Harriet Walker: 'What would Anna Wintour do?'


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As I sniff away the final phases of the flu I caught while attending the fashion shows last month, I find myself columnising for our hallowed Fashion Issue.

Well, I thought to myself, why don't I lift the lid on what fashion is really like? Why don't I overwhelm our readers with the glamour that is everyday existence in an industry famed for the poncing and preening of its major players?

What's it like, you must be wondering, to be one of the many lesser-known, more-unruly haired types who people the rows behind the front one and curse all those celebs as they totter too slowly in their heels and stop in crowded doorways to chat, unaware that you have a story to file post-haste or the newsdesk will be all over you like an ill-fitting jumpsuit?

Well. The reason I have flu is because we all have flu. The month-long biannual collections that kicked off in New York and ended earlier this month in Paris are essentially a travelling Petri dish of ego and sickness, fatigue and sore feet, that reconvenes every week in each of the style capitals.

Catch fashion flu early and you have the faint ignominy of passing it on to all your peers; catch it late and it retards your return to normal life, in which you are expected to get things done and turn up to work without being covered in snot. (The fashion industry may be snooty about looks, but during Fashion Week there is a very lax attitude to turning up covered in snot – mainly because so many people do it that it passes for a trend in itself.)

I am also quite tired. I'd put this down to the relentless to-ing and fro-ing, the kerbside writing and the pressure to be on the ball at all times, but I think it's more that I just didn't get enough sleep. I had to set my alarm to wake me up in the middle of the night, you see, because my hotel room had just one plug and I had (I know, I know) at least three media-tastic modern-day idiot gadgets that I needed to charge, without which I would have been up the creek without a dongle.

To access the lone plug, positioned under the desk by the window, I had to lie on the floor – my still-recovering broken leg has not yet graduated to kneeling. So I lay on my back – in my fashionable finery, I might add, although I removed my 10kg filigree headdress first – and swapped the plugs. Once in the evening, once before bed and once at 4am every night. But the hotel room was so small that to lie on the floor near the desk also meant inserting myself under the bed, then wriggling towards the socket, using my head as a rudder. I can only presume that Anna Wintour was doing the same thing in her hotel down the road.

I presume, too, that Ms Wintour ate the same things as I did: several burgers, a lot of Super Noodles, a cold pizza (in bed) and three bowls of pasta that had more of a BMI than the average model.

One might assume that watching otherworldly beautiful people modelling tiny clothes might be reason enough to exist on fruit and veg, but it actually makes you crave exactly the opposite. Also, I needed to keep up my strength for plugging in all my electrical goods.

The other thing about being a fashion journalist – besides all the heart-stopping glamour, that is – is the amount of flak you come in for from all sides, as everyone assumes you're either evil or an idiot, or (worst-case scenario, this) an evil idiot.

Some people are not interested in fashion, in the same way I couldn't care less about archery. For this reason, I don't read about archery, watch archery or talk about archery, unless it comes up in a conversation about Robin Hood.

With fashion, the people who say they are not interested in it are often the most vocal about how terrible it is. They read magazines and hurl them to the floor in disgust. They cluck at things they know nothing about and pronounce them immoral. But everyone has something to do with fashion (boo, hiss etc) – whether of the high-end or high-street variety – because everyone wears clothes.

So the next time someone says, "I don't care about fashion," or makes you feel bad for buying that must-have lemon-meringue-coloured broderie anglaise dirndl (keep up), note what they're wearing. These people are usually quite flamboyantly dressed, signifying that, far from being moral-high-ground-occupying ascetics, they're as obsessed with their appearance as anyone else. Often the worse insult levelled at those interested in fashion is that they don't think about anything more worthwhile. I'd say actually it's the detractors who have slightly too unhealthy a focus.

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