GROWING UP in Florida—a state where flip-flops and Hawaiian print are fashion-forward and no one can pronounce “haute couture,” let alone buy it—I always looked forward to the Vogue coverage of fashion week. It was like a portal to another world. A world full of black and limitless American Express cards, champagne bursting forth from imported European fountains, and diamonds. Lots of diamonds.

Anna Wintour. André Leon Talley. Marc Jacobs. Coco Chanel. These were the fashion gods—and like any good consumer of Banana Republic’s ready-to-wear, I knew my place. I worshipped from afar. (Or in some cases ridiculed from afar—Zac Posen’s spring 2008 collection, anyone? It makes the Amish look chic).

That is, until last Friday, when the fates of fashion smiled on me and issued a mistaken invitation to their inner sanctum: Fashion Week in New York City, where I now happen to work. And while I’m sure some Manolo Blahnik-wearing intern promptly swept my pathetic offerings of admiration under some $50,000 French rug as soon as I left, I offer these libations personally, and from an almost-first row seat.

A friend who works for a fashion magazine is staying with me while she looks for an apartment and, last Thursday night, she mentions that she has a few fashion show invitations for the weekend. All I want to do is scream, “Are you serious? Are you seriously serious?! ” Instead I say something along the lines of, “Really? They’re extra, huh?” and we go to sleep without any more talk of the superfluous invites. But it’s all I can think about.

The next day rolls around. As I don my only item of Wal-Mart-purchased (don’t judge me—it’s a summer scarf and I’m poor) she turns to me and says, “You work by Bryant Park, right?” I nod. Then she pushes a white 5” x 7” card into my hand. “Here,” she says. “It’s for the Michael Angel show.”

I look down. I’m wearing Old Navy shorts. A shirt from Banana Republic. Brown flip-flops from … honestly, I have no clue. The Wal-Mart scarf. And the crown jewel? My $20 bag from H&M is very un-fiercely overflowing with a box of cereal, a carton of soymilk, my lunch, and all the make-up I own. I look at the invitation. I have no time to change if I’m going to make the 9:00 a.m. show. The only thing I can do is spritz myself with some Chanel perfume—like that will magically make me Fashion Week acceptable. And then I run. As I’m galloping towards the subway, my cereal spills and I start to hear the crunch crunch crunch of bran flakes crumbling in the bottom of my bag. Fantastic, I think. I’m sure going to make an entrance.

I had never heard of Michael Angel. Apparently he’s an up-and-coming designer (he created his first collection for Autumn/Winter 2008) with incredible fashion industry connections. He was the Style Director for Melbourne Fashion Week and has also secured a reputation as a top stylist to many influential celebrities. At least that’s what his website says. I’m not sure how “influential” he really is, but I can tell you I feel completely inadequate showing the incredulous bouncer my invitation and going into that giant white tent in Bryant Park.

Label-flaunting, lipstick-smacking, no-calorie-consuming fashionistas accost my eyes on all sides. They mill around the mezzanine in clusters, laughing fabulously, drinking skinny lattes fabulously and finally, breathing fabulously. Part of me really wants to laugh, but I am too scared they might fabulously throw me out. And I really want to see this show.

Mercedes-Benz is Fashion Week’s primary sponsor, so two 2009 SLK class convertibles stand on either side of the tent’s main entrance. An enormous sculpture made entirely from Swarovski crystals fills the center of a tent, like a willow tree growing out of the ceiling and reaching the floor. Surrounding the crystal chandelier are small inlets for other, smaller, sponsors to showcase their new lines. Cosmetics samples, health supplements, and other products all vie for the attention of obviously wealthy socialites. I must have tricked a few sales personnel into thinking I am somebody too, because before I know it women are bombarding me with the “newest” diet drug on the market and lipstick infused with collagen.

I head towards the line to get into the show at around 9:05. It’s obvious the show is going to be very late, but from the pseudo-cheery looks on the overly botoxed faces around me, I assume this is expected. The line is moving forward rapidly, so I stuff my cereal box down a little farther into my bag with another loud crunch and have my invitation handy.

As I advance, I notice with horror that there is a fashionista at the end of the line—with a list. She is happily checking off names (no doubt this is the pinnacle of her fabulous existence) and it looks like she is periodically turning people away with a shake of her head. Is my invitation not enough? She will certainly notice the Old Navy shorts circa 2004 and not even let me explain. She would merely bat her eyes three times condescendingly and point to the door.

So I do the only thing you can do in these sorts of situations: lie.

“Your name?” she asks, glancing at my invitation with a bored expression.

“Well, actually, I’m probably not on that list,” I say as fabulously as possible. “I’m from Elle.com and, well, they just gave me this invitation this morning. I didn’t have time to RSVP. The other girls came before me, I had some stuff to do in the office.”

“Oh, right.” She blinks at the clipboard. “Go right in.”

Maybe it was the Chanel. Or maybe my façade of faux fabulousness actually worked. But I was in! I had penetrated their defenses. Old Navy attire and all—I was actually going to be in the middle of New York Fashion Week. I guess anything can happen in this city.

They herd us all into a huddle and send groups of ten into what everyone is calling “the house.” White bags of swag rest on the seats of rows and rows of white chairs. Flashes are going off everywhere as hundreds of photographers attempt to capture the right angles, lighting, and focus before the show. And at the center of it all is the catwalk. It’s not as impressive as I thought it would be—it actually looks a little rickety. Maybe that’s why models don’t eat.

Even though I am assigned to the standing section, a volunteer guides me to a seat in the second row..I sit and stuff my bag under my chair, hoping the loud, bass-heavy techno will mask any crunching noises. Then I begin observing. The girl on my right is obviously a buyer or works for one. She has her pen, camera and notebook ready, with her Blackberry in hand. The woman on my left is looking very bored, like most people. I guess that is the fabulous thing to look.

Finally the lights go out and the show begins. The collection isn’t inspired, but neither is it appalling. Angel’s muse was the 70’s-era rock movement, so he used a lot of stark color pairings, crystal-studded sleeves reminiscent of shoulder pads, and sheer fabrics. The asymmetrical off-the-shoulder pieces are intriguing. Movement is a another theme of his Spring collection, and the models expertly walk so that their dresses flow down the catwalk. Most of these dresses are gorgeous, and one in particular demands my attention. It is a sheer swirl of black, pink, yellow and blue at the hem, bleeding all the way into pure white at the bodice. It is a classic, simple cut and a fantastic fit. The intricate crystal work on the sleeves is exquisite. Model after model strides out, poses, turns and walks away. And then it is over before it begins, after a grand total of twenty minutes.

When the last model walks off the catwalk, Michael Angel comes out and takes a quick bow. You can see the relief on his face. No one has fallen. No major wardrobe malfunction has ruined the show. He is safe. And done. We applaud for about a minute. Then everyone takes their goody bags and struts out into the mezzanine—to continue being fabulous. I, on the other hand, slink out of the tent to head back to real life. Being fabulous was alright for the morning, but my stomach is growling. It’s time to see if I can salvage some of that cereal.


Heather Orlando is an assistant at TV Guide in New York.

 
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