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Hype Dreams

New York Fashion Week got under way this weekend with a slew of shows from a diverse group of designers, but the fun has just begun.

NEW YORK — “I’m Paris Hilton!”

The petulant child within the peroxided It Girl stamped her foot in dismay at the Heatherette show on Friday night, proclaiming the piqued obvious to an editor who had dared to reclaim his seat from her Chanel jacket and handbag. Paris, it seems, is what passes for a celebrity this season, and as far as she’s concerned, that affords her certain seat-stealing privileges.

The showtime frenzy in New York has reached fever pitch, yet one had the feeling this weekend that that fever has reached the desperate stage. With fashion now viewed as a major spectator sport, there’s no escaping the jacked-up, trumped-up coverage: While once upon a time only the traditional fashion press much cared, the media has now become its own story, with seemingly thousands of film crews along with the city tabloids and all of those newly launched publications vying for attention — and material.

But is there enough material to go around, and enough general interest to sustain it? The big story of the weekend was the pandering over B-, C- and below-list celebrities, which suggests that maybe fashion just isn’t quite the spectator sport everybody thinks it is. Perhaps the general press, its readers and viewers find the notion of girls coming and going on a runway over and over again a tad, well, boring. Hence the manufactured frenzy. And on the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that. Fashion is, after all, an industry of fabrication and self-creation: You are what you wear. But this season, the frenzy is a flop. Enter the B-listers.

We could wax sociological and muse on the nature of celebrity, but hey, this is not the Margaret Mead Centennial. For the less lofty purposes of fashion, what constitutes celebrity? Patti LaBelle at Fushá, of course, even if her companion Ben Vereen seemed out of place. Hot actor Ben Chaplin at Gen Art? Sure. How about “X-Men 2″ Iceman (Shawn Ashmore)? Regis-free Kelly Ripa at Sean John? Okay. But is a fourth-place Olympic ice skater (Sasha Cohen) a celebrity? How about a former troubled skater-turned-skatewear designer (Oksana Baiul)? A “Bachelorette” cast-off (Russell Woods — not the one arrested for drug possession at the airport)? From the frenzy these people created over the weekend, ‘yes, yes and yes.’

But isn’t the week supposed to be about the clothes? What a quaint notion. Just look at the Sean John debacle. Put it this way: If P. Diddy runs his business the way he runs his fashion shows, there might be an out-of-business sign hanging outside of chez Combs soon. Of course, this was the must-go show of the weekend, even before word got out that the extravaganza cost $2 million. That’s right. Two million. Yet when guests arrived at Cipriani on 42nd Street they found one of those hideous mob scenes at the door, with P. Diddy’s friends admitted sans problem, while the people who go to fashion shows for a living were left out in the cold, and sometimes physically restrained from entering. Later, it was explained that during a late rehearsal, the production “didn’t work,” and at the scheduled 8 p.m. showtime, the techies were trying to sort it all out.

When people finally got in, the pushing and shoving moved right along with them as camera crews and reporters jockeyed for position, often body-checking each other in attempts to get to the likes of Mary J. Blige, there, she said, “looking to buy” from P. Diddy’s new women’s offerings, and Macy Gray, who indulged herself in a ridiculous diva routine — showing up for a Sean John show and then shielding her face from the cameras. Osbourne sisters Aimee and Kelly, the latter looking cute in Chanel earmuffs, were more accommodating, posing dutifully for the flashing hordes. Then there were pregnant Kelly Ripa with her husband Mark Consuelos, Elisabeth Rohm from “Law & Order,” Samantha Cole, Guy Oseary, the ubiquitous Zac Posen, P. Diddy’s mom Janice Combs, and Kal Ruttenstein, trying to fit in in his white spangled sweats.

And what did they see? An illuminated transparent runway for which P. Diddy should pay royalties to his friend Donatella Versace; a teched-up video screen that projected a montage of sea, space, blue skies, prize-fighters at work, bad girls at play and military helicopters swirling ominously over a desert. They also saw a company sorely in need of boundaries, and of design help. The men’s lineup ranged from appealing to studied. But as for Combs’ much-anticipated entry into women’s wear, here he seemed to have cribbed not from Donatella, but from the now-defunct house of Mugler, with a lineup of eight sexed-up, scary black costumes — bandeau bikini with ruffled posterior, utility jumpsuit unzipped so a girl can work her wares, frightful cutaway evening frock — each and every one an amusing travesty.

But then, P. Diddy did have some last-minute staffing issues. He knows the benefit of a good stylist — or thought he did, until one dared to offer an opinion. Combs had recruited Lori Goldstein, one of the most respected and highest-ticket stylists in the business, to work on his eight women’s looks. Apparently, in a working session, he made it known that he wanted to show a particular boot. Goldstein responded in the negative, noting that “it looked like old J.Lo.” She then excused herself and went to the ladies room. Upon her return, P. Diddy reportedly had one of his lieutenants relieve her of her duties, and that was that. Oh, for what might have been.

Kenneth Cole’s celebs usually hail from the political arena, but this season, he did not call on those pals, leaving Oksana (who said she was seeking out inspiration for her skating outfits) to rule his front row. Perhaps that was by design, no pun intended, because he wisely left his typical politicking off the runway as well, peppering his show notes with such corny maxims as “People who live in glass houses should get dressed in the basement” or “Where there’s a will, there’s a runway.”

Happily, for fall, Cole, who once had his own ill-fated romance with editorial-type shows, opted for the low-key, reality approach, and it resulted in one of his better collections, one built around a bold, graphic motif delivered with refreshing sweetness. He went mod Sixties/Marlo Thomas early Seventies with a soupçon of Marcia Brady. It looked simple but interesting, perfect for the racy schoolgirl type, the kind of girl who wants to be hip without breaking curfew. She will love those daring plays of black and white for little skirts and mini jumpers, often revved up with faux-dangerous zippers, and prepped up with that splash of Kelly green. And when she’s really feeling frisky, her silver go-go boots will shine enough to encite the envy of the head cheerleader.

Heatherette’s Richie Rich and Traver Rains design for the girl who gets kicked off the cheerleading squad for insubordination and excessive flash. Spoofing the chic Faye Dunaway thriller, their show’s theme was “The Eyes of Heatherette,” which they packed with visual puns via prints of cameras and an eye motif made up of Swarovski crystals. And of course, they segued into a mad romp through clubland, including a peekaboo dress in navy and white flowers, topped off with a knife-skewered, heart-shaped hat reading “You Die.” They also upped the ante on fake celebrities with a star turn by the girl who inspired their last runway show, Hello Kitty herself.

At Gen Art, the audience “stars” delivered more thrills than the runway. And that’s a shame, because those thrills came partly courtesy of Shauntay Hinton, Vanessa Marie Semrowe and Izabella Miko and Layla. Who? That’s Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, the “Coyote Ugly” actress and her doggie, settled in along with the previously mentioned X-Man, Olympian (who showed up with her equally adorable sister) and “Bachelorette” boy, who caused such a stir, you might have thought George Clooney had just walked in.

On the runway, the view was as eclectic. The bright spot came early, with Wenlan Chia’s Twinkle by Wenlan, who despite a Balenciaga moment and some Yohji goings on with hats and scarves, did a delightful turn with cozy layering. Diego Binetti followed with his Binetti collection, an over-designed take on Eighties Tough Chic with an au sauvage crosscurrent. This show took a wrong turn even before two male models, greasy Tarzan-types in shearling loincloths, dragged a poor, frightened husky down the runway. Victor de Souza, who’s been customizing his avant-garde pieces for the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Alicia Keys since 1995, finished the show with a lineup inspired by Salvador Dali. This meant corsetry gone wild with beading, feathers and a freaky eye print, none of which, in the end, brought anything new to the party that has kept fashion interested for so long.

As a quiet antidote to all the B-list frenzy, Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo held a little open house at the Royalton Hotel, the better to show off her new collection of fashion-girl shoes. Mellon took inspiration from the Twenties, she said, because “I wanted to keep the look vintage, while referencing a decade we haven’t seen for a while.” The new looks feature buckles and chains taken from Jazz Age jewelry, and fabrics with a retro feel.

Even this low-key presentation attracted a celebrity of sorts, albeit a reluctant one. Barbara Bush made the rounds of display tables with one of Mellon’s p.r. girls, chatting sweetly and admiring the goods. Later, a reporter introduced herself. “It’s nice to meet you,” came the polite reply. But asked for an opinion on the shoes, Barbara offered a quick, “Oh, I don’t talk to the press. But it’s nice to meet you, anyway,” she assured, lest she hurt anyone’s feelings, before rushing off.

What a contrast to the aforementioned heiress, Paris, who is as impressed with her inexplicable celebrity as anyone. For most of us, however, isn’t the deification of Paris and the rest of the B-listers, and the rest of the hype over undeserving shows, getting old? On this point, one editor — the one whose Heatherette seat Paris tried to pilfer — probably spoke for many. When Paris stamped her foot and pouted, “I’m Paris Hilton,” he stamped back in mock reflection: “I don’t care!”