A Chance at Anonymity, if Not a View

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

Is it lonely at the top? Not if you ask Melanie Woods, who, gazing from her Alpine perch at the rear of the Alexander Wang show on Saturday, found the ether as heady as the view. Woods, 31, a medical clinic coordinator visiting Manhattan from Memphis, chortled as she confided that she had scored her much-coveted ticket from a friend who works at Topshop. “I’m so excited by the models and the scene,” she said. “Everything is so rich. It gives me a rush.”

So intent was she on the runway parade that Woods imagined she could feel the fabrics, taking in their every welt and seam through some sort of eerie osmosis. “I love their touch,” she murmured raptly.

From her third-row spot, the vista was nearly intact. More often than not, though, the view from the top of the rock is partial at best, as hazy as a Monet garden.

In the scramble for status that defines much of New York Fashion Week, the front row is platinum, as closely watched and fervently coveted as a skybox at the U.S. Open. But amid the jostle for a prime position, it is easy to lose sight of those consigned to the Siberia that is home to star-struck students, aspiring designers, stylists and die-hard enthusiasts of every stripe — and not less to a handful of spectators chagrined to find themselves exiled, forced to peer intently over upraised cellphone screens for a fragmented glimpse of the scene.

From row 4 at Jason Wu on Friday, “you don’t see the skirt lengths, you don’t see the shoes,” Ellin Salzman said. Nor were programs distributed at the rear of the show. As a former fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue, Salzman had at one time claimed the best seats in the house. “I guess I’m spoiled,” she said resignedly. “And not having a program makes things that much harder.”

A few seats to her left, Caroline Talbot, an editor with the prestigious French Journal du Textile, noted a bit sourly that her isolated spot made it a challenge just to do her job. She was here, after all, “to capture the feeling of the clothes,” she said, “the textures, the silhouettes.”

“Sometimes I’m resentful,” Talbot said. “There is a friend of a friend of the hairdresser who has a better place than I do.”

The view from on high has its perils, not all of them imagined. There is the unnerving prospect of stumbling across an onlooker’s overstuffed Birkin and being pitched helter-skelter over rows of bobbing heads below. No acrophobe myself, I felt giddy nonetheless sitting in row 7 at the Theater at Lincoln Center, where Carolina Herrera paraded her flowery spring frocks.

Staggered artfully on the runway were rows of steeplelike projectiles (stylized trees? menacing stalagmites?), their spiky tops nearly piercing the roof of the tent. Looking on anxiously, I had trouble shaking off the feeling that I was about to be skewered, like a slab of lamb on a spit.

Relegated to the rear, it often is tempting to second-guess oneself. Have I somehow ticked off the house publicist? Has my ranking slipped irreparably? Can anyone see me up here in fashion purdah? I duck reflexively behind my copy of The Daily.

But there is an upside to anonymity. “Sometimes it’s better to look at things without people staring at you,” said Anton Cobb, 40, a stylist, who took in the action from the rear at Alexander Wang. “You can actually focus on what’s going on.”

Remaining all but invisible had its perks for Ellen Thomas, 24, who attended Prabal Gurung on Sunday to gather string for Style Lyst, an AOL fashion blog. “Sometimes I think it’s really cool that I’m so young and I’m here,” she said. “I feel undeserving, like an impostor. It’s almost like I’ve cheated the system. I try to keep as low a profile as possible.”

Posting earlier this week on, Katherine Bernard noted that “when you’re in the front row, you are part of the show itself,” not always an advantage. Conversations there, she observed, are constantly interrupted, and less than frank. “In the back, there’s talk. And there’s no risk of anyone important overhearing.”

Her seventh-row seat at Carolina Herrera “makes for great people watching,” said Kim Dryer, a partner in Sequin, the New York jewelry firm that supplied Herrera’s runway baubles. She could pick out the socialite Jamee Gregory, just able to discern her saucy pink shirtwaist. (“At least I think it’s a shirtwaist,” she said.)

For some, the ubiquitous cameras are a boon. As Bernard wrote, “if the person in front of me is a handy photographer, I can finally see an entire look in the show.”

In an interview this month in Paper magazine, Linda Fargo, the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, remembered scaling the heights at a much-anticipated Thierry Mugler show in Manhattan in the mid-’80s.

“The show, even from the eighth row, didn’t disappoint!” she recalled through a film of nostalgia. “I remember legions and battalions of Glamazon models marching out in powerful formations. OMG! The shoulder pads! The Veronica Lake hair! The smoky dry ice atmosphere.”

Plenty of spectators this week were as galvanized. “I’m here for the ambience” said Victoria Gutierrex, 29, who works for an event production company and had cadged from a friend an invitation to the Altuzarra show Saturday night. “The access is golden. For me, there is no such thing as a nosebleed seat.”