It’s Fashion Week in New York, and more people than would admit to it are looking to see what bizarre costumes are being displayed this year. Most will never be seen again, of course, and good thing, too. And few of us would assume that the staged excess of runway culture could reveal much about the conditions of ordinary life. But the fashion shows, like any other theater, can expose what might be overlooked in our more practical activities.
Photographic coverage of the shows often tries to capture more than the fashions themselves, and perhaps more so this year when so many of the photos are coming from backstage. Too many of those are still contrived (especially in the New York Times series in the online Style section), but others catch more than the producers might want to show.
Elegant, yes; happy, not so much. One feature of this year’s photography is that there are a number of shots that suggest the other side of a model’s life: boredom, loneliness, and, most of all, realizing that you, as opposed to your look, are truly irrelevant. This forlorn waif seems to have learned that lesson all too well. She is surrounded by people who are intensely, passionately focused on her appearance while being completely oblivious to her. They could just as well be working on a mannequin.
This photo grabs me for the same reasons and more. There is a magical quality to the image, as if she were coming to life out of a row of inanimate figures. The truth may be just the opposite: she is being transformed into something inanimate, the line of identical models whose combined presence will wow the crowd precisely because, as in any fashion show, they have become interchangeable objects. This girl looks like she’s had a hard life anyway, and now she’s on the verge of disappearing. She could be appealing to someone to help her escape, but it’s more likely a last look back before she accepts her fate.
Perhaps it’s because she’s even younger than the others, but it could be the drugged expression: this could be a shot from one of those sick horror movies where teens are tortured and dismembered before they die. Again, others work intently on her exterior while, somewhere inside, a person sinks into oblivion. In a few more years, she can audition for another remake of the Stepford Wives, a role she already models.
Or it could come to this. A remarkable image, as she could be anything from a space alien to a woman religious. Or, combining both, the Bene Gesserit from Dune. Somehow the science fiction analogies seem stronger: perhaps it’s the face, which looks like it came out of a labratory for making replicants. (This would be the basic stock prior to individual customization.) Either way, she still has the hunted look of someone who lives inside a body that has to be styled for others. As with many other women trapped by fashion, you hope she might be able to find an unlocked door somewhere and slip away into an easier life.
Photographs by Erin Baiano/New York Times, Seth Wenig/AP, Jennifer Altman/New York Times, Greg Scaffidi/New York Times.