For a decade, I've been a regular at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week — when I first started, it was Olympus Fashion Week, and it was held in Bryant Park — and if I had a penny for every time someone said, "Can I go as your assistant?" I'd be a rich man.
To most outsiders, fashion week is glamorous. The celebrities! The models! The clothes!
But it's not one big party.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. (Okay, maybe just a little.) It's a privilege to watch the creative process in action, interview some of the best and brightest minds in the business, and watch the next season's styles unfold before my eyes. I still get goosebumps at the end of an Oscar de la Renta or Michael Kors show because of the sheer magic conjured up on the runway.
Even so, there's a lot of immature behavior for an adult event. Ticket holders push and shove to be the first to get into a show, and some would rather die than be seated on the third row.
There's a lot of immature behavior for an adult event. Ticket holders push and shove to be the first to get into a show, and some would rather die than be seated on the third row.
Tempers flare regularly. At the Zac Posen show a few nights ago, a snaufu developed after fire marshals ordered the last-minute removal of 60 seats, and a French publishing executive slapped a respected publicist for not finding her a place to sit immediately.
There are way too many shows for one person to see, so everyone is racing uptown and downtown on the subway or in a cab (or in a private car if you're Vogue's Anna Wintour or Harper's Bazaar's Glenda Bailey) at a breakneck speed to get to the next show on time.
And we're constantly dealing with a lot of self-important hangers-on and vapid fashion assistants who abuse what little power they have. (Yes, The Devil Wears Prada is pretty close to the truth.)
In short, fashion week has strayed from its roots. It's grown too big, too unwieldy and too corporate. (Did Diane von Furstenberg really need to hawk the Google Glass prototype on the catwalk last weekend?)
So it was pure pleasure to attend a show this week that evoked memories of what it must have been like when couturiers held small gatherings in a salon for people who really cared about fashion.
Designer Barbara Tfank, too, has grown tired of the fashion chaos. So the Los Angeles-based designer picked a friend's private penthouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side, complete with terrace overlooking Central Park, to showcase her spring/summer 2013 collection. Tfank has an uptown sensibility, reflected in her signature jewel-toned dresses, gowns and cocktail coats of brocade fabrics, that fits in well with these surroundings.
"I wanted the clothes in a setting where they would actually end up in life," said designer Barbara Tfank. "These rooms reflect the same aesthetic that I have, which is a love of beauty and a love of quality textiles."
"I wanted the clothes in a setting where they would actually end up in life," she said. "I feel like these rooms reflect the same aesthetic that I have, which is a love of beauty and a love of quality textiles.
"I love the quote from Slim Aarons: 'Attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.' But that's the whole point. I think certainly in Houston or Dallas, they would appreciate this."
Tfank and her team positioned models in three rooms — the living room, bedroom and terrace — of the posh apartment. In slim V-neck dresses or long, cap-sleeve gowns, they looked as if they were ready to entertain at a small dinner party or go out on the town.
The clothes — and the atmosphere — caught the eye of Vogue contributing editor André Leon Talley, who has been a front-row regular in New York, Paris and Milan for more than 25 years.
"Everyone wants to be in the tents, thinking they're getting a ticket to something that's like a big sports event," he said. "It's like going to the U.S. Open. And it's just frustrating for the people who have to work.
"I wasn't there when the people used to be at Dior, and you could touch the clothes. But I love that you could be so close to the clothes that you could touch them as you can here. This is what fashion should be. Barbara has created a backdrop and she has created a lifestyle in one fell swoop.
"I'm very old school," Talley continued. "Technology is great and global fashion is fabulous, but I'm all for the intimacy of this. It's like being in a couture salon. This is like Paris. This is like London. Couture should be shown in a setting of elegance. I think it's just wonderful that people are going in and out [of the rooms], don't you think?"
"Barbara," Talley called out, "come here, darling, and talk to me. This is your best show ever."
"I thought all these overproduced fashion shows that everyone is tired of, the loud music, your eardrums hurt, it's a circus," Tfank said. "I wanted to be more civilized and chic."
"It's special," Talley replied. "That's why it works."
He then commandeered the bedroom with a photographer to shoot the models for a Vogue story, and I tiptoed out.
But as I prepared to leave, I ran into Tabatha Coffey, the star of Bravo's Shear Genius and Tabbitha's Salon Takeover, who did the wigs for the presentation. "Normally, Barbara has a theme, but this year it's different," Coffey explained.
In previous shows, Tfank had incorporated wigs emulating hairstyles of Justin Bieber and early Elizabeth Taylor. The Taylor-inspired collection, which featured silky slip dresses, three-quarter-length jacquard coats and shiny capri pants, was showcased at Fashion Houston last fall.
For this presentation, Coffey adapted some wigs from a new line she will debut on QVC in November. "I think they're all fabulous," she said. "They work beautifully with the dresses."