Harriet Walker: 'Never look in the goody bag while you're still in the venue'


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Call me your correspondent from the front line, because I'm at "the shows" this month. No, not Starlight Express or Cats – fashion shows, Fashion Weeks in Different Cities. New York, London, Milan and Paris. The international collections, as some more grandiose types often call them. But most fashion people just call them "the shows" – presumably because if you don't know which ones they're referring to, you're not worth their time and it's a handy way of spotting you. Saying "the shows" is a bit like saying "Carnival" (strictly no pronoun!) for the one in Notting Hill, the logic here being that you're so blonde and west London-centric that you couldn't possibly be referring to the one in Rio, say, or even Cologne.

The whole rigmarole of protocol associated with "the shows" only begins with what you call them. There are many other in-the-know strictures to follow, too: don't look in the goody bag while you're still in the venue; and never wear the label at its own show (some people believe the opposite here but I'm of the opinion that it's like showing up to dinner in a T-shirt with your date's face on it – creepy).

Finally – and this a new one to me – always bring snacks for your team to eat in the car, be they oatcakes or chocolate bars – someone will become hysterical at some point and need to be talked down, either with rusk or caramel.

It's a strange thing, spending a month with the same people. I don't mean colleagues, although it's a unique bonding experience to eat breakfast and dinner with them every day for a month, or drool on their shoulders as you sleep on various planes. I rarely (never) get to spend this much time with my family and loved ones. It's odd, but you build a little family unit among yourselves – there's the business-like one who tells you when to go to bed because they care for you; another is the bearer of oatcakes and chocolate who makes sure you're getting your five a day (two a day in my case); and finally there's the one who has to be ushered away because they're having too much fun. You can guess which I might be.

Quite apart from the feeling that you're part of some weirdly exclusive travelling circus, a month spent with the same people you don't really know is simply fascinating. From the ones you can just about crank out a chat with, to the ones you can nod and say hi to, to the ones you can't take your eyes off and who will never even know you exist.

I speak, of course, of the startlingly beautiful people who seem to only fit in at "the shows". You'd never bump into them buying milk or a scratchcard. In New York, they have legs the width of arms; in Milan, they have eyes the size of espresso cups; and in Paris their haircuts are sharper than your wit. Where do these people disappear to when "the shows" are over? It's easier to believe they continue to exist in New York, Milan and Paris. But in London, where do these exotic creatures come from and live? Well, Dalston, naturally. The next development site up from Shoreditch (over) and just to the right of Islington (triple over). It's irrigated with estuary types every weekend.

But what's most interesting about "the shows" is that everyone becomes weirdly united – odd, given how rigidly hierarchical the seating plan is (further back than third row is death), and doubly odd, given that you'd assume most people are too busy looking over your shoulder and checking their reflection in your sunglasses to talk to you properly.

At the Prada show, I witnessed several editors of supposedly competing titles comparing notes on the canapés; at Dolce, you take your seat and immediately turn round to whoever's nearby to catch up on the gossip. Your currency is tiredness, your repartee is bad food. Your jokes are about clothes you used to wear and your sign-off is, of course, "Oh, well, what did you think?" I imagine it's how the great biologists, physicists and entrepreneurs of this world socialise, in rarefied circles and for a finite amount of intense face-time.

The surprise is that while the rest of the world, and particularly the city we're in, mock us for being pompous and self-obsessed, what we're actually interested in is who had the best burger last night. Fashion really isn't all it's cracked up to be. Try as you might to distinguish yourself from us, we're as familiar and as cosy as that disgusting sweatshirt you bought that you didn't even think was trendy.

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