When A Fashion Week Party Isn't the Way Up

Signs a fashion week party isn't very good: 1) It’s hosted by Carmen Electra, 2) Everyone’s first question is what do you do, 3) No one looks particularly fashionable, 4) The bouncer announces celebrities who never arrive, 5) The step and repeat was minuscule but everyone posed in front of it anyway, even after the lights were turned off.

I had no idea what to expect when my friend, a fashion writer, invited me to a Style360 party at the Empire Hotel.

Prior to this year fashion week wasn’t on my radar. I knew of it. I made a point to educate myself on the Fall trends and admire pictures of models engulfed in clothing but that was the extent of our relationship.

As an almost college graduate I’ve made a point to “step up” my culture game (read subscriptions to the New Yorker and Paris review, gallery openings, magazine launches, boutiques drenched in the scent of vintage and all those other pretentiously un-mainstream things). My ears perked up when word of fashion week buzzed through end-of-August humidity.

Unlike years past I actually knew people who were covering fashion week. And of course it met the criteria for my self-devised tour de force of New York’s art and cultural scene.

It began with a text from a new acquaintance, a writer, who is far more culturally plugged in than I. “Want to go to some FW events?”

My reply: “FW?”

Right. I recovered but we didn’t end up going.

I mentioned to another, more seasoned fashion-week-attending colleague that I was proud my recently graduated aforementioned writer friend was going to fashion week events. “Oh, what parties?” she asked.

Parties? Crap. Again I recovered, barley. I’d been referencing presentations and shows not parties which I was learning were the true badges of fashion week.

So, you can imagine how excited said friend and I were (amplified by a few rum and cokes at an overwhelmingly college-y affair) when she got the invitation to a party hosted by Carmen Electra. We RSVP’d. Our water-pong playing companions were impressed.

We planned our glamorously understated outfits- her all black, me overpriced shoes borrowed from my mother and a pants suit. We met to share fries and wine to avoid being on time.

When we did arrive there was a humble line outside. A short, plainly dressed Indian man in front of us tried to ‘sneak in’, causing quite a scene as he tripped over the red velvet rope that delineated who got to go upstairs and who didn’t. That seemed to be a good sign. People were trying to sneak in.

The party was on the Empire Hotel’s rooftop which is actually lovely. As we exited the elevator a large bouncer was charging through the crowd yelling “Lil’ Wayne, Lil’ Wayne” like it was “fire”. It never was quite clear if the Fireman himself was actually coming or if the bouncer just felt compelled to say his name.

As advertised Carmen Electra was there. Overly made up she stood giving an interview to Ok! amidst a cluster of iPhones with humans attached. My friend and I took our obligatory pictures and debated which to Instagram over free i.e. watery cocktails.

I chose the snarky hashtag #hasbeen to caption my Carmen Electra picture. I didn't want my devoted followers to think I was taking this too seriously.

The place wasn't full. There were a few models, identifiable by height. A fair amount of older (clearly rich but in that New Jersey kind of way) couples, a number of 20 to 30 something’s and a few people sporting Nicki Minaj like get ups.

There was a palpable feeling of want in the room. Perhaps it was the up and down everyone gave each other: a sort of modified Friday night club checkout (are you worth my time?) with a professional twist (are you someone important?).

My friend and I walked around looking for anyone interesting to talk to. We met two younger women who instantly asked what we did. They lost interest though when our answers weren't relevant to them.

We went outside for a cigarette and were offered a light by a strikingly good looking, well dressed younger man. We sat down on a plush cushion nearby and watched him. He wasn’t quite a model. Designer maybe?

I stood up and asked him “what do you think?” That’s all I could really think of to say. I didn't want to ask what he did (a faux paux few seem to recognize as such anymore). He smiled, not missing a beat, “well what’s happening next?”

“We aren’t the right people to be asking,” my friend and I conceded. His answer pretty much summed up the night.

He was a menswear designer from Iowa, hungry, trying to make the most of his few days in the big city. There was unsaid recognition between the three of us that this party was decidedly lame but none of us were connected enough to know of a better one.

“Sorry we can't help you,” I grinned, apologizing as we left, partially being kind and partially smug that I wasn't worried about where to go next. I do hope he found his party though.

My friend and I left before 11:30. A good choice.

Despite the fact that I wasn't swept off my feet by one of fashion week’s infamous soirees I had an amazing night. My friend and I talked and laughed the entire time people watching, discussing our careers, enjoying the space and of course taking pictures. Right before we left I glanced over to where Carmen had been standing.

“Should we take a photo in front of that thing?” I joked pointing to the step and repeat. “When you deserve to have your photo taken they will take it,” she said.

She couldn't be more right.

I hate the particularly New York way in which people assess one another. It feels dirty (a recent article in New York magazine proves it). Clubs, bars, restaurants, parties; it happens everywhere and stems from our unbridled desire for stepping stones to the top.

But if you can avoid stepping on others in your rise to greatness do. I'm not discrediting the importance of networking I'm just saying it isn't worth wasting your time playing a part you don't have yet. Instead go out and get it. Value the people you meet for their content not form and you’ll likely establish a more rewarding relationship long term.

I am not above it myself. It’s hard to resist. Especially when you are young and hungry and trying to become something. But what my friend said about deserving recognition stuck with me. I realized as we left that I'd rather spend my time doing things that earn people’s respect and attention, not trying to get it by looking good or having my name on a list.

It is of course fun to go to such events. By all means get out there and enjoy New York, desperation and all. But remember putting on airs won’t define you or benefit you much in the long run. When you deserve to be seen you will be.