By Chris Vespoli


When I was 5 years old, I went as Beetlejuice for Halloween. A child of the ‘80s, the eponymous movie was one of my favorites. My mom got the getup from some kind of mail-order costume place, and it was absolutely awesome. It had everything — the black-and-white-striped suit, the crazy blonde wig, the gross fingernails…even my makeup was impeccable. That year, my Cub Scout pack on Long Island held a costume contest, and I won the grand prize. It was the first and last time that I would be rewarded for my fashion sense.

Beetlejuice Awkward New York: I Got Dragged to New York Fashion Week
Image courtesy of New York Natives
Photographer: Chris Vespoli

Twenty-five years later, my wardrobe is now very far from blue ribbon-worthy. My clothing rotation consists of a pair of skinny jeans I wear every day and never wash, a handful of bad plaid shirts, a pair of well-worn sneakers and a few drab cardigans to tie it all together on my boyish 5-foot-3 frame. Not to mention, I sport a swoopy, spikey haircut that would make even the butchiest lesbian exclaim, “gurrrl, no!” My overall style can only be described as “homeless hipster hobbit,” and the only fashion line I’d be qualified to model would be Old Navy’s husky toddler collection (and if you’re reading this, Old Navy, I’m very available).

Having told you all that, it’s probably no surprise that I’d never attended New York Fashion Week, the twice-a-year, seven-day-long orgy of glitzy runway shows, exclusive parties, and throngs of drunk, wannabe socialites puking on the curb outside the Gansevoort Hotel. That is, I’d never attended…yet.

Besides writing this column for New York Natives, I’m also their Creative Director, which is a fancy way of saying I come up with ideas that other, smarter people execute. I got it in my head that we should do more live-tweeting of big events, because people on Twitter love that shit. Apparently I made a pretty strong case, because before I knew it, our Editor-In-Chief had suggested that I myself live-tweet the opening day of Fashion Week. I’d fucked myself, promising something that I had no idea I’d be able to deliver — like when JFK took too many painkillers and told the country we were gonna put a man on the Moon. And just as Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong did back in 1969, I, too, was headed to the unknown. Fashion Week…where no awkward, nerdy, heterosexual man had gone before….

My Thursday began bright and early at 7 a.m. on the corner of 63rd Street and Columbus Avenue. That’s where our Managing Editor, James, told me to meet him. He along with our Director of PR and Social Media, Stef, were Fashion Week veterans, and had offered to be my guides. Standing on the street corner in the humid, late summer morning air, it felt like I was 5 years old again, waiting for the bus on my very first day of school. And much like that faithful day in 1989 I was nervous, sweaty, and liable to shit my pants at any moment. I met up with James at the back entrance of a temporary building just shy of the Metropolitan Opera where three runway spaces were housed. Once inside, I quickly learned that I wasn’t just at “New York Fashion Week” — I was at “Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week.”

 

I killed time with James in the reception area while we waited for the show to start, trying desperately to look like I belonged as leggy models and sharply-dressed fashion luminaries floated past me. Even the crew and interns working the show looked camera-ready. Meanwhile, with my thick glasses, wrinkled shirt and my Star Trek tattoo in clear sight, the only thing I looked ready for was a comic book convention.

 

The show was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., but some people had been there as early as 6 a.m. prepping, rehearsing and vomiting up last night’s dinner (either due to stress, an eating disorder, being hungover, or a combination of all three). I was absolutely shocked these people got up before sunrise. After all, this was the fashion crowd — the cool kids. Surely their glamorous lives weren’t governed by the same alarm clocks that beckoned us plebeians to our mundane, workaday lives! But alas, they were. It was like that moment as a kid when you realized your dad wasn’t a superhero; he was just a dude with a job and bills and a dumb child who thinks superheroes are real.

By now, the gallon of Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee I had downed before getting on the subway was making its way through me, and I asked James to show me to the bathrooms. I had so much caffeine courage in my bladder, I would have to ask him to shepherd me there two more times after that, like a toddler at Disney World who can’t hold it in. The building we were in was a temporary structure, so apparently there was no plumbing system, which meant no real bathrooms.

 

 

Shortly before the show started, we were able to sit in for the dress rehearsal. I got to watch as Fashion Week icon Kelly Cutrone directed an army of models on where to stand, how to walk, and what to do once they were finished. I snuck onto the runway once the rehearsal ended because I was curious to know what it felt like to be a supermodel, staring into a sea of lights and cameras. Answer? Sheer fucking panic.

Soon after that, the crowd began filing in. I was thrilled when one of the female staffers told James and me that we’d be able to sit in the audience and rub elbows with the elites. She split us up and had us fill in some empty spaces, like they do at the Oscars, only the spot she told me to sit in was actually occupied by some dude who had gotten up to take a picture. His friends gruffly informed me that the seat was taken, and I sheepishly slunk over to another row. Then, shortly before 9:30 a.m., the lights dimmed. A throbbing beat blared over the house speakers as the models emerged.

 

They whizzed through the crowd in all different directions. My head darted back and forth, from left to right, like a frantic, over-stimulated puppy that’s become hopelessly lost in the middle of a busy road. I had no idea what I was supposed to be looking at or paying attention to. Were these outfits good? Bad?

 

And then, as quickly as it had started, the show was over. The entire thing couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes. Ten. Minutes. I had woken up at 5:30 in the morning and schlepped my ass all the way from East Harlem for a ten-minute show. People were clearing out of the event space faster than the three-year-old American Apparel cardigan I was wearing was going out of style. Before I knew it, I was alone.

 

 

Backstage, I reunited with James. We hopped a cab back to the New York Natives office where we had lunch and took a breather. It wasn’t long before we were at the second show of the day, Costello Tagliapietra down in the Meatpacking District. While waiting for an elevator to take us up to the event space, I thought I had my first, real Fashion Week celeb sighting. I was wrong.

 

 

 

And the celeb sightings that actually turned out to be celebs were wasted on me…

 

After about an hour, I settled into my seat, once again ready to enjoy all of the magic that New York Fashion week could muster. It was around this time of the day that word of Joan Rivers’ passing began spreading through the crowd. An uncomfortable feeling of sadness began to undercut the room’s party atmosphere. The man who was not Bootsy Collins leaned over to me.

“Did you hear about Joan Rivers?” he asked, almost rhetorically. I said I had, and remarked on what a huge loss it was. “We’re losing all the wonderful, crazy people in the world,” he lamented. “We’re running out of them. You should take your pants off and run around to make up for it. Just get crazy.”

Um, what?

The models began to walk, mercifully saving me from wherever this conversation was about to go.

 

 

 

At just over five minutes, the show was even shorter than Nicholas K earlier in the day. Just like that, my day at Fashion Week was unceremoniously over. It all happened so quick, I was actually left wanting more. James said hello to some people he knew, and then we followed the lumbering crowd out of the event space and back onto the street.

We took the subway back uptown to the office to finish out what was left of the workday. It was on the train where I began to reflect on the past eight or so hours. Before I embarked on this mission, I was convinced that I would be an awkward mess, that Fashion Week and all of its participants would be too alien of an experience for my body to handle — like trying to breathe sulfur on Venus. I was right, I was a mess, but the surprising thing was that everybody else there was kind of a mess too. The people who go to Fashion Week are just…people. Well-to-do, stylish, making-more-money-than-I-will-ever-see-in-my-lifetime kinds of people, mind you, but people nonetheless. They get up at the ass crack of dawn. They work hard. They use filthy porta-potties. And they make uncomfortable small talk with strangers when a tragic death hits the news.

The truth is, Fashion Week, I had a fun time being inside you, even if it was only for a day. Until we meet again, I offer you this: a few friendly suggestions from your newest patron.