Monday, February 5, 2007

Welcome to New York. Thank-you for not smoking

I've seen real cold...and it wears a balaclava.

And so New York Fashion Week cranked into gear. But it didn't start quite the way I had anticipated.

First up, may I just say, it's flippin' FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZING in New York.

After what by all accounts has been a mild winter, Jack Frost has suddenly shifted his glacial gaze to the Big Apple just in time for the shows. And the fall/winter season, which kicked off Friday, is not the glamour event that September was. The minus seven - and apparently dropping - wind chill factor has seen to that.

Big hats, big coats and double layers of gloves are de rigueur for a kind of Nanook of The North look. Rugging up and also avoiding walking long distances, are key to survival. As I learned yesterday after walking from my hotel to some godforsaken abandoned railway station down on Eleventh Avenue that Josh Goot selected for its edgy "atmos" for his second Big Apple effort. The icy wind cut into my face like razor blades.

Last night I was horrified to get back to my hotel and discover frostbitten fingers (in spite of gloves) and my face covered in large red blotches. I've lived in Amsterdam and Paris. I've been skiing. I just don't ever recall being in temperatures so cold that you have to don a bloody balaclava in order to avoid looking like you've succumbed to some sort of cosmeceutical catastrophe.

"Those Aussies", I could hear the hotel maintenance guy think to himself as he helped this frozen fashionista crank up her room heating; "so hopelessly inequipped for the northern hemisphere".

But hello, I hear you ask, New York Fashion Week? Wasn't that the very event out of which I was "smoked" last season?

Those who followed the last Fashion Season blog may recall the incident involving New York publicist Kelly Cutrone.

Unimpressed by reading some of her own comments repeated in The Sydney Morning Herald, Cutrone banned me from all of her clients shows - worldwide - then threatened to sue and "smoke" me out of NYC. She also used a photograph to create a poster, pasting copies around one venue, complete with words, "Patty Huntington, Sydney Morning Herald - No admittance. Do not let into shows".

I have had more than one request for a poster-emblazoned T-shirt commemorating the incident.

So here I am poking my nose back into New York. And I can report that the extent of Cutrone's "smoke out" is not as yet abundantly clear.

Quite apart from being ushered through US customs at LAX with no incident, my accreditation was whisked through by the organisers at record speed.

Before even registering, I also received several "save the date" email alerts from fashion companies. Due to the last-minute nature of this trip, I have not had a chance to properly chase tickets but so far so good.

I'm not holding my breath of course, however at the end of the day, surely no reasonable PR turns away a ticketless but nevertheless bona fide representative of a wide-reach media outlet from the front door of their show? PRs are in the publicity business. To hijack a quote from The Insider - which is not inappropriate, given the smoking references here - fashion journalists are in the "publicity delivery business". Those who are doing their job deliver both good and bad news.

I was not the only fashion scribe banned last season. The New York Times' fashion critic Cathy Horyn, along with, was banned by Dolce e Gabbana after a negative review.

So much for politics, what of the clothes? Given the lemming-like exodus of Australians to NY runways I'll start there. Three of the five showing this season showed on Saturday, with Goot's 10.00am-er proving the very first show of the season for me (I arrived one day late).

Seated next to (Australian Fashion Week MD) Simon Lock, with Oz models Tiah Eckhardt and Alexandra Agoston O'Connor on the runway and Oz- born, London-based (Browns) buyer Yasmin Sewell nearby, it felt like being back in Sydney. Also there: Goot's talented cousin, designer Micaela Ezra, who recently started working for New York designer Cynthia Steffe.

In a slick, all-black and gunmetal grey collection, Goot showed he is no one-trick pony.

Beyond the batwing sleeves of his Gothic goddess gowns and capelets, gone was the tracksuit slouch chic of his early collections. In its place a different type of utilitywear in Goot's signature "urban sport" vein (which new trend US Vogue recently proclaimed he kickstarted last season) in the form of wetsuit-look tailleurs with industrial zippers, Wet Look raincoats and capelets (achieved via gloss-laminated merino wool) and sharp, mesh and metal-look leggings.

It was dark, it was risky - and so much of a departure for Goot that even Sewell admitted later she was worried.

"But it worked," said Sewell, the first international retailer to pick Goot up after his Australian Fashion Week debut in May 2005.

"He's got a real cult following now," she added, revealing that 10 per cent of Browns' Goot business is in fact coming from men. Not Goot's menswear, which Browns does not (yet) buy. But Goot's womens' jackets and slim-fit pants.

Backstage I asked Goot whether his all-black show was a reaction to the bagging last season over his (they hinted, typically garish Australian) use of colour. He denied it - adding that he had always wanted to do an all-black range.

Goot may be disappointed to find he didn't rate a review this time. On the other hand he got a pretty powerful back-pat from WWD.

Toni Maticevski has big potential - and it seems, mushrooming brand awareness in the US market. Last season he barely managed to fill one row of the tiny UPS Hub venue. The same space this season was packed. No mean feat considering that high profile Kiwi Karen Walker showed directly up against him off-schedule.

When Maticevski is good, he is very, very good. His breakthrough show in Sydney in May 2004 demonstrated his dual talents for razor-sharp day tailoring and achingly beautiful eveningwear.

However his collections have a tendency to look half-baked, no doubt exacerbated by the fact that he is a one-man show, making all his samples by hand.

In this 'Magic and Madness' collection, the sharply-contoured, anthracite grey tailleur and dove grey, leg-o-mutton silk mousseline smock top and dresses worked. Some of the other pieces looked ugly - worse, dull.

Maticevski says he's now committed to showing in NY. He needs to analyse his brand DNA, refine his story - and come up with more sensational tailoring and breathtaking ballgowns. The show's "wow" element, the voluminous, acid yellow and pink, foam-lined silk "doona" dresses - although slammed by - will no doubt be snapped up for editorial spreads. Whether he sells any is irrelevant. To use his own words, Maticevski needs to adopt more of this F factor.

"I thought f**k it, I'm just going to show weird shit" Maticevski said backstage, where yet more Australians circled, including Jayson Brunsdon (who shows on Thursday) and Lock's former 2IC Jarrad Clark, currently on holidays from PBL. Clark trailed Lock throughout Bryant Park for the day and some might surmise he is itching to jump ship back into Lock's fold.

After helping Lock build Australian Fashion Week in May 2006, Clark departed for PBL in early 2005, at a time when the company was struggling to pay its bills. With IMG's October 2005 acquisition of the event - and Lock, as the new managing director IMG FASHION Asia Pacific - should Clark ever be tempted back, Lock's financials are of course a different story now.

And so to the seventh NY show of sass & bide. The biggest day one surprise, at least for me. Not in terms of the clothes, which were typical sass & bide trash glam - beyond the requisite skinny pants, some pretty waisted sundresses and also waistless velvet shift dresses, mostly hoiked to the coit - but the front-of-house entertainment.

I should note that of all five Australians showing in NY this season, sass & bide's was the only show for which I did not have an invite, in spite of having a formal accreditation and having touched base with sass & bide's Sydney office shortly before departure.

On the same plane over was one of sass & bide's publicity team, Emma Archbold, who dropped a bombshell.

Sass & bide had just changed New York publicists - to People's Revolution. Yep, Kelly Cutrone's agency.

Archbold said she hoped that the change would not be an issue for me. To which I noted that, given the extent of Cutrone's ban, surely it might well be.

For starters, it might explain why I was suddenly "declined" for that show for the first time in seven years. Archbold said she had no idea but promised to look into it. She seemed concerned the incident might end up on the blog.

After a few emails back and forth - and rather looking forward to being able to slug the first AW0708 blog entry, "Smoked out by sass & bide" - I received word that (one half of sass&bide) Sarah-Jane Clarke personally wanted to invite me and would ensure I had a seat.

Not keen to be on the receiving end of any more of Cutrone's unique brand of PR, I asked Archbold if she could kindly collect my ticket for me.

Surprisingly, a seat had been allocated: "H-13." Archbold ushered me into the venue. And to an empty seat in the front row. Not just the front row, but the pointy end of the front row. One of the best seats in the house.

"There must be some mistake," I said. "It says row H."

On closer inspection, all the seats in this spot were marked H. With no names allocated, this appeared to be some kind of emergency front row. H perhaps for all those highprofilers who just won't commit to attend (although Rose Byrne and a few others did).

Although she circled nearby on several occasions, there was zero contact with Cutrone.

Of course I'll never know what went on behind closed doors. Whether my invitation noshow was simply an oversight - which of course is possible.

Or whether perhaps it was not: but that with Cutrone's and my first confrontation coming in the form of the first show of her brand new Australian client that she didn't want to upset, she had no choice.

Perhaps they all wanted to avoid being blogged. Perhaps Cutrone will blog it herself - having just been given her very own blog, by no less than the IMG-owned Fashion Week Daily.

When the show started, I couldn't help note the irony inherent in the title of the first frock: a black micro singlet dress with gold and silver coin-spot embellishment. The name of the dress was, as per the show notes, "Commercial Union". Followed by, I kid you not, the "Take Me Back" harem pants, "A Love to Outspoken" cropped jacket, "Trapped by Fate" bowed gown and "Faustian Glee" bowed dress.

When the lights came up, I scratched my head and wondered if perhaps it had all been some kind of strange demi-couture dream - me a hapless Alice in the New York fashion Wonderland, to Cutrone's Queen of Hearts.

But I had a sudden reality check after bumping into an expat Sydney fashion journo who has been in NY for a few years. Upon spotting me, his immediate reaction was one of surprise.

He asked just how I had managed to sort out my differences with the organisers. He used the term "round table discussion", asking if perhaps I had had one?

"Oh - so did you read that blog post then?" I asked, genuinely surprised he had even seen it.

"Who didn't?" he replied.

On with the show.

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