Fashion

The Pain, Pleasure, But Mostly Pain, of Fashion Week

Fashion

The Pain, Pleasure, But Mostly Pain, of Fashion Week

New York Fashion Week Spring 2014. Photo credit: Lucas Jackson/Reuters.
Pipilotti Rist, Ever Is Over All, 1997
Catherine Breillat, Anatomy of Hell, 2004
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When I get desperately sad in New York City, two images seesaw in my mind’s eye: Pipilotti Rist, dressed to match the sky, skipping along asphalt smashing car windows, and Amira Casar in Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell, slitting her wrists in a gay club bathroom, “because [she’s] a woman.”

When I get desperately sad in New York City, I almost certainly have alcohol in my blood. Drinking, when I’m even the least bit sad, turns me into a sincere teen goth: aching, masochistic.

If I’m desperately sad and drunk in New York City, it’s likely because I’ve attended an industry event. Somewhere with an open bar. Somewhere with a crowd whose combined wealth could send my whole “East Williamsburg” neighborhood through M.D.s at NYU. Somewhere I’m RSVP’d because I may end up publishing press that bolsters this wealth. On nights like these, I travel home alone, sensing the alcohol in my veins like a Venom Symbiote, and all I see is Rist and wrists and Rist and wrists and Rist and wrists.

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I love fashion. I love bodies in clothes. But I don’t love fashion week. Who loves fashion week? The whining articles are more abundant this season than ever: consensus says fashion week kinda sucks.

#FashionWeak I tag it, and every season, I publish a whine. Spring 2013: the Young-Girl’s lament. Fall 2013: threatening firebombs with a chin pimpled like the surface of Mars. This Spring 2014, I tried to take it easy: only going to shows I knew I’d love, sticking to my sneakers, etc. Still, by Sunday, day five of NYFW, I was typically sick and traumatized agoraphobic. A post-party scratched cornea reignited an ongoing sinus infection, fever fell, and soon my wrists were whaling womanhood. I started skipping shows because I just… couldn’t.

The problem with fashion week is that it’s too much concentrated. Fashion should be treated like dessert: a luxurious extra, enjoyed in moderation, and only alongside proper nourishment. Fashion week(s) are too much—a month twice a year (Spring, Fall) plus interseasonal collections (Resort, Pre-Fall, Couture, Men’s) times the world over (in addition to New York, London, Milan, Paris, there are fashion weeks in Australia, Japan, Copenhagen, to name just a few).

This much fashion could be tolerable if it weren’t for fashion people, many of whom (N.B. not all) suffer from the same crisis as #FashionWeak: they know too much of fashion, not enough of anything else. Fashion may be the most vacuous cultural system, conversing only with itself, which was almost okay when the industry was a small bubble, but now that it’s pervaded every field, it needs to start addressing the world. There is absolutely no reason why people who work to dress bodies shouldn’t engage with issues that bodies face, like queer liberties, workers rights, etc. Specialization is for insects.

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I know something is really wrong when I lose my libido—that’s the survival instinct prioritizing over the reproductive one. As insufferable as I may find it, I never lose my libido during FW. No, the mojo remains but it does change: my normally mild masochism goes into over-sex-drive. I crave slaps, gags, spanks, scratches, pulls. I ache angrily for submission because FW turns me weightlessly numb; if my body is bruised, I’ll know it’s there.

I trust my body, not more, but in tandem with my mind. That I fall ill every fashion week, I think, is psychosomatic. That I crave to hurt and be hurt the same way every time (Rist and wrists), I know, is telling. That I keep going back is even more so. I still love fashion, and within the strictures of these #Weaks, I’ve experienced exhilarating humility and uncanny beauty. That may be the out-of-body high of subspace, freedom in constraints.

What we all want is freedom, right? What pains me most about fashion week is this system that says it has to be the way it already is—it doesn’t. Fashion doesn’t have to be lead by money-hungry airheads. Fashion doesn’t have be shown on underage girls. Fashion doesn’t have to equal celebrity.

Fashion week has shifted from an industry necessity (for buyers) to a media spectacle. But as the seasonal buying model becomes defunct (which it is if there are fashion weeks year round, if RiRi is already wearing SS14 Alexander Wang, if you can preorder Topshop direct from the runway), fashion designers, buyers, and consumers may find they have the freedom to choose not to engage with this calendar. Or to participate on different terms. Whatever! All this seasonal whine is calling for is a little diversity—queer the system.

This article was originally published last year.