Fashion Week hasn’t even started yet, and I’m already Gucci roadkill.
It happened in Soho, while trying — and failing — to fix my iPhone. Somewhere between the Apple Store and the sidewalk, a flock of teens with selfie sticks and fashionably matte lips knocked me over. To be fair, it wasn’t intentional: They were so focused on their street-style “squad goals,” they didn’t notice they were on an actual street.
It’s a tiny harbinger of what’s to come in three days’ time, when runways unfurl across the city and Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and more show us what we’ll soon be wearing. Lately, New York Fashion Week is also about the street-style scene, where mobs of model wannabes will descend, locust-like, on our city’s most Instagram-friendly intersections.
They’ll brandish branded bucket bags. They’ll sport heels higher than a ’90s supermodel on a coke binge.
And they’ll try super hard to achieve the new American Dream: making tons of cash in exchange for their narcissism.
That’s because these days, celebrities aren’t the only ones paid to wear designer labels. Women’s Wear Daily reports the most famous fashion bloggers — like former models, such as Italy’s Chiara Ferragni, aka “The Blonde Salad” — make $20,000 just to feature a lipstick or bag on her Instagram page.
Instagram star Kristina Bazan, a dead ringer for Tiffani-Amber Thiessen followed by millions worldwide, inked a 2015 deal with L’Oreal hair care that’s reported to be worth over $1 million. And America’s own first family, the Kardashian-Wests, are reportedly living in a $24.5 million Chelsea penthouse for free.
In lieu of rent? They’re tagging @airbnb on social media. With all the money — not to mention free clothes, beauty products, fitness perks and real estate — at stake in the influencer market, it’s no wonder people are trying to cash in on clicks instead of talent.
But at what cost? A lot more than the $2.97 that I spent on Band-Aids after getting knocked over.
When the fashion industry funds virtual “hearts” instead of real soul, we send a message to future generations that looking pretty is the same thing as creating beauty and building a “lifestyle brand” is the same thing as having a life. That’s just not true.
Let’s use design legend Diane von Furstenberg as an example. The wrap-dress pioneer has “just” 1.5 million Instagram followers — meanwhile, teen YouTube sensation Bethany Mota has five times the fans. But although she’s a kind heart with a magnetic personality, Ms. Mota isn’t a feminist trailblazer or a fashion icon. She’s not shaping pop culture and modern aesthetics. She’s not creating thousands of jobs for American workers and mentoring the dozens of professional women who work in her office. And she’s not the only face of success in the style industry — even though, yes, her face is very pretty.
When droves of teens and college students invade Manhattan looking to “be famous” instead of “make famous things,” we all lose out. Fashion Week stops being the inspiring, incredible juggernaut for future style stars worldwide. (Unless you’re Danielle Bernstein, the 23-year-old shoe addict whose rate for a single social-media post is $15,000. Then I bet it’s super-inspiring and incredible.)
Of course, we can’t blame Bernstein and Co. for seizing an opportunity and running (in heels) with it. Personally, I’m awestruck by these women’s self-possession, even more than their material possessions. They’re smart, dedicated and motivated to create their own empires. But what do those empires stand for? “Being yourself” — as long as “yourself” is wearing Chanel? “Living life to the fullest” with travel adventures funded by brands?
“Creating inspiration” with products you’re paid to wear is a great gig, but how long can it last? And what happens when the Balenciaga bubble pops and the aftermath is millions of followers — and no designers, artists, CEOs, activists or engineers?
It’s an exciting time for the industry, and a lucrative one — last year, the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress announced that New York Fashion Week makes our city $900 million a year in revenue.
But with great style comes great responsibility. We’ve got to reward creativity instead of makeup contouring. We’ve got to supplement the posing with pioneering innovation.
And we’ve got to stop knocking over cranky fashion editors like me just to get the perfect street-style shot. (After all, I’m not an influencer. If I go down, Cynthia Rowley’s not going to make me a customized body cast. #Tragic.)
This Fashion Week, let’s enjoy selfies and street-style shots responsibly. Take a couple, then turn our phones — and our rapt attention — to the artists and creators around us. They’re funding the city and creating more jobs. They’re fueling our imaginations. And even if they’re not #famous, they’re something even better: New York’s Fashion Finest. #Goals, indeed.