back to the Black Table


The Sean John show was supposed to have started at 8 o'clock on Saturday night, at Cipriani, the former bank turned banquet hall across 42nd St. from Grand Central. But it was at about that time when the crowd outside -- mostly fashion journalists, and mostly cranky -- began trying to cut the line, and then, once someone had cut past them, cut again. When the staff finally began waving invitees in, the cutters lunged forward, smashing against those of us standing in line next to steel barricades, creating the world's most fashionable soccer riot.

Inside, the front row had been the first to take their seats, a giveaway that they'd skipped the crush, of course, and had already prepared for preening to the photographers, Full Frontal Fashion crew, and notebook-toting reporters like me. Editors, gossip columnists, stylists, and the heads of major department stores all manned the front row, and only Details editor Dan Peres had been corny enough to wear sneakers and jeans, as if he'd been hanging out at Applebees with his parents down the street.

At the appointed moment, the wall dividing the stadium seating from backstage flickered to life. Puffy had ordered the construction of a monstrous video wall maybe 30 feet long and 20 feet tall filled with pure white light. Then a panel in the middle slid up as the soundtrack boomed, overwhelmed by woman's voice singing: "When I first stepped on the scene, niggas were petrified" -- the beginning of a parody of "I Will Survive" -- and the show began.

For 20 minutes, muscled, corn-rowed models strutted down the runway and back, armored in vaguley militaristic coats, suits, and the other accoutrouments of a man who's embraced "renegade chic," as Puffy described it to the New York Times.

But the crowd had been lured by the tease of women's clothes -- eight outfits, according to the Times article, and it left, according to the critiques on Monday morning, extremely disappointed.

I am still trying to decide if I know of any women who might wear a leather dress with a train, and am still wondering what the final pulsing image of the show -- the drawn climax of Scarface, such an original and daring homage now that everyone has the DVD in their "Cribs" -- has anything, but anything, to do with women's clothes.

At the end, Puffy ran out to take a bow, jogging halfway down the catwalk and flashing peace signs to the crowd. His mother, Janice, had been seated in front. I read later that she had been trying to channel Donatella Versace with the blonde hair that ran down past her waist. More like James Earl Jones in Conan the Barbarian.

She motioned to Puffy to come hug her, as he'd done after shows past, but he only paused and flashed her a look that said "Not now, mom, I'm being a gangsta!" and ran back behind stage.


If you're hung up on the question of whether Puffy is really a designer (as opposed to really being an artist), please consult the numbers. This guy is bigger than John Weitz ever was and sucks in a ton of cash.

The distribution deal his Bad Boy label struck with Universal is worth between $10 million and $50 million over the next three years. Another platinum record, "We Invented The Remix," in a year of declining sales. His Sean John men's line sold $450 million last year, too. And here comes his line of women's wear.

Puffy, the brand and the businessman, has both evolved far beyond the music business by now, which is wheezing anyway and beginning to buckle under the pressure of the Internet assault and its own business practices.

Other stars hope to amass their own pop culture empires, too. Gwen Stefani's new label, Lamb, will debut soon, and Eve is planning her own line, Fetish, for the fall. J. Lo's clothes haven't been a hit, but perhaps that's because of the consensus opinion that they aren't that good. J. Lo the brand can draw shoppers in perhaps, but can't close the sale.

It's not like it used to be anymore. Instead of having a designer's haute couture line of impossibly expensive visions serving as the calling card for a ready-to-wear line, all it takes is a new record deal and platinum remixes to keep your name and style in the back of customers' minds. Just look at Puffy.


As someone obsessed, scared and envious of status all at the same time, I love fashion shows for the way they crystalize an entire world's pecking order for that moment, with the biggest, like Marc Jacobs, attracting bushels of celebrities from the outside world, allowing for the comparision of our VIPs vs. theirs.

I would give anything to sit on the planning meetings, where frank assessments of who is most powerful and who is most useful and made and revised according to grudges, personality tics, and the arbitrary rules of the venue. Then they're given chairs.

That kind of weighing and ranking of each player, so to speak, reminds me of fantasy baseball. I can't understand why my more thoroughly male friends mock me for reading reviews of Zac Posen's shows, and in the next breath, congratulate me for snagging Mark Prior off the waiver wire. There's no difference.


Speaking as a Fashion Week rookie with just half a previous season under my belt -- the abbreviated one of September 2001: What impresses me most is the determination of the editors of Vogue, Bazaar, WWD, and whoever to find some idiom of the future in the hemlines and ripples in a dress. All kinds of artforms have come to grips with postmodernism and endless recycling, but only in fashion, it seems to me, is there such a manic-depressive relationship between the designers, who want to be rich and glamorous artists, and the editors, who usually want the same thing.

Another, more important observation: Editors do not want to be bored. That's my guess, anyway, considering their infamous, constant swings between bitchy complaining and gushing praise. They just want something new.

This is why Marc Jacobs, whose eponymous line appeared to have been inspired by the Jetsons fashionista of Tommorrowland, was a disappointment because it's *yawn* on the Cartoon Network. And this is also why Narcisco Rodriguez's clean, "architectural" lines, which made no historical claims at all, was so wonderful.

Yes, you can ask how architectural lines can be important just weeks, or maybe days, before we go to war. But it wasn't as if we didn't notice the outside world, particularly with consecutive Fashion Weeks to follow in London, Milan and Paris. We just stayed quiet.

The week before, a publicist had arranged for me to have lunch with her, her client, an actual designer, and his advertising director. She offered me a lift back uptown afterward, and sitting in back, making small talk, I asked the designer if he would be taking a well-earned vacation right after his show.

"I'm actually headed to Milan next week," he said, to start picking fabrics for next season. His vacation would come later. The publicist, sitting between us in the back seat, broke in, "A friend of mine is the U. S. ambassador to France. I was told you don't want to be traveling in Europe around the end of the month."


In between shows, I tracked down William Gibson, the sci-fi author who gave the world "cyberspace." He was in town on his latest tour, promoting a novel whose heroine was somehow allergic to logos, and I wanted to have a few books signed and indulge myself with a quick interview. At least it was supposed to be. I ended up in the back of Barnes & Noble with the fanboys, stacks of books tucked under their arms. By the time I got to him, I was already 45 minutes late for the Baby Phat show. I was in such a rush that I forgot to ask what labels he wears.

I had just reached a passage in the novel where he had sneeringly critiqued Tommy Hilfiger as "simulacra of simulacra of simulacra. . . . There must be some Tommy Hilfiger event horizon, beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source, more devoid of soul."

The next day, The International Herald Tribune's Suzy Menkes judged Hilfiger's latest collection thusly: "Hilfiger's male mods seemed snappy in their Carnaby Street tailored coats, but their accompanying women looked like Mary Quant's dolly girls from the 1960s reincarnated without an ounce of imagination."


Eighties music flourishes in the hour-long waits before a show begins. After the first weekend, I had been so exposed to INXS' "Need You Tonight" that I had added it to my Ipod for immersion listening. It was required by law to play Madonna's "Holiday" at every party, and the part of me that still carries around my mother's musical taste from the womb appreciates that, somehow, Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go For That," has legitmately been revived as cool, or at least a guilty pleasure one can be open about, judging by the "urban" crowd rocking back in forth in it seats to it in the long wait before Baby Phat.


A friend recently summed up the historical legacy of Electroclash perfectly: "It's the first music movement that started with the clothes." It seems the genre still hasn't affected the rest of America yet, despite being written up in GQ, Ellegirl and Fortune, of all places (Ellegirl even offered helpful advice on acheiving that PoMo look) but hipsters here and Eurotrash just love it. The unholy union between this form of reheated electro and fashion was cemented still further at Visionaire's climactic party on Valentine's Day, when W. I. T. (standing for "Whatever It Takes") performed a few songs from its upcoming record. I use "perform" in the loosest possible sense. They lip-synced to the robotic vocals so proudly, so unabashedly, that it could only be a statement. On what, I don't know. Artificiality perhaps? But was it a protest or celebration of it, then?


And then it was over. I slept. The real fashion flock packed for the next round of shows, in London, and assistants, starting this morning if they haven't already, began carrying out the orders to turn these clothes into something you might actually someday wear.


Greg Lindsay writes about media. His job is very much in fashion right now.