Diary Dearest New York, New York, that Fashion Town; The Faxes are up and the Diet is Down

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A perfect morning. Palm Sunday. Too early for New York hustle. Bells from the power houses of worship along Fifth Avenue ring congregants out to the sidewalk. Families, socialites, devout shop clerks carry palm fronds from the services.

Guilt. I pass church portals and head to Tiffany's, that shrine of taste and luxury.

Palm fronds there, too. Tropical arrangements burst from coconuts set on gleaming jewelry cases. It's a brunch to introduce a collection of South Sea pearls to the fashion press. Exquisite. Smooth waiters pass tidbits, juices and Bloody Marys. Marvelous aromas waft from the chafing dishes; discreet island music fills the air. Models wearing sarongs, pearl treasures and parrots sway to tropical sounds. It's an hourlong island of tranquillity in the crazed days of the New York fall designer collections. I'm at the halfway mark, covering the shows for The Sun, trying to translate the fashion madness here for sane readers. How to explain the importance of wearing fish-net stockings over lime green tights?

Arrive the Monday before, March 25. Check bags with the bell captain, dot on some makeup and head for the Norma Kamali showroom. Models in high-carat jewel colored shearlings and spacesuit knits. Norma, who has forbidden her staff the wearing of black, is in skintight red python leather. A treat for the eye which is already deadened by black-clad Manhattan.

Stop for coffee with photographer Chris Robbins to synchronize our schedules. We'll be nearly symbiotic in a few days.

Back to hotel to check in. Piles of faxes, invitations, schedule changes, voice mail from designer minions. Confusion and chaos. At the 11th hour, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, two of the headliners, pulled out of the show tents in favor of their own showrooms, throwing the schedule out of kilter. Invitations are in mail limbo.

RSVPs required for seating. "Please call back for seating." "We will call you with seating." "Your invitation and seating will be sent to your hotel." "An invitation was mailed to The Sun yesterday." That's there, I'm here.

No time to sit by the phone, leaving the prospect of shuffling calls and callbacks on the run. Once the shows are in full swing, hotel time is minimal.

Back out on the street. Check in at the press center at Bryant Park which is set up by 7th on Sixth, the organization that handles the logistics of moving most of the season's shows through two large temporary tents raised on the park grounds.

Pick up press credentials. These certify that I'm accredited working press, but don't guarantee entry to any show. Designers can love you one season and bar you the next. Run into other editors. Gossip. "Are you going to Marc Jacobs?" translates into "Have you been invited?"

Fashion sponsors are ready even if designers are not. Show week percs are fodder for industry hangers-on and provincial weeklies. Evian stocks refrigerator cases of bottled water at all show entrances. American Express offers chocolate gold cards. GM will provide a car and driver. Clairol will turn you into a redhead or fluff your bangs.

Pantone color experts serve tea and cookies. Harper's Bazaar and Moet & Chandon pour wine, cognac and champagne. Vogue dresses pretty Voguettes to serve Starbucks espresso and cafe latte at the big tent entrance.

Reebok will spa and massage you. Rockport will rub your feet. Timex will keep show stats.

Samsung has installed banks of microwave ovens for popping corn in the tents.

By end of the week fashionables won't bother even trying to be discreet about picking hulls out of their teeth. That popcorn smell with topnotes of Boucheron is forever locked in memory.

Back to the hotel. It's 6 p.m. More faxes, invitations, phone.

Time to file a story for the paper. How to explain bad-taste chic vs. modern minimalism?

Change shoes. Change jacket. Thank the fashion gods that all-black is always appropriate.

8 p.m. and time for an Oscar night party thrown by the Diamond Information Center and In Style magazine. It's in the penthouse of the too-too trendy Royalton with Blade Runner future-furniture decor by Phillipe Stark. Spiked metal chairs are not inviting. Hoping to pick up juicy fashion flashes. Big screens, big noise, big crush. The Oscars are incidental. It's a late night, but thankful for a slow first day.

Morning. Get the papers. Call the paper. No invitation in hand for Yohji Yamamoto show. Publicist Benny Liu, always charming, assures me I'm on the list and he will seat me at the door. The venue is the Lexington Armory and it is besieged by an army of worshipful groupies. Elbow through a mob of young Yohji acolytes wearing cherished pieces by the master. Where these youngsters get the allowance for four-figure costumes is a mystery. Find Benny; find seat.

A heavenly show. Pure, abstract. Models floating across the square surrounded by boxing ring bleachers. Layers, felt, knits. Hair knotted to the crown in tight coxcombs. I believe in fashion.

Press notes are tucked into plastic Yohji flight bags. I'm told vintage PanAm and Air France flight bags are the new must-have accessory. It's a learning experience.

Cab to midtown for the Council of Accessory Designers exhibition and reception. It's a favorite. Food is snatched on the fly during collections week, and here's a chance to nibble and schmooze. Accessory designers share. Robert Lee Morris, whose jewelry has achieved cult and art status, tells me times are tough. Clothing designers have virtually eliminated accessories on the runway. I promise him that there is always room in a woman's heart for jewelry. I look at dreamy tchotchkes. Judith Leiber is there with her status bags. Kenneth Cole displays select leathers. Eric Javits and Patricia Underwood show melting felts.

Walk to 7th Avenue for Jennifer George show. Clean, luscious clothes for adult women. Up the block to the Randy Kemper showroom. The Kemper collection is displayed on sculptured mannequins or hung in related groups. Quality, drowningly deep and rich fabrics. Here's a good argument for seeing clothes off the runway and up-close. Randy is a good reason, too. Movie idol handsome and ready to explain and point out the finer details.

Back to Bryant Park for the first tent extravaganza of the week. It's Versace's less-expensive Versus line. Beautiful boys and girls who have cadged an invitation are wearing their glitzy, sexy Versaces as a show of loyalty. You can smell the pheromones.

Padded seats of the folding chairs are covered in the signature Versace medusa design. A nice touch. Some hard-core types try to pry them loose as souvenirs. There's much of that gimme-grabby behavior in fashion land.

It's 10 p.m. Hunger pangs on the walk to the hotel. Uncounted coffees, three champagne glasses, steamed shrimp, a plate of raw clams, chocolate, crudites and a street vendor banana. It's the fashion week diet.

Sort faxes and messages. Write something. Thankful for another slow day.

The serious rush starts tomorrow beginning with Anne Klein and on to Rodney Telford, Donald Deal, Nistka, Ev & El, DKNY, BCBG, Cynthia Steffe, with a sprinkling of seminars and cocktail dos. There are eight more days and 60 some shows ahead, but it's smart not to count.

Clothes and collections start to blur into an endless parade of skinny pants, mod suits, maxi-coats, knits, leather pantsuits, sulky models.

There are fashion moments.

Chilly Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Ronald McDonald in the front row at the Isaac Mizrahi show. She tries a red fright wig which he offers. That Anna, such a card!

Violence in the photographer ranks. Each one has to stake a square-foot spot on the risers for himself and his gear for the duration. Tempers, territory and exhaustion. A German photographer and his intrusive strobe are pushed off the high bleachers at Marc Jacobs.

Donna Karan takes her bows clutching a new-age shaman chunk necklace after showing a remarkably streamlined and worldly collection.

Ditzy Miss Marple feather hats and old-lady tapestry bags at Anna Sui.

Richard Tyler's glorious take on the '70s, only slightly soiled by Nadja Auerman in a nearly backless dress which revealed a not-quite pristine G-string thong.

The jolt of watching Shalom, Naomi, Cindy, Amber, Helena and Kate turn bathroom shag coats, bermuda shorts and funky pink stoles into objects of desire. Maybe they're worth the extortionate fees?

A cross-dresser in full-MAC makeup and drag Dynel-hair offering his seat to an aging diva on the bus to the Matsuda show. Sitting with dressed-down Uma Thurman at Todd Oldham's show and finding that beautiful people can be just plain folks.

On the train back to Baltimore, post-fashion depression kicks in somewhere around Newark. There's always next season.

Pub Date: 8/15/96

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