After my last blog post, I felt like there was a lot left unsaid. Here's the third fold to my New York Fashion Week experience.
It’s nearly impossible to stand in the center of Times Square without drowning in the glamour of fashion. It’s splashed across hundreds of glittering screens like lightning-charged waves crashing over rocks before a storm. Pink feathered jackets, diamond-set watches, and expensive cars; seductive smiles and scintillating eyes that look down from the screen and seem to say “I have it all.”
Wave after wave pounds image after image of opulent parties, spotlight action, and a lifestyle that sets a standard that drenches the viewers lungs with obeisance.
Only three blocks away, in the madness of New York Fashion Week, the truth is being revealed. The same sultry eyes projected on screens and paraded down catwalks reveal an emptiness — a thirst.
They work hard every day. Whether it’s the designer finalizing sketches at 2 a.m. or the model being poked and prodded in a hair and makeup chair for six hours, the glamorous pull of fashion is not all that the glossy surface presents. So many times, it seems, people in the fashion world are thrown head first into the current, living for the gratification, creating in order to satisfy that desire which gives them purpose.
Competition is thick, and so what if you have to clamber over someone's back in order to get where you want to go? Drive. Passion. Creativity. But also, self. When thrown into full survival mode, in a world of go go go, a world where the three to four hours of the day that aren’t being consumed by work are filled with parties and addiction, it’s easy to just keep drowning in this societal model of “I have it all.”
And addiction? It’s not heroin or cocaine. It’s workaholism and self obsession.
It’s this addiction and darkness that leaves a person alone at the end of the day, when the show is over, the party is over, the storm is over, with no one there to hold their sobbing head. What good is any of it? Does one just go to bed to wake up the next day to work harder? Faster? Better? Thirsting for that next “thing” — drinking in applause, promotion, likes, and followers. If I get there, can that gaping hole be filled?
In previous posts I have written a brief look into my experience with New York Fashion Week. In September I was given an opportunity to tag along with a group of industry professionals from all over the world who are part of an organization called Beauty Arise. Their team dresses fashion weeks across the world, spreading love and light to an industry where both are lacking.
In my previous posts, I touched on the surface level of the work that I was able to be a part of with their team.
Today I’d like to delve a little deeper into the full picture.
“I can’t do this.”
A trembling model with eyes as sharp as the bones protruding from her hips grabs one of the dressers by the hand. She holds onto the silence before sputtering, “I can’t get my shoe on. And if I don’t wear these shoes I’ll lose my job. They chose me for this look. I have to do this.”
The dwarfed dresser kneels down to wrestle the scrappy sandal, “You know, you are what is beautiful on that runway. It’s your gracious smile that sells the clothes, not the shoes.”
The errant shoe surrenders under her hands and slips into place. The model takes a deep breath and smiles at her dresser. “You know, I think it’s going to be ok,” she says, standing a little taller before dashing down the catwalk.
Down the hall, a frantic designer grabs another dresser by the arm. “Come with me.” He pulls her full speed to his team’s dressing area.
“I need you with me. Wherever you are there is peace.”
So the dresser stayed at his side, with him clutching her hand tightly throughout the shows, silent, but calm through the crashing chaos all around.
Off to the side a model sits on the floor, crying in the arms of another dresser. She is 16 years old. She left her home in Russia to join a modeling agency that planted her here in New York. Everyday people tell her how good she looks, how beautiful she is, and how much they want to be her. But they don’t know her favorite color. They don’t know the girl who spent her evenings walking in the woods with her favorite dog, memorizing the songs of birds. They don’t know that she Skypes her baby sister every night to tell her how much she loves her.
Here, where she has just finished her third look for the day, where she has been measured and informed that her perfect 22 inch waist is now a 22.5, where her identity is being handed to her on a clothes hanger, she lives for the quenching approval of others.
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
And here, she weeps. As one of the dressers holds onto her frail frame, asking her about her true identity, listening to her share her love for black and white movies and a card game her grandfather taught her; listening to the things that don’t make her pretty. Reminding her of the things that make her beautiful.
It’s like each dresser had a light in their hands, and people gravitated toward the warmth. They didn’t know why, but this light is what hinted at something that had the capacity to quench.
One day, we stood outside the shows with a hair and makeup station, where the licensed members of the team gave free touch-ups and makeovers to people waiting in line or just passing by. We simply sat with bloggers, models, and T.V. hosts, using our gifts to just love on people.
One woman, a T.V. host for one of the major news channels in China came up for a touch-up. Her nose was high at first, and her shoulders heavy with the current of insecurities and anxiety that seemed to flow in the air. But as one of the girls, Brittany, worked, she got the woman to share bits of her story. As the onion-like layers of the woman’s stern shell started to peel aside, I could see her eyes soften. Brittany just listened to her, genuinely caring about what she had to say.
And that was more powerful than any words could ever be.
Throughout the week, we dressed dozens of models, assisted those in need, and spread encouragement, but that wasn’t the point.
If that were the case, the people we talked to would wake up the next morning unchanged, only to go on to the next show with the same false sense of identity and thirst for something real.
What we did was build relationships. We poured out love, surrendering our vulnerability and our pride, in hopes of making a difference. We wrote letters to people we didn’t know, praying for the words to give hope to people that needed it most.
To the 90 percent of people reading my blog, to those who aren’t actually in fashion, the answer seems easy. “Just stop using skinny models,” you may contend. “Just celebrate beauty in a way that is healthy.”
Fashion is fashion, and art is art. You can’t regulate it. You can’t restrict it. And you can’t tell the artist what he is to create. Industry-standard models provide an aesthetically “perfect” element to the clothing that viewers want to see, whether they will admit it or not. To the designer, this canvas for clothing is what best displays the design. To the buyers, this canvas is stark and clean and keeps attention upon the garment.
Am I saying this is right?
But we live in broken world where what is “right” is only set by a moral standard. And in a broken world where there is no God, there is no Grand Designer to set the bar, business is business.
As someone with a heart for fashion, but a passion for Jesus, it is not my place to waltz in and say, “This is wrong.”
As a scrawny 17-year-old, I have no power in changing the aesthetic demands of the industry. But I love a big God.
The industry needs to change, yes. But it doesn’t happen through rules or any form of prohibition. If one wants to make a difference, one can’t just splash in with big ideas and even bigger mouth. In order to change the industry, you must first infiltrate it.
You must flood it. But with genuine love for the people, and a never-ending flow of true, and living water.
And that’s what we did — not as fashion businesspeople fighting for a leg up, but as humans.