Defining This Thing Called Fashion


The New Yorker pays the subject of fashion its highest honor in the Nov. 7 issue--not by devoting the entire magazine to the topic, but by assigning writers ordinarily occupied with weightier matters to figure out, as the title of Adam Gopnik's introductory essay puts it, "What It All Means."

Lucky for us, the subtitle has the answer: "Fashion? Well, here's the main thing; it's fun."

But Anthony Lane, writing about sausage-chomping genius Karl Lagerfeld, is not so sanguine: "The fashion world is more rabid and self-involved than any other, because, in the end, none of it matters."

We suspect New Yorker Editor Tina Brown thinks fashion matters. But we're probably confusing the fashion world with fashion advertising, which, of course, matters very much.

The 248-page magazine was served up on silver platters at a party Friday night, on the eve of the New York spring collections. And fashion insiders from all over the world have been munching steadily on it ever since.

"I read it twice," said Bloomingdale's fashion director Kal Ruttenstein of the profile on him. "I think I like it."

Donna Karan and company fled the party early and drove to a restaurant to read a piece called "The Mega Mom-and-Pop Shop" aloud around the table. "It was so long. It was like being at a Seder," said Patti Cohen, senior vice president.

But nothing in the issue compares to S.J. Perelman's 1938 send-up of Diana Vreeland's celebrated Harper's Bazaar column, "Why Don't You?" In it, Vreeland asked her readers why they didn't rinse their blond child's hair in dead champagne, as they do in France?

"If a perfectly strange lady came up to you on the street and demanded, 'Why don't you travel with a little raspberry-colored cashmere blanket to throw over yourself in hotels and trains?' the chances are," Perelman wrote, "that you would turn on your heel with dignity and hit her with a bottle."

Unfortunately, in 1994, the most dangerous thing most of us carry around is a plastic Evian bottle--no match for a rabid, self-involved creature of fashion.

Johnny Be Good: When Johnny Depp didn't show up to occupy his reserved seat at the Marc Jacobs show, a wise guy cracked, "He's busy tearing up a hotel room." (Depp slipped in when the lights went down.) The audience did not, however, lack for pouty boys--one of whom we caught powdering his nose. The thing about waiting an hour for a show to start is, there's lots of time for people to relax and let loose with inane chatter. Guy photographer to girl photographer, whom he's clearly trying to impress: "I shot Isabel for Two." "Two?" "It's the YM of Latin America."

Scene Stealers: Mariah Carey's bodyguard shoved us aside to install the singer into the seat next to us at the Isaac Mizrahi show. "It's so hot in here," she said, peeling off her Corrine Cobson leather jacket, revealing a cropped, cherry-red mohair sweater. "Yessss," said the paparazzi in happy unison. Snap, snap, snap. "Keep flipping her hair forward," Carey's handler instructed someone sitting directly behind the singer, and voila, the hair flipper began flicking Carey's curly brown hair forward. Snap, snap, snap.

Model Update: Former Mickey Rourke flame Carre Otis has barred the actor from any show in which she appears. Otis, clearly in the midst of the tattoo-removal process, is getting mixed reviews: "She's all over the runway," remarked a disapproving observer of Otis' wobbling gait . . . The frightening thing is that no model, no matter how beautiful, is above reproach from the less-than-perfect audience: Her butt's too big. Her butt's too flat. She's gained so much weight. She's so cold. She looks old. She looks like a cadav e r. Boob job -- look, they don't move. The consensus is that only Naomi Campbell is absolutely fabulous. And we're not talking about her writing . . . Tatiana Patitz, who played the dead girl in "Rising Sun," is alive and modeling . . . Kristen McMenamy's dark red hair is now strawberry blond, all the better to look like a movie goddess.

Labor Relations: Teri Agins reported in the Wall Street Journal this week that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating the fashion industry for possible price fixing of the fees paid to runway models. Last fall, the governing body of the New York shows asked models and designers to keep fees down to $750 an hour. Last week, Joseph Hunter, president of Ford Models, was asked for models' home phone numbers to get to the bottom of things. Yeah, sure.

Stylemakers' Style: As the shows pile up, the fashion crowd starts piling on what they see on the runway. Creeping up in the style vernacular that is already heavy with '70s footwear, black Prada backpacks and liquid eyeliner are glitter headbands and scarves tied cowgirl-style at the neck. Add to the list of must-haves for the women who actually keep lists of such things: sweater guards, rhinestone bobby pins, short gloves, tiny purses, ivory fishnet stockings, snoods, brooches, skinny snakeskin belts, bows, floppy safari hats, shapely fannies, seamed stockings, pasties, darts, cigarettes, real hairdos.

* Inside Out is published Thursdays.

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