If you would go back in time and ask high-school Junior Lilly Gelman what she wanted to do in life, her answer would have been clear and confident: “I want to work in fashion.” That answer has changed and shifted many times over the years for different reasons, but buried underneath other interests and commitments, my passion for style and design still remains within me. It comes out at different moments in life, and last week was one of them. My roommate Alyssa and I spent an evening volunteering for a runway producer during New York Fashion Week, and at that moment of opportunity, the eleventh grade dreamer inside of me was smiling from ear to ear.
We were given very cryptic instructions―show up at 2pm and wear all black. So we did; and we spent ten hours running errands and helping set up for the three different fashion shows that were being produced that evening. The scene at the site of the show was a window into the backstage world of fashion. We witnessed everything from the models’ hair and makeup regimens, to the dressing and redressing of each one until their outfits were deemed runway ready. And while the result was as glamorous as one would have expected―stunning clothing created with intricate designs, bright lighting accentuating the exquisite colors and fitting music to give each show a theatrical effect―I could not help but be put off by the entire event.
There was something so inherently immodest, materialistic and superficial about the evening. There was so much stress and pressure conveyed through the harsh attitudes of the designers and producers, and I just didn’t see the point. The models were being all being dressed in one room. They were not given any privacy to change, but passed around from designer, to makeup artist to hairdresser like a mannequin in a window display. The models were reduced to nothing: they didn’t matter as a people, but just as a means to get the outfit down the runway and back. I have imagined what it would be like to walk that catwalk countless times, but that night, I pitied the group of young men and women who were paraded in front of me.
And yet, as all of these thoughts were running through my head, I also appreciated the beauty of what was going on around me. To designers, this is an art. Each piece is like a painting, except instead of working on a canvas, they are working on the human body. They are working with something that breathes and moves and that has curves and limbs as opposed to being square and flat. There is an added complexity to their work because their base is fluid―the art needs to move along with the person. What was done on that runway really was a majestic feat, and the outcome was beautiful and graceful. While the person as an individual was no longer distinguishable from the article of clothing that they wore, their body became part of the artwork, fusing together to create a masterpiece.
Working with the body in this way is tricky, and when working with fashion, an industry that is so focused on the exterior, it can be easy to forget that there is an interior as well. Fashion is an art that deals with people, making it different from any other. To be able to take that into account throughout the entire process is a laudable feat, which I did not witness that evening. Somewhere along the way, the respect was lost amongst the trivial details of production, and that is a real shame. Fashion as an art has priceless value; it is a way for people to literally wear their hearts on their sleeves. However, as a business it is objectifying and disappointing. So I guess it is time to kiss my eleventh grade dream goodbye.