Monday, September 13, 2004

Conformity: Outside, Looking In

It was so beautiful last night when I left for home that I paused outside the museum to admire the sky and to enjoy the chorus of cicadas. It was a rare, perfect evening in NYC. The velvety sky contrasted with the private party taking place inside the planetarium, heralded by bright lights, loud music and delicious smells that traveled throughout the museum, making my heart quicken and my tummy rumble expectantly as I walked down the broad staircases from my office. I peered over the railing at the party in the Hall of the Universe below. Oddly, this was the gloomiest group of people I've ever seen in the museum, none smiled but all were impeccably dressed in nearly identical clothing and shoes. It was obvious that my garb would betray me immediately to this crowd if I tried to crash the party. My stomach grumbled again. I moved on.

Last night's party was part of New York City's "Fashion Week" and was attended by many big names in the fashion and entertainment worlds. Fashion Week in New York City is an eight-day event where the best American and even a few European designers show off next spring's clothing collections. Based on what I saw last night, next spring's fashions are limited to either black super-mini stretch dresses or ruffled chiffon dresses made from bright but headache-inducing color combinations such as fuschia, orange and teal, accompanied by life-threateningly high spiked heels and puffy red lips.

Curious, I stood among the Paparazzi (some of whom looked rather unsavory) and the gossip columnists behind the roped-off entryway and watched the hullabaloo. The spectacle and the energy were truly amazing. I missed Kate Moss's grand entrance into the building by mere minutes, but I did see Richie-Rich, Fabian (50s singer and teen-age heart throb) who wrapped an arm around a woman named Gillian (no idea what her last name is), Deborah Cox (rhythm and blues singer), Kenneth Cole (designer), Linda Wells (editor of Allure), Jemma Kidd (former model, now famous make-up artist), Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (aka; the Olsen Twins, who don't look like twins), Serena and Venus Williams (who also don't look like twins), Jennifer Lopez (whom the Paparazzi never referred to as "J-Lo") and her boytoy-of-the-month, Mark Anthony, and a flock of sleek and gorgeous women with names like Skye, Isabella, Tama, and Iman. Oh, and Lisa. I can't forget to mention Lisa.

I don't follow fashion or Hollywood trends so I didn't know what most of these famous people look like, but the Paparazzi were surprisingly generous about filling in my gaping cultural deficiencies. But even the most casual observer knew when a star and her entourage arrived because they were invariably greeted by a vast shout, accompanied by an exploding supernova of lights, as they walked into the building. Despite being nearly blinded by flashbulbs, the stars nearly always acquiesced to the photographers' shouted requests to "look to my voice" or "over the shoulder" or "just one more". Some stars looked bored (J-Lo) or cranky (Linda Wells) or indifferent (Kenneth Cole) while others were gracious (Venus and Serena Williams) and a few engaged in playful banter with the photographers (Deborah Cox).

I was surprised at the number and variety of beautiful people who entered the building, unappreciated, unseen. Many were comparably attractive, or even moreso, than the stars themselves. These were the fashionistas, I was told. Obviously, an invited guest of any fashion week show must possess either money or beauty, preferably both, and this is particularly true of the women. Even though most people have little problem identifying wealth, beauty is more difficult to define, unless confronted with Donald Trump, the epitome of physical and spiritual repulsiveness and decrepitude.

But if one believes the premise that fashion is serious art that simultaneously reflects and challenges current social values, what does this Fashion Week event reveal about us as a society? According to the old saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" -- unless of course, you attended Fashion Week. In that case, beauty, like fashion, conforms to a rigid standard dictated by the industry. Even designer Steven Cox commented on this phenomenon recently in a New York Times interview when he observed that "there are lots of beautiful people out there and people who are stunning in a variety of ways ... but for some reason, the marketplace is narrowed so completely that they [fashion models, and presumably everyone else] are all beautiful in exactly the same way."

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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

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