It’s rare that I find the only appropriate way of describing something is by using a cliché phrase, but fashion week in Paris is its own little bubble. A bubble made out of crocodile skin, metallic leather and inflated with experienced egos, but a bubble nonetheless. While the fashion week nightlife took my social status from mute monk to Mary-Kate Olsen, I’m seriously afraid that, judging from my Stockholm blog entries, the time I’ll need in order to fully write about those nights will bring my social status back to that of the monk. Instead I’ll explain how I witnessed the Napoleon of fashion photography, how my beat up leather bag became more popular than I, and how I lied on camera to Spanish fashion television.
After coming to the realization that I was in danger of becoming a Parisian housewife, I was determined to utilize Paris fashion week, no matter how little it related to me. Cara has been knee-deep in her extensive orientation at the Sorbonne, while my classes seem like a far off reality. Being unemployed for the first time in five years in a completely foreign city I found myself wandering an empty apartment obsessively cleaning. Greeting Cara when she’d return back she’d inform me that I was shouting, having become used to silence I wasn’t even aware of my voice’s pitch. While I was trying to utilize Paris’ incredible culture and art, I quickly found myself growing tired of going to museums by myself. I had found a schedule of the Paris fashion week online a few days before and after having a successful time meeting strangers at a fashion party the previous night I decided to try my luck alone at an actual show. If not for the general experience of it, at least there would be some clothing eye candy. Besides, I could use some exposure to normal voice modulation.
The information I had gave only the addresses, so I picked a designer I recognized that took place somewhere within the Tuilleries gardens. While the Tuilleries are more like beautiful football fields rather than petite backyard gardens, there was a Tuilleries metro stop and that was good enough for me. My sense of designer handbags actually got me to the show rather than my sense of direction; after getting off the subway I wander around the entrance of the park for a minute or two before I spotted two people carrying $2,000 handbags and walking with a purpose. I slung the beat-up leather weekender bag I brought over my shoulder and decided to inconspicuously follow them. During the walk there I noticed that one lost woman who I pegged as a journalist actually spotting me and following me there. She obviously knew nothing about expensive bags.
Arriving when the show was actually supposed to start ended up being perfectly early. There was a mob of people outside the fenced off tent. Channels of metal fences led to bouncer protected entrances. Although the fashion elite was either comfortably inside the tent or forming the long lines waiting to get in, the area outside the tent resembled an upscale fashion cocktail party. Like most parties I attend, I decided to find a comfortable spot toward the outside and eat. After realizing that merely eating in the presence of these people might increase the worldwide bulimia epidemic I put away my French Pocky and busied my hands with my camera. If I wanted to appear like I belonged I made the right choice for looking around half of the people were photographers.
To my left I recognized a street style photo blogger (facehunter.blogspot.com) that had actually got us into the Karl Lagerfeld approved party last night. He was photographing a stoic woman in a fashion forward birka and oversized black sunglasses. While a majority of the crowd was dressed in blacks and grays, you couldn’t help but notice the various Vogue-approved footwear that strutted past, each one exceeding 3 inches and costing the approximate amount of my current bank account.
“Can I photograph your bag,” someone questioned me from aside. “Of course” I said startled. A quick shot with her intimidating camera and she left, no further question necessary. I look down and began examining my bag wondering if something expensive or fabulous had began to grow on it’s aged and stained exterior. No Jimmy Choo shoe was ensnarled in it’s torn straps. Moving spots for more unobscured people watching I shook the situation off as a merely uninformed photographer. I spent a few minutes watching and photographing those people who garnered the attention of a crowd of Asian photographers unaware of who they were and why I should actually be documenting their presence. Just before the lines outside the tents emptied inside a man approached me asking if he could get a photograph of my bag as well. Again I was more than happy to accept, although all too aware of the fact that my actual presence was not necessary in the photograph. He thanked me and left as quickly as the previous photographer and I wondered if they were together, working freelance for “Bags in Need of Botox Quarterly.” Becoming more and more amused at the situation and less paranoid I welcomed any attention myself or my accessories received.
Soon music emerged from inside the tent and the area outside, while not at all empty, was considerably less populated. Now nearly everyone was a photographer. I figured their presence meant that the emptying out of the tent was as entertaining as the filling of the tent. I also realized that the only entertainment at the apartment was dubbed re-runs of “Desperate Housewives”. A titled I was all too afraid of acquiring.
From not having any clue to the actual happenings inside, I found the Carpenter’s music that emanated from the tent a strange choice; perhaps it was the only music that could fit into the clothes. As I entertained myself with visions of what was actually happening inside, I noticed the photographers rushing past me to a couple approaching the tent. I had my palm sized Fugifilm 3 Megapixel camera ready. Turns out it was Kanye West and what appeared to be a transsexual prostitute, but was merely just his girlfriend. Arriving ironically unfashionably late, the show was just about half over. I snagged a few photos that would make the paparazzi proud.
By far the most entertaining portion of the afternoon festivities ended up being what I affectionately refer to as the releasing of the models. Despite the Asian photographers fervor I witnessed all afternoon, it seems as if they truly come to life when the models exit the tent. While I pride myself on an elementary education of the latest supermodels I had no idea who they were but based on the Asians’ reaction to their appearance, I’d surmise that it falls within the Elvis - Jesus realm of idolatry. Due to their height and weight ration, most normal movements of models seem a bit odd and awkward but when they are literally being chased by a horde of camera wielding Asians they resemble scarred giraffes. I might have laughed out loud once or twice at the sudden jungle like environment but I still took a few priceless photographs and was glad to see the models escape the tiny clutches of their fans.
When I got back to the apartment I still couldn’t resist describing the day’s happenings in a dog-rousing shriek, yet I felt it was more understandable when I wasn’t merely telling her that I added another blanket to my bed. The next couple of days her schedule permitted us to go to a few shows together and after a day of solely observing the environment I was able to better prepare us both. Seeing as many of the photographers solely came to photograph people outside the show we felt it justified to get dressed up in adventurous ensembles. We supplemented color for expense. Cara was outfit was distinctly French, finished off with bright orange pointy flats where as I channeled my non-existent naval roots in a nautical get-up. I topped mine off with white boots and a ridiculously oversized scarf that I found in my basement.
We arrived to the Celine show unnecessarily early because we thought (after a friend’s success the previous night) that you could wait in a standing line and if you were early enough you would actually be able to go inside the tent. When we actually arrived nearly an hour before the scheduled time there were only a handful of people outside. Luckily the show was in the same place and we were able to entertain ourselves within the Tullieres gardens to delay our entrance. “It’s better to arrive when all the photographers are already there; that way for that minute you arrive and head towards the tent you can fool the photographers into thinking you’re someone,” I explained to Cara. It was a dreary day and we found we couldn’t entertain ourselves as long as we expected too so we still re-entered early to the group but as we sat down on a bench on the outskirts of the tent area a woman approached us and asked to take our photograph. She even gave us a mini interview as to who we were, what we were doing there (who knows) and what we were wearing. She was from Connecticut but was working freelance for an “obscure fashion magazine for 20-30 year old Japanese women, named Soup”. I was already dreaming of using the phrase “I’m big in Japan” literally. As it approached the show’s scheduled time we began to notice that those in the standing line were all carrying what was undeniably invitations. Despite losing hope in ever actually attending a show we decided to stick around until it started. During the course of our wait we were photographed roughly about half a dozen times, sometimes together sometimes separate.
Most of the time a person would ask, occasionally they’d do a sort of hand gesture that translated to asking and sometimes they wouldn’t ask and would snap on the sly. While the photographer would seldom actually tell you why or for whom they were taking the picture, rarely did anyone seem affected by being photographed. Not usually photographed by strangers I still found it amusing, yet given the environment not entirely unexpected. What I didn’t expect was to be interviewed on camera for Spanish television.
A woman carrying a microphone interrupted my absentminded gaze at the tent.
“Do you speak English” she asked. “Uh yes,” I sheepishly replied; fearing the worst, which was exactly what she asked further, if I minded being interviewed about the Celine show and fashion week, even though we informed her that we do not work for any fashion publications and do not know much (anything) about Celine. She motioned to a Spanish man, head obscured by his large video camera, to come up next to her as Cara turned away beyond pleased at the situation. While I already told her I didn’t know much about Celine, I still felt obligated to answer her question, which was now hanging in front of me. I looked around at the crowd, who dressed almost entirely in black, resembled a fashionable funeral.
“Very Paris, Very Paris,” I said, immediately contemplating what that even means.
“Is this your first Fashion week? And what do you expect from it, what have you thought so far?”
“It is my first fashion week, I just moved to Paris but I’m from the New York area (LIE #1) so I can’t help but compare it to the New York shows.”
“We just came from New York fashion week! It was so much celebrities! Have you seen many celebrities here?”
“Oh well, yeah actually I saw Kanye West at the Victor and Rolf show, but that’s about it I think.”
“Yes he has been to so many so far. So how does this week compare to New York?”
“Well I mean New York’s fashion week is crazy (LIE #2 – Never been in New York during fashion week) but this is just…just…crazy. Ridiculous”
“So obviously you love fashion,” she said as she and the camera panned me, up and down. “Can you tell us about what you’re wearing?”
“Well as I student I don’t have much money to spend on clothes so most of what I’m wearing is pretty cheap, and most of it is vintage (LIE #3 – while most of it is cheap, only a few things are vintage, the rest coming from the cheap chain stores)
“Ah, but is it all about the big bag!?” she asks excitedly motioning to my confusingly popular weekender bag.
“Oh well actually this was my Dad’s so it has just been in the family”
“Wow, that’s great, it’s so big!”
“Yeah...it’s great I can fit like…a week’s worth of stuff in it! (LIE #4 I probably could not pack a week’s worth of things in it and using that as a reference is beyond me)
The interview ended soon after that, perhaps my ever-increasingly red face acted as a literal stop sign for the interviewer. Once the two of them were properly out of sight I turned dumbfounded to Cara who had a wide grin on her face. “I’m SO happy that wasn’t me!” Despite my recollection of it she assured me it wasn’t THAT bad but we both laughed at my preposterous responses. More insane to me than the fact that I very much made up a good portion of what I said, is that the lies I told weren’t even interesting or worth lying about. For the new few hours I would periodically run the questions again in my mind, thinking of better responses, occasionally laughing out loud to the whole situation. I reassured myself that the footage would merely become the joke within the editing room or make it to the highlights reel of the bloopers; perhaps they’ll dub in a Spanish man talking sense over my image; or perhaps headlines all across Spain will declare that the Celine show was “Paris, very Paris”.
Despite my fashion interview shame we decided to go back the next day to catch the Sonia Rykel show. Knowing I probably won’t go to another show, and having two under my belt I wanted to make this one the best. Cara and I had picked out our outfits the night before; the only fashion show we actually participated in. Fully understanding the need to dress as a pair, I waited until Cara had picked out her outfit (“a very 40’s look,” as the Sartorialist will tell her [thesartorialist.blogspot.com]) and I chose a similarly retro look.
Riding the metro there and seeing the eyes that followed us I wondered how I could feel self-conscious and overdressed in Paris yet once we got within fifty feet of the fashion show we seemed perfectly suited and welcomed with open arms and open shutters. Previously considering all of Paris a fashionable bubble, I now realize there can exist a bubble inside a bubble.
We arrived right when the show was scheduled to begin, so about a half an hour to forty-five minutes before the show would actually start. Within thirty seconds of entering the fashion show bubble, the Sartorialist pulled Cara aside to take her picture. A big fan of his blog, I thought I spotted him at the first two shows but wouldn’t believe it because this man is pint-sized, like a novelty travel sized human, whereas the man I pictured traveling around the world to take photos was completely different. During the brief photo shoot Cara noted that not only does he have Napoleon’s stature but he has Napoleon complex as well. As soon as he was done taking a photo of her, our old friend the Facehunter swooped in for a shot as well. When we reconnected and attempted to traverse the crowd we were photographed surprisingly often. We took a break from the actual excitement and were back to our real purpose of observing. A few Japanese photographers asked us a question or two but thankfully there were to be no on camera interviews…apparently word got around.
Looking around I began to recognize a lot of the people and had little stories I could say about them from either interaction with them at a party or within the gardens or from observed interactions. A moment more and I would have fooled myself into thinking that I had a strange place within the environment. I have yet to perfect the unamused expression that so many of those photographed have, but I figure a smile and some color would be a welcome change to the area, the Asians agreed. Once again I justified my presence by taking a few pictures. The crowd was once again unfamiliar to color for the sea of sleek black made us stand out even more. Having left before the end of the Celine show I made Cara stick around with me till my favorite part…the running of the models. The Caucasian towers once again found themselves within a sea of constantly moving Asian photographers. No fatalities, no broken bones, only a few scuffs on their Christian Loubatain heels.
Walking away from the tents and seeing the tourists up ahead in their hooded sweatshirts and comfortable sneakers, I was sad to think about the absence of this little bubble. I wondered if I would ever return to Paris fashion week with a real purpose or perhaps even an invitation or two; if I do I’m glad I got to experience it without those things. Those who walked briskly in might have missed the ancient photographer who despite his constantly delayed reaction and missed shots kept smiling, giving him the appearance of a proud Grandpa on his grandchild’s prom day. Perhaps inside the tent it wasn’t a Karen Carpenter purge fest but in fact something less interesting.
Besides, I don’t want to bust their bubble but have you heard of Soup magazine? I’m big in Japan.