I Snuck Into Proenza Schouler: A Tale of New York Fashion Week by Jacob Tomsky

Author Jacob Tomsky found himself backstage at the Proenza Schouler fashion show in New York last week—without a clear idea of what he was doing there. He records his adventure.

09.17.12 3:20 PM ET

Wednesday, Sept. 12, Proenza Schouler Fashion Show, Downtown Manhattan

[BEFORE THE SHOW—7:30 p.m.] “Here’s your all-access pass. You can walk around everywhere, backstage, anywhere you want, if you just do it with authority. If you look meek, they will stop you.”

This is how I knew it would feel. I didn’t belong at a fashion show. But, as some of us know, last week was Fashion Week in New York, and my friend said he could get me in. So there I was, as usual in my life, unnecessarily nervous.

“Let’s go backstage. And walk with some goddam authority.”

I followed him down Nassau Street, watching him inhale the rest of his cigarette and flick the finished product down at the feet of people waiting to get in the side entrance marked as backstage. I was following my “friend in the industry.” My friend in the industry informed me that it’s a common joke, both having and saying you have a friend in the industry. And mine was now taking me down a dirty alley, away from everyone else, sidestepping stagnant puddles (I was wearing my nice shoes!), past a line of full Dumpsters, then over some plywood, and then, yep, right into the goddam heart of it. The backstage beating heart of fashion: wall-to-wall models, in a room brightly lit like a convenience store, mirrors and headsets and clipboards and shoes and clothing racks and makeup stands and more models ... and then just me, left alone, because my friend in the industry couldn’t have his enemies in the industry knowing that he brought a friend who was not in the industry.

Not in the industry indeed.

I’ve worked service my whole life. If I’d ever found myself here on my own terms, it’d be servicing, circling the front area with the filled champagne flutes, which I assumed someone was out front doing.

I pushed myself against a big concrete support beam that had been wrapped in heavy brown paper and took a breath.

“Anyone who doesn’t need to be back here, seriously needs to NOT BE BACK HERE.”

She wasn’t looking at me when she yelled that, but me was definitely looking at me. Going with everyone’s first line of defense, I brought out my phone and then glared at my wristwatch like I wished the world would hurry the fuck up.

I glanced up with that manufactured disgust, searching for the most stressed-out person in the room. Everyone holding a clipboard was stressed out. People with headsets were stressed out. The models were ... smiling. The professional photographers were stressed out, but it seemed to be a general discomfort, a general stress of discontentment. Maybe those cameras are really heavy.

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“REHEARSAL in 10. LADIES, put your SHOES ON.”

My boy in the industry sent me a text, which I saw immediately as I was staring at my phone for no reason. The text suggested I watch the rehearsal out front, flee from the backstage area.

The venue was already dimmed into darkness, and the techno started simply, a pulsing, moaning note, like a whale, a heavy-breathing whale, and I pushed myself into the safety of an archway because the models were coming. I could feel them coming, but I didn’t know from where. They could come right at me, and I wouldn’t be surprised. They could run me down, and I would stare at them terrified and let them run me down, and I wouldn’t be anything but terrified.

To see the rehearsal, now this was exclusive. They were running the spring line, and people with actual invitations weren’t allowed in yet. The models emerged from where I least expected, and I took note of the fashion:

Amazingly accessible. Slightly baggy green khakis hanging off thin model hips, short jean jackets covering comfortable blouses. Even a loose, shoulder-revealing cotton shirt with a spray-painted happy face in red and blue, the eyes all crooked. I thought they looked wonderful.

The two men behind Proenza Schouler, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, graduated from Parsons in 2002, and already they’d opened a store on Madison Avenue. Even to me it seemed they were going to be huge. In fact, they were already huge. And the ladies looked fantastic. 

But (and some of you might have already guessed this) the models weren’t dressed in Proenza Schouler yet. The author of this article is a moron.

I needed a drink, but one quick glance around the dark venue told me there wasn’t a bar. Or beverages of any sort. And it was super dusty in here. Really dusty.

[THE REAL SHOW—8:15 p.m.] They were letting everyone in now. Well not everyone (lol). I’d been informed via text, from my, you know, “friend” in the “industry,” that two of our “mutual” “friends,” also not “in” the “industry,” had gained access and were firmly planted against a wall somewhere. It killed me that I couldn’t see them from my archway spot. I thought they’d stand out, but I couldn’t see them. And I didn’t want to move now. The crowds were coming in; celebrities were coming in; Kate Bosworth and Kirsten Dunst were coming in. Plus I was finally taking in the venue. This building had apparently been shut down and boarded up for 20 years. But then, this summer, fashion came in and gutted it, cored it like an apple. From the center of what would be the lobby, you could look up, straight up nine flights, to a vaulted glass ceiling. Balconies with old metal railings circled each floor, and nothing had been done in the way of renovations. In fact, very little had been done in the way of anything besides lighting and techno. That’s why all the dust.  We could all seriously be techno-breathing asbestos. I imagine only a month ago bums pried their way into this abandoned building, masturbated, did some drugs, and then fell asleep forever. I started to feel like I was inhaling bum dust. But so was Kirsten Dunst!

I finally decided to leave my spot at the arch, because there was a pasty-faced rich kid, his little, stubbly black face hairs struggling to push through the raw dough of his jowls, and he was peering over my shoulder, reading the notes I was writing on my iPhone, so I wrote this note about his face and let him read it before actually detaching myself from the arch and heading off to look for my friends.

My friends would definitely be at the bar.

But there wasn’t a bar.

There wasn’t even water. There weren’t even trash cans. You come in here and see the show, and then you leave with what you brought in.

But there sure was a lot of bum dust.

Crossing the lobby, taking a moment to stare straight up and out of the amazing glass ceiling, I passed a woman definitely way deep in the industry, with a look so outrageous, I thought, I should totally take a photo of that, and stopped to do it. But then I saw a smartly dressed gentleman holding an actual invitation (a big white jobby that looked like a domino the size of a license plate), and he was about to do the same thing, holding his phone at that sneaky, subtle angle, waiting for her to pass into the light to take her photo, and I thought, how classless. Thus I decided to mentally record her image so I could roughly sketch her here in this piece, which, I’ve since decided, is undeniably worse.

Sorry to even bring you up, lady. But you looked crazy as hell!

But then I saw my friends. Slammed up against a back wall. I walked with goddam authority and pushed my way back into the corner they had found, a nice little nook with only seated viewers before us, promising an unobstructed, perfect view of the show.

My friends looked so pretty. They were wearing lipstick, and where we hang out, in Brooklyn, ladies don’t really wear lipstick. I informed them how sexy they looked and quickly began to tell them about the accessibility of the line, the unpretentiousness, and how, “Damn, you two are more dressed up than the models!”

(Again, the author of this article is a huge moron.)

My industry friend had also informed me, as he roped my neck with the pass, “See, we gotta listen to the walkie chatter, because when Anna Wintour gets here, it goes over the walkie, ‘ANNA IS HERE,’ and that’s when they start the show, as soon as possible after her two bodyguards get her to her seat. You only have like seven minutes after she sits, because otherwise she’ll leave, and then it’s all over for everyone.”

Clearly she had arrived, because the whale began to do those shallow moans, and the beat started to ache and grow, and then in came a sound like crying babies looped and on auto-tune. The lights dimmed, and the true evilness of this setting stood out again, and we were all here in this gutted building, my own back against a dirty corrugated metal gate, and then a blast of house lights and here they came. Not wearing T-shirts. Wearing the Proenza Schouler spring line.

The first pieces were made of heavy orange leather with deliberately extended, sloping shoulders, and they almost hung like sandwich boards. But then the patterns began to include pieces of snakelike green cloth, a lot of patchwork, contrasting patterns creating an overwhelming but cohesive dress (is that the proper fashion term, a dress?).

Everything was bright and bold. And the line continued to evolve with each model as the patterns grew subdued, the colors slightly suppressed and mixed with geometric arcs of lace, lace that showed the body beneath but areas not often displayed; the back of the arm, the upper hip. One arc of lace began on the back, kidney level, and its comet trail dipped deep down to the center of the model’s lower back.

I’m trying to say it was beautiful. And sexy.

More changes in the line, boxier dresses pouring out endless color, the top of one dress dotted with what looked to me like, you know, those colorful candy buttons they sell in the South at Cracker Barrel, the hot pink candy buttons becoming less frequent and then completely dispersed when the dress reached waist level before small metal rivets began to appear midthigh and grew in number until the hem of the dress was riddled with silver holes. Then silence.

Then huge applause as the whole line passed by again, quickly, the models model distance apart, running the train* (*not a fashion term), leading up to the final model, who for some reason was about 14 model lengths behind. Whether that was deliberate and part of the plan, I cannot tell you. Perhaps she had fallen down and then fallen way behind? Perhaps she deliberately fell behind, something I imagine her co-models would accuse her of no matter what, but now here she was crystallizing the show, finishing in a gorgeous, languid last. Wearing the candy-button dress (#37, Vanessa, pink embroidered double satin dress).

Five minutes later I was walking with purpose to the stairs, stepping over rat traps, nodding seriously at the large security guard blocking the stairwell, projecting general calmness and authority until I was lurching up empty staircase after staircase, past where they had even bothered to light the stairs, up and up until I came out on the very top floor, the glass ceiling above me showing the tall bright line of the surrounding city, the larger skyscrapers of the district almost bending over as if to look inside, and I was walking to the dusty old railing, hearing so little, only the dull murmur of the completed and successful show breaking apart nine stories below me, dissolving, the lobby lighting only illuminating up to the second floor before a thousand feet of darkness and me at the very top, staring down, and it was all so pretty.

Everything, all of it, was so very pretty.