Beauty

Front-row Follies

Tim Blanks on the cult of the front-row starlet


Front-row Follies
Tim Blanks on the cult of the front-row starlet

This might be a stop-me-before-I-kill-again moment, but the thought crossed my mind as I watched a flying V of bodyguards easing Jessica Simpson through one of the tents at Bryant Park—the primary venue for the bun-fight that is New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week—that fashion shows have devolved into a place where stars come to twinkle. It’s an uncharitable notion, but the yogurt of human kindness runs thick in my veins when I’m compelled to contemplate an Unidentifiable Famous Object being liberally ladled with media attention. I’m using the word “media” quite lightly in this context—what I really mean is a pack of scrawny paps who’ll take a picture of anyone they see someone else snapping. 

There was a moment when the confluence of fame and fashion seemed glamorous, largely because the gloss of celebrity was conferred on self-aware individuals who were more than capable of sucking up the spotlight and spitting it back in an even more splendid form. I’m talking about Cindy, Christy, Naomi, Gianni Versace, Canada’s own mythic Linda and all the dazzling image-makers who danced attendance on them (I could run with that list for another hour or so). The trail they blazed was so brilliantly lit that even the most errant cave troll—and her stylist and her publicist and her mother and her sister and her best friend from high school, etc.—eventually found their way down it. Like any devalued currency, glamour lost its clout in a tidal wave of tawdry red-carpet appearances and manipulated media moments.

How many of New York’s front rows have I studied in a futile quest for illumination as to exactly who it is that the flashbulbs are making such a fuss of? Soap star? Law & Order extra? At least I recognized Victoria Beckham when she showed up early enough at Oscar de la Renta’s show (early? She was the only person there!) to draw every lens in the house. The ensuing primp-fest was almost terrifying in its robotic intensity. The face-off between Posh and the paps played out as a polarizing moment for press personages such as The New York Times’ formidable fashion critic Cathy Horyn, who promptly placed Marc Jacobs’ (equally polarizing) show as a riposte to the overtly sexualized celebrity culture on behalf of which Victoria Beckham was performing ambassadorial duties while she trawled around the New York shows. I’m not saying I got Marc’s moment, but I understood where Cathy was coming from. How tired are we of these flimsy tabloid creations who have wedged themselves so effectively into our daily lives that they’ve taken on enough flesh-and-blood substance to rival women of genuine achievement. I love Tina Fey. I love her even more because she was prepared to be so vocal about Paris Hilton’s guest stint on Saturday Night Live. According to Fey, Hilton was as dumb as she seems—and she gloried in her idiocy. (The fact that she’s doing it all the way to the bank isn’t likely to put her out of our misery any time soon—still, who said there was any justice in life?)

But, on behalf of the hapless fashion industry, I wish I could tell these creatures of the half-light of fame to twinkle somewhere else—or at the very least earn their real estate in the front row. Look good, sound smart—and lose the bodyguards. Winona Ryder managed to do all three when she descended on Alberta Ferretti’s show in Milan. Hollywood knows her as a star who could do with a recharge, and Winona decided to plug herself into the right scene.