Fashion Week, The Cheap Seats

Molly Young reports…for n+1:

I. Round one: Z Zegna

Like ants in a colony, the men and women in town for Fashion Week have thin black exoskeletons, specialized social functions and valuable cargo to transport. A swarm of these people has formed on a September afternoon in front of the West Village showroom where Z Zegna will exhibit its Spring-Summer 2009 collection. I don’t know what Z Zegna is, apart from an Italian menswear line whose website has an alphabet theme. Words that begin with “S” scoot across the introduction page and fade into a photograph of a guy on a motorcycle—Seduction. Sporty. Style. A press release I downloaded opened with a paean to the expected letter Z: “The ultimate letter, the most distinguished of the alphabet.” An invitation to the show is sandwiched between two candy bars in my purse, like a boarding pass. In terms of Fashion Week hierarchies, I get the feeling that Z Zegna is Greyhound to Zac Posen’s Amtrak and Marc Jacobs’s Concorde.

But an invitation is an invitation. From what I can tell by eavesdropping, the people mingling outside the showroom are representatives from department stores, boutiques, online retailers, and press, all smoking and speaking different languages. An abandoned kombucha bottle is wedged in a decorative shrub. Malcolm Gladwell walks past on his way somewhere else and looks inquisitively at the gathering. Ah! My totem! I see Mr. Gladwell frequently in the West Village and consider him, like a shooting star or a rainbow, to be a sign of good luck.

Ten minutes after the show is scheduled to begin people wrap up their conversations and move inside, flashing invites to a team of assistants in black outfits. Stiffly upright men posted by the door hold trays of water bottles that have had the Z Zegna label glued to their midsections. A concrete ramp leads into a bright cavern with seats set up like bleachers alongside a white runway, which is arranged in a complicated Tetris shape. (This is not what I was led to expect by Project Runway.) There is tuneless thumping music beneath the sound of “darling” pronounced in a dozen accents. The smack of kisses landing on cheeks reminds me of asterisks.