New Yorkers are inclined to think of their city as the epicenter of the universe, and often fashion week seems only to reinforce this narrow mind-set. But for the many reporters from regional newspapers around the country who come to town, the 7th on Sixth shows are just a small part of a greater equation.
This story first appeared in the September 11, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“What is happening in New York is not necessarily what’s happening in Oregon,” said Vivian McInerny, fashion editor of the Portland-based Oregonian newspaper.
It is a worldview most Manhattan-based editors would find quaint: Regional reporters, by and large, do not think stylish attire purchased on Madison or Fifth ranks up there with food, shelter and oxygen as one of life’s necessities. They are not interested in providing elaborate play-by-plays of the shows for their readers. Nor do they have any need for a granular analysis of the collections. And they could care less about Bob Woodward-style exposés of industry politics.
Instead, members of the out-of-town press see their job as acting as a “filter,” an interpreter whose mission is to take in what fashion week has to offer, digest it, and relay it to their readers back in Tulsa — or Portland, or Charlotte, or wherever — in a way they will find relevant. Often, timing seems to be their greatest obstacle.
“It’s difficult to be specific about clothing for spring in the first week of September,” said Jackie White, an editor at the Kansas City Star who has been covering fashion for the paper for the last 20 years and is a regular at the 7th on Sixth shows. “My readers are concentrating on getting the kids back to school, paying their summer bills and then maybe looking at what they’re going to buy for fall.”
White’s assessment of what her readers want in terms of fashion writing is echoed by other regional reporters. It’s not that people in what cynical New Yorkers often dub “flyover country” are intrinsically different, they say. It’s just that it’s a different consumer environment.
Jason Ashley Wright, fashion editor at the Tulsa World, is careful to give his readers style guidance they can use without leaving town. (Wright, by the way, made his first trip to New York this season and is taking in the sights as well as the shows.) “Any trend story I do,” he said, “I try to find a happy medium between what you see happening in New York or anywhere else and what’s available here.”
Pragmatic concerns like availability frequently drive regional coverage, which explains why most out-of-town reporters are keener to cover shows by well-known designers like Ralph, Calvin, Donna, Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta than buzz-worthy up-and-comers like Derek Lam or Proenza Schouler. After all, while names like Lam and Schouler might carry more of-the-moment cachet in New York, more than likely, they aren’t yet known — much less sold — in smaller markets.
“New York press will get excited about something new,” said McInerny. “But the regional press brings a slightly different perspective.” The main difference? “We’re in touch with our readers,” said McInerny.
For regional reporters, mass brands therefore have mass appeal — even those not technically showing in the tents. “If Gap or Banana is doing an event, I’ll go to that because it’s of interest to our readers,” said Staci Sturrock, fashion editor at the Palm Beach Post, who, thanks to Hurricane Frances, was still making calls to have her roof repaired and debris cleared from her yard on her way to the Palm Beach International Airport. “I really thought I wouldn’t be able to come up there this year because of the hurricane, but my editor didn’t say anything.” Sturrock is staying at the posh Paramount hotel while she’s in town. She’s one of the lucky ones.
Just ask Wright, who was originally booked at the Edison, a drab theater district domicile. After reading less-than-glowing reviews online, Wright changed his reservation.
McInerny, meanwhile, is installed at the Amsterdam Court at 226 West 50th Street — a bit of a letdown after the fabled Algonquin, where the paper used to put her up. “It’s a walk from the tents,” said McInerny of her downgraded digs, “but it’s cheaper — you know, budget cuts. I just hope I don’t get knifed in the hallway.” She then hastily pointed out she’s lucky to even be here — the paper hasn’t been able to send a reporter to cover the shows for several years. “I really do get budget-conscious and do the deli eating,” said McInerny, before revealing another simple money-saving strategy: “Take the subways instead of cabs.”
Frugal accommodations aside, regional reporters are still expected to glitz it up on the page. That’s because for many papers, covering fashion week is less about the clothes and more about the scene. “My editors want me to be looking for color, the celebrity factor, that sort of thing,” said Suzanne Brown, fashion editor at the Denver Post, who will file three times during fashion week.
“If I get six inches on one show, I’ll spend two-thirds of the time talking about the atmosphere, who was there, what they gave away, and one-third talking about the clothes,” agreed Sturrock. “The circus part is what’s interesting to most people.”
Rod Hagwood, fashion reporter for the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, added, “If we err to one side, we tend to err toward more of the gossip and the glam and the clubbing. There’s a healthy bit of interest in those people and that lifestyle.”
All fine and good, just don’t expect the veterans to stay out all night. “I don’t go to the late-night events,” vowed Sturrock.
Like all embedded journalists, regional reporters tend to stick together during fashion week, trading notes, socializing, even meeting for dinners after the shows. Many have been covering fashion week for years — decades even — so they’ve had plenty of time to bond.
“With the regional press, we’re all in the same two rows so we sit by each other at every show,” said Greg Morago, who covers fashion and pop culture for the Hartford Courant. “It is rather like summer camp. We take care of each other and hold seats and don’t let other people steal them.”
That’s no small thing: Regional press, especially those who are new to the beat, complain of having a tougher time snagging seats than their magazine counterparts. Seniority, of course, helps, and then, some designers are more receptive than others. (Calvin Klein is not one of them; the house was repeatedly cited as a hard ticket for out-of-towners to snag. As for that other hard ticket, Marc Jacobs, none of the editors even mentioned it.)
“These days, if they give the paper standing room only, unless it’s something I’m very curious about, I won’t even go,” said Sturrock, before adding grudgingly, “If Calvin wanted to give me a ticket, I would stand for him.”
McInerny, who has been covering fashion since the Seventies and has interviewed many top designers when they’ve visited Portland for trunk shows or events — Narciso Rodriguez, Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors to name a few — still has a hard time getting close to the runway, no matter what the show. “I’m always in the back row. Nosebleed section. I wouldn’t know what to do if they put me in the front row. Actually, Tommy Hilfiger and Ellen Tracy did it once, and I’m sure it was a terrible mistake.”
Perhaps the designers would feel differently if they realized how much space some of the regional papers devote to fashion coverage?
Style sections have been ballooning all over the country, thanks in part to a 2001 survey conducted by Northwestern University that cited lifestyle content as a crucial factor in growing newspaper readership. Michael Weinstein, a features editor at the Charlotte Observer, said his paper recently expanded its style coverage as a direct result of the study.
“We now have an entire features section on style, with eight to 10 pages,” said Weinstein. However, despite the added column inches, the Observer won’t be represented at the shows this season. “We put in the request in the hopes that we would be able to go, but it was not in the budget,” said Weinstein, adding, “[fashion and beauty reporter] Crystal Dempsey went to the spring shows, and typically, we’re budgeted for only one trip a year.” Describing what the section will cover this week without a reporter filing from the tents in Bryant Park, Weinstein offered, “Three dermatologists just revealed what’s in their skin care regimen. We have a makeover every other week. And there’s a lot of shopping coverage.”
Yes, shopping coverage, it seems, is currently a big hit everywhere. The Oregonian, for instance, has a 16-page full-color section called “Personal Style,” which launched this fall to cover fashion, beauty and home decor buying. The section’s editor, Christine Hunt, who plans to expand the section to 24 pages by the end of the year, said, “We had a staffer come up with an idea for a shopping column. It was tabled, and then Sandra Mims Rowe, our editor, picked up a copy of Lucky and said, ‘We could do this!’” (Like WWD, Lucky is a division of Advance Publications Inc., which also owns The Oregonian.) As for why a style section works in, well, a crunchy town like Portland, Hunt said, “We have the reputation of being Seattle’s dowdy cousin, but there’s a broad spectrum of shopping here: Myer and Frank, Nordstrom, a budding independent fashion scene.”
The Arizona Republic, based in Phoenix, has a similar 20- to 24-page weekly section called “Your Essential Style,” which also goes by the more emphatic acronym “YES!” But no one from the paper covers the New York shows. Editor Laura Trujillo explained, “We get photos from the wire services, and try to talk to the boutique owners and department stores when they get back about what they’ll be buying. That’s what’s most helpful to our readers.”
Also packing on pages in its lifestyle section: the Kansas City Star. Said White: “We do trend reporting and utility reporting — 10 hot things you need for summer, how to be chic for less than $50, that sort of thing.”
Over at The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, fashion coverage still has to fight for more than just a single page during weeks when there are no fashion shows, though larger seasonal style sections do occasionally run in the paper. “I have a column on Tuesdays,” said the Dispatch’s fashion reporter, Marshall Hood, who, due to deadlines, sent his stylist Laura Baciu to cover the shows this year. “Right now, I’m working on a story about the mayor of Columbus, Michael Coleman,” said Hood. “He’s a very dapper guy.”
Michigan’s Lansing State Journal was on the list of regional papers who’d requested press badges for the New York shows this season, but that came as a total shock to editor Christine Rook, who knew nothing about the shows, much less 7th on Sixth. “Can you tell me the name of the person who put in the request?” asked a befuddled Rook. “I guess it could be an intern who is going to be in New York and wants to try and cover the shows, but as far as I know, we’re not officially sending anyone. We don’t even really cover fashion here.”
Some papers, such as the Palm Beach Daily News, have always known the value of fashion coverage. Note: The Daily News is strictly for residents of the island of Palm Beach, while the more democratic Palm Beach Post serves the greater region. However, both papers, which are owned by Cox Enterprises Inc., are represented at the shows this week.
“It’s a pretty affluent market,” said Robert Janjigian, the Daily New’s fashion editor. “They’re very fashion-conscious. And they have a tremendous need for evening clothes.” Of course.
Janjigian has been covering the New York shows for the last eight years. He also — perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not surprisingly to those who’ve ever been to Palm Beach — regularly gets front-page treatment for his fashion stories and often travels to Europe to cover the ready-to-wear and couture collections. “We’re part of a syndicate,” Janjigian explained. “The European stories run everywhere — Austin, Atlanta.”
And where is Janjigian staying while he’s in New York? “I have an apartment in the city.”
And what will he be covering besides the shows? “I just report on the fashion. I don’t really need to go to another party. We already have enough social coverage.”
Spoken like a true jaded fashion week veteran.
THE BRYANT PARK BREAKDOWN
|Samples of Redken’s new men’s hair product handed out at the tents: 35,000|
|Number of chairs rented: 2,000|
|Number of Dunkin’ Donuts given to photographers by Olympus: 1,500|
|Bottles of Evian water distributed: 53,000|
|Pounds of candy handed out at the WE: Women’s Entertainment booth: 2,100|
|Tubes of clear MAC lip gloss used backstage at the shows: 75|
|Number of orange slices used at the bar: 1,400|
|Number of hollowed-out oranges used to hold mixed drinks: 9,600|
|Number of bottles of Damrak gin used: 352|
|Number of bottles of Cointreau consumed: 42|
|Number of international press attending the shows: 400|
|Number of regional press: 150|
|Number of publications handed out for free inside the tents: 4|
|(WWD, Vogue, The Daily, Bergdorf Goodman catalogue)|