David Usborne: Our Man In New York

Dressing up for a dressing down with the NY fashionistas Fashion Week


I did my best dressing for my one night out amid that festival of narcissism and networking in New York known as Fashion Week. Mine was perhaps not the hottest ticket of the season - Marc Jacobs had to show without me this time - but it demanded something above the usual shabby. I went for unbuttoned navy Burberry over a favourite T-shirt with "Austria" printed across it in adidas-style script.

We were going to see the latest creations of Japan's Yohji Yamamoto in his fifth year designing the Y-3 brand for, yes, adidas. The clothes, presented in the gymnasium of the Hunter College campus on the Upper East Side were, the blurb informed me, about "the fusion of sport and style". So I thought my shirt combo was at least appropriate and just possibly witty. Not one soul noticed.

As we were to be guests also at a pre-party and an after-party at Joe's Pub in SoHo at which vanloads of celebrities were promised, all I wanted was to fade discreetly into the background; everyone else, of course, would be striving to do the opposite. It's important to be savvy about nights like this. When a PR person absolutely, definitely insists that famous people will be coming to something I usually assume that actually it's just a ruse to lure me and a few paparazzi along. Sometimes, I am surprised though.

Take the dinner I joined recently at the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue to show off a new super-posh hotel development in the Turks and Caicos, Dellis Cay, partly designed by the architect Zaha Hadid. She was never going to be there, but the actor Michael Douglas was.

But Fashion Week is a bit different, because the red-carpet folk seem to want to be there and be seen. All right, it is possible that adidas paid for the star of Wednesday night to be there, though I didn't ask, shy of my rusty French. He was Zinedine Zidane, the soccer wizard of head-butting fame.

Even getting put in the wrong seat can spell disaster if you are someone like my erstwhile foreign correspondent colleague Joanna Coles. Editor-in-chief of the US edition of Marie-Claire nowadays, she apparently found herself placed not in the first but in the second row at Vera Wang's show on Thursday. Mercy. If someone had done this to Anna Wintour of Vogue ... well, it doesn't bear thinking about.

The alleged Coles snub was gleefully related by the blogging brigade for whom Fashion Week is a goldmine of gossip and intrigue. The whole cavalcade of designers and models actually spans nine days with a total of 225 shows all over the city.

Some have been grumbling that the entire thing has grown too big. With so many shows overlapping, even the bigger designers can no longer be sure of filling the seats and winning the attention of the people who really matter to them, the Anna's and Joanna's. On the other hand, people who don't matter, like me, can get a little look in.

Another lesson learnt: when they tell you the start time, add one hour. It's all about pumping up the anticipation for a show that in the end lasts barely 15 minutes.

What luck, then, to have been included in the VIP pre-party downstairs where we sipped drinks and watched Zidane and assorted other famous ones pose for the paparazzi until seconds before the show's actual start. A smiley Cuba Gooding Jnr was there, so was Russell Simmons and assorted gorgeous women.

Alan Cumming, with black-rimmed specs and a shiny lime-green jacket, walked in and looked like he wouldn't mind talking to newspaper filth. And nor did he, introducing the man he recently married at the Greenwich Naval College, Grant Shaffer. "Was it a small affair?" I asked. He smiled broadly. Evidently, not. And what was he doing here? Alan claims he finds fashion shows "fun". Cuba didn't make it to Joe's Pub later, but Alan and Grant did and the happy couple showed no sign of not enjoying themselves.

Which is more than can be said for the man in a full-length fur coat. Was he having a good time? No, he said crossly. Another blogger, his site, Facehunter, is dedicated to finding the prettiest people on the planet. He looked me up and down and grimaced. "There are no beautiful people here," he said, spinning on his heels. I tried not to take it personally and, looking around at everyone else, begged to differ.

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