Time to gear up for another humbling battle

Being a reporter among the high and mighty means trying hard to get in where you fit in

Fashion Week

September 18, 2002|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The Man who had power over my destiny was tall, sharply dressed and had a crisp, Euro accent.

It was just before the Hugo Boss fashion show last season, and I desperately needed him to believe I was important. In just seconds, he would decide whether to let me in.

"I'm with The Baltimore Sun," I explained.

"Baltimore?" he asked, looking over at a colleague. "What country is that?"

"It's American," she said, sounding nastier than a PMSing Shannen Doherty. "And it's a newspaper."

With that, the Man swiftly walked away. And a cashmered elbow suddenly emerged from behind and shoved me aside.

Carrie Bradshaw may once have been called "fashion roadkill" on Sex and the City. But for many fashion writers, it's who we are every single day for two grueling weeks of the year.

Each fall and spring, we trek to New York, check our self-esteem at the entrance to the fashion tent in Bryant Park and let the onslaught begin.

People call it Fashion Week, a name that conjures frothy days filled with cocktails, caviar and yummy male models who shower you with double-kisses. They believe the hardest thing about the week is having to tote your own champagne while balancing a plate of miniature lobster spring rolls.

If only that were true.

The reality is, the week, which officially begins today, is a battleground. And, for the press, it's one that's hard to survive if you're not with Vogue, InStyle or the New York Times.

Our adversaries are legion - from the publicists who turn us away at show after show to the catty hangers-on who often seem to have nothing to do with fashion but get better seats than we do. They give you the once over the moment you set foot in the tent, and, if you're not a model, celebrity or owner of the latest Prada purse, well, you're nothing.

As reporters, our most important accessories are a pen and a notepad. Our enemies have Chanel shades, Louis Vuitton bags and an arsenal of withering stares for anyone daring to come within 10 feet of a runway with a Banana Republic purse.

We have sore feet and dark circles from trudging from show to show 12 hours a day. The fashion elite look fabulous at a few shows and then disappear into limos.

For Fashion Week, the work starts weeks before the events begin, when fashion writers have to madly fax letters to publicists, begging to get into shows. Even if you make the list, the prime seats go to magazine editors, celebrities, friends of designers and New York socialites. (Publications such as the Sun are usually relegated to the fifth row, where we have to squint over the heads of beautiful and, more often than not, tall people to get glimpses of the clothing.)

And, just like with any other job, there are hazards involved.

Like the time a wildly gesticulating fashion writer knocked champagne all over my brand-new purse. Or the Marc Jacobs party outdoors where I ruined a perfectly good pair of heels when I sank into a mud patch.

Like, Ohmigod.

Or how about the many times my toes have nearly suffered drive-by Manolo spikings during the hourly stampede to get to the next show. And, if you're at a high-wattage show like Marc Jacobs or Calvin Klein, you have to watch your surroundings because where there's a Sarah Jessica or Gwyneth sighting, the terrifying rumble of photographers' boots is never far behind.

Don't get me wrong. I love covering fashion, and I've enjoyed the scene no matter how frenetic, snarky or reminiscent of high school it can get.

There's the thrill of having a seat at a $1 million event like Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' Sean John show last year, which was an unforgettable performance packed with great music, scrumptious clothes and celebrities from lawyer Johnny Cochran to rapper Busta Rhymes. There's the excitement of seeing who turns up at which shows and speculating whether Joan Allen showing up at a Michael Kors show indicates she's going to be wearing him to the Oscars - which turned out to be true last year. And I still get chills whenever a designer unveils a particularly breathtaking line of clothing.

Over the years, I've engaged in party-talk with actor Chris Noth, who is every bit as flirty and debonair in real life. I've figured out which of the Sex and the City women is the nicest - Kim Cattrall, who has seemed willing to talk to any reporter no matter how small the publication. And I've learned who the sweetest, classiest celebs are. Reba McIntyre, Lisa Ling and Angie Harmon top my list.

I've also learned several things at the shows. Some of them are Fashion Week specific, such as "Cameras can hurt," "Never take Anna Wintour's seat," or, "Duck if you see a PETA person."

Among the others, my favorite is, "It's never too early for champagne." (I've seen some designers hand out tiny bottles of bubbly in the morning.)

And last September, when the terrorist attacks occurred during Fashion Week, I discovered how, beneath fashion's often superficial veneer, there lie many big hearts.

Kenneth Cole organized a blood drive at his company headquarters, and 7th on Sixth, the company that organizes the shows, offered the event's tent to emergency workers. And when I returned to my desk after a difficult week covering the disaster, I found e-mails from many concerned publicists who just wanted to make sure I was safe.

It's snippets like these that I try to think about when some fashionista wannabe cuts in line in front of me and I want to slug her with my purse. Or, when I get shut out of Calvin Klein's show yet again and I feel worthless, unpopular and a million other ninth-grade things.

And if that doesn't cheer me up, I think back to the time when a Park Avenue-stylish woman remarked that she liked my coat and asked who it was.

I knew the truth would astonish her - and it did.

My answer? "J. Crew."

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