For all its glitz and glamour, Fashion Week can be a pretty ugly scene for those seasoned in the process.
Beautiful clothes, gorgeous models, endless parties, celebrity-filled front rows and flamboyant personalities are what the world has come to know when they hear the words fashion week. The pageantry that takes place twice a year gives New Yorkers a shot of decadent escapism, as many flock to Lincoln Center and other venues around the city just to get a glimpse of the famously fashionable — some hoping to be photographed and discovered themselves.
What people don’t see are the moments that just aren’t pretty. The fights for invites and seating. The show crashers. The falling models. The plethora of unbalanced personalities with an obscene amount of self-importance. The freebie-scavengers who descend on goodie bags and open bars with the speed and lazer focus of a hawk snapping up a field mouse. The obvious look of desperation from someone hoping to be photographed or filmed in their most revealing outfit — which they’ve worn on a day baring 30 degree temperatures and snowfall. For some people, fashion week is the adult version of prom, and many are still waiting for their dance.
Overall, the week was a boring mix of lackluster collections and D-list celebrities making the rounds because everyone worth seeing was in California for the Grammy Awards. It did, however, take an unusually dark turn when this particular week was marred by not one, but two major deaths. The death of Zelda Kaplan, a woman who went from being a suburban housewife to a champion of women’s rights in African countries was jarring not only because she was a seemingly ageless 95-year old woman who outlasted 20-somethings on the club scene — but the fact that she literally checked out in the front row of Joanna Mastroianni’s fashion show. My colleague and I watched with curiosity and later with horror as we witnessed the guards race across the live streaming screen and seconds later return with the hoisted body of Ms. Kaplan. We’d only learn later her condition was fatal. It was a fitting exit for someone whose life was devoted to fashion and fanfare.
While Kaplan’s passing certainly was tragic, it was the death of Whitney Houston that sent ripples around not just the fashion community, but the world over. When I first heard of her death, I was hoping it was one of the many false deaths posted on Twitter. But once CNN and the Associated Press confirmed it, my heart sank and all hopes were effectively dashed.
In a way very similar to Michael Jackson, Whitney’s life had become more scrutinized from a flawed human perspective over the years, and she was often spoken about as a punchline more than as the incredible artist that she was. Admittedly, my thoughts as of late had mostly been her unfortunate public appearances — the damning interviews, the awful reality show, and the unflattering shots of her looking too thin or sickly — but at the core, we all wanted Whitney to make a comeback.
Like every little black girl growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I’d do my best Whitney impression, belting her hits from the top of my lungs and singing “The Greatest Love of All” with my school chorus. When “The Bodyguard” came out, you couldn’t escape the song “I Will Always Love You”, or resist the temptation of trying to hit that note the way she did… as only she could. We couldn’t wait to exhale with her and Angela Bassett in “Waiting To Exhale” or stop playing that soundtrack. She was that spiritual sister who brought church to every performance and we were her devoted followers. We grew up with her. Her songs were the soundtrack to our lives.
Like a lot of people, I felt so connected to Whitney through her music that we blurred the fantasy of the ingenue songbird with the grown woman facing personal demons, who ultimately made extraordinarily self-destructive decisions. When she chose to marry Bobby Brown, the world collectively gasped and hoped she’d come to her senses. Years of drugs, domestic abuse, fidelity issues, and publicly embarrassing episodes would ensue before she finally parted ways with Brown, but as much as we’d like to point the finger at him for steering her in the wrong direction, the awful truth is Whitney made the choice to stay with him. We can all say she deserved better, and should have been with someone who elevated her as opposed to bringing her down, but how many of us actually practice what we preach? I’m sure those who did say it was likely met with a strong and possibly expletive-laden response.
Her death still doesn’t feel real, but if anything the last week has taught us is to be grateful for the life we have and never take our blessings for granted. Her voice was a gift from God that was ravaged by drug use, and her determination to stand by her decision to be with Brown overshadowed the amazing career and reputation she had built before doing so. I cried for Whitney, but now I pray for her daughter and mother, who must now face the devastating loss of a mother and child gone too soon.
For the rest of the world, we have lost a true artist who didn’t rely on theatrics or barely there outfits to keep the audience enraptured. She simply sang like the angel that she has now become.
It’s ironic that a week in which the main goal is to focus on newness… mostly championed and honored retro looks, artists whose style favors said retro period (Adele), ageless doyennes and a diva who showed us the greatest love of all.
Clearly some things never go out of style…