Editor of The Litchfield County Times.