I arrived at the Exit Art cultural center in Hell’s Kitchen for Rolando Santana’s spring/summer 2012 fashion show a bit after 6 p.m. last Wednesday, wrongly assuming that New Yorkers would never arrive exactly on the hour. The queue stretched round the block, so I found my way to the very back. Standing in line, twenty-somethings dressed to the nines looked me up and down, as if calculating if I was of their ilk.
I don’t know what their assessment was, but I relished the fact that I was on a sort of covert operation. Like the models I met who disguise their teenage selves with heavy makeup and styling, becoming ethereal women on the catwalk, my 17-year-old persona melts away when I carry a reporter’s notebook. It’s the story of my life.
Hank Stuever, a Washington Post TV critic, once told me that part of being a good reporter is learning to “hang out unobtrusively” and take in a scene before jumping into an interview. So, I absentmindedly scrolled through my emails on my phone while listening to the conversations taking place around me.
They spoke of the big-name designers’ shows at Lincoln Center — Anna Sui, Elie Tahari, and Rodarte were tossed around — gushing about the rich silk jacquard and chiffon and taffeta, using words like “minimalism,” “luxe,” and “romantic.” It’s a parlance particular to the fashion industry. I am by no means fluent, but I have watched enough seasons of “Project Runway” to get by. Yet, I think they still spotted me as a rookie. If my artless youth didn’t give me away, I concede my by-the-book style is perhaps too commercial for the urban-cool crowd.
It was chaos inside the dimly-lit showroom. I held up my phone with my RSVP and seat assignment to the ushers, passing by photographers seated at the end of the catwalk. I was second row, middle of the runway. The room went black and the conversation faded. The music pulsed and bright lights illuminated the runway as the first model sashayed past me in a gauzy sage-green silk sheath.
Over the course of my work for the Greenwich Time, I have had many out-of-body experiences where I invariably pause in the middle of witnessing something cool and wonder how on earth I came to be there. It happens frequently in a town with such a concentration of powerful people. Sitting in the shadows beside the runway was one of those mind-boggling moments.
It was a surprisingly brief, but magnificent affair, over within the course of fifteen minutes. Rolando Santana took his bow and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. From there, my work began — accosting the designer himself, spectators, googly-eyed fashion students, and models in their civilian garb. Man, this job is rough.
Check out my coverage of the show.