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An in-depth look from fashion insider's point of view and her numerous daily adventures and misadventures.

A Stranger in a Strange Land: the experience of the uninitiated at New York Fashion Week (PART 1)

Carla

by Dan WIlliams

When it comes to fashion, you could say that I am a “utilitarian” – basically, I wear clothes because it’s not socially acceptable to do otherwise.  I also understand the importance of wearing the right kind of clothing in various work and social settings and that “fancier” work and social settings required “fancier” clothing (and I see “fancier” being synonymous with “more expensive looking”).

In my closet, I used to have the obligatory two pairs of shoes: dress and running.  I had three custom tailored suits for the office, a pair of slacks and jeans with the obligatory collared shirt and/ or sweater ensemble for social gatherings and then a t-shirt/ under-armor pullover when I felt like getting super casual.  Clothing was brought out of rotation when holes appeared and I never really got the whole big deal about mixing different patterns.  Also, most of my clothes were blue – blue suits, blue shirts, blue socks, and even blue underwear.  My closet is a sea of blue with a hint of brown here and there when I was feeling adventurous on my rare shopping outings.

Fashion week involved a lot of waiting for the next show in a comfortable coffee shop before braving the cold again.

Fashion week involved a lot of waiting for the next show in a comfortable coffee shop before braving the cold again.

I used to think that all garments were alike – that certain garments had a higher price only because people were naïve enough to pay for the name brand.  I made fun of men who paid hundreds of dollars for a tailored shirt when I could find perfectly good shirts at Century 21 or TJ Max for a mere forty dollars!  I laughed at my women friends who spent thousands of dollars on a hand-bag and then tried to figure out what outfits would best match with said handbag.  

As far as I was concerned, clothing is meant to be functional and “good enough” to fit in with the social setting in which you wear it.  I was convinced that we all essentially dress the same and some people foolishly spend more money than they need to without any real gain or benefit of doing so.   Basically, my philosophy towards fashion was could be summed up by one quote from Morgan Freeman’s character in the movie The Shawshank Redemption – “Seriously, how often do you really look at a man’s shoes?”  

It involved a lot of events where Carla was just asked to attend fashion previews and to try the new collections. I just watched from the side. 

It involved a lot of events where Carla was just asked to attend fashion previews and to try the new collections. I just watched from the side. 

Don’t judge!  I was a member of the uninitiated; at least until I met Carla.  She introduced me to a world I didn’t know (or even cared to know) existed.  I was amazed by Carla’s natural eye for fashion.  Not just as it relates to style but also quality and attention to detail.  

Notice how I stopped using the word “clothing” and started to call them “garments”?  Carla taught me how to understand and respect the difference between the cheap, generic articles of clothing and high-quality garments.

I remember once speaking to a friend about how much I appreciate a good meal.  I appreciate the thought and effort that a chef put into creating and executing a recipe and how much better a meal could be if fresh, high-quality ingredients were used.  I could taste the difference – and the different was so significant that it made the mean much more enjoyable.  My friend’s response to this was that he only saw food as fuel – as a means to an End.

In this case, not dying of malnutrition.  He was fine eating the same canned or fast-food every day so long at it allowed him to keep living his life.

 I was amazed and appalled that someone could not appreciate the thought that was put into collecting and carefully preparing a variety of disparate ingredients into a single dish.  Appalled that he didn’t even consider, on occasion, indulging in the enjoyment of consuming fresh food.

I see now that my friend’s perception of food is the same as what my perception used to be related to fashion.   I could certainly get by in life with consuming the generic, junk-food produced by the fashion industry but I was missing out on the experience that came with sampling higher quality items and the impact these items had on my life and overall well-being.  

As soon as I recognized this, it opened my eyes to the level of thought and creativity that went into fashion.  Just like master chefs, designers consider all ingredients and construct them in a way that brings a harmony to the final creation.  

I began to start understanding what types of fabrics were used, how it was stitched, the quality of the hardware, and how colors were used to compliment and/ or highlight certain features.  I started coming around to the idea that fashion was important.

OK, so as one of the uninitiated, I made a huge leap forward by admitting that I had a problem.  While I began to start appreciating the value the fashion industry added to creating new, creative, high quality designs, I was still really apprehensive about the industry itself and the kind of people that are part of that industry (I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada and rolled my eyes so hard that I hurt myself).  

I had a lot of prejudices about what the fashion industry was like and the type of people that worked in it.  From cocaine-fueled designers, to under-paid sweat-shop workers, to die-hard fans who wear garbage on their heads and call it a “statement” (are you familiar with those memes “it’s called fashion; look it up”?) – I certainly had an opinion on what to expect from this industry.  And while I started to appreciate the craft, I felt that I would not be welcome in the culture.

I think it was this perception that fed my apprehension when Carla invited me to attend New York Fashion Week with her.  I felt like I wouldn’t belong – that I would still out like a sore thumb and, even worse, be ostracized by the people who attended these things.  

I have had showdowns in the board rooms with some pretty aggressive executives where I didn’t flinch but the thought of attending New York Fashion Week made my skin crawl.  I didn’t know what to expect but I expected the worst.  

Let me share with you – the experiences of the uninitiated to New York Fashion Week…

Fashion in February will make you love Uber. Its hard to walk in the streets of NYC in subzero temps. Fashion week = tons of Uber rides. 

Fashion in February will make you love Uber. Its hard to walk in the streets of NYC in subzero temps. Fashion week = tons of Uber rides. 

(to be continued)