Live! From New York! It’s Fashion Week!

Author: Arienne Thompson '04

New York Fashion Week backstage Xinhua/Zuma Press

Twice a year the world’s most stylish people descend on New York for seven days of runway shows, people-watching and elbow-rubbing with many of Hollywood’s fashion icons. But what really happens during Fashion Week? Arienne Thompson ‘04, a Washington, D.C.-based fashion and celebrity reporter at USA Today, provides an insider’s look at what it’s like to be a journalist covering one of the most hectic and thrilling fashion events of the year. This is her diary from the Spring/Summer 2012 collections (shown in September 2011), live from New York.

Saturday, September 10

Rise and shine! I’m up at the crack of dawn to catch the 6:30 a.m. Bolt Bus from Union Station in D.C. to midtown Manhattan. I hope I can catch some beauty sleep during my four-hour trip, since I’ll have to hit the ground running — and likely in stilettos.

I arrive in the city around 10:30 and don’t have much time to spare before the 11 a.m. Jill Stuart show. Fortunately, NONE of these shows ever starts on time, so at least I have that working for me. Luckily, I breeze through early check-in at the hotel, change quickly, slap on some makeup and am out the door by 11 on the dot. The weather is gorgeous, and if I weren’t in such a hurry, I’d walk the dozen blocks from my hotel at 54th and 7th to Lincoln Center.

Instead I catch the first of many cabs of the week, dash inside the Tent — stopping briefly to take a photo with stylist/reality star Brad Goreski — and make it to my seat just in time to see Stuart’s quilted, Palm Springs-inspired collection. Sitting front row? Kim Kardashian’s now-ex hubby Kris Humphries. He looks as bored — and as huge — as one would think.

Stuart’s macaroon-inspired color palette has made me hungry, but first I push my way backstage to do a quick interview with the designer, who despite being dressed in the all-black uniform of NYC tastemakers says she avoided using the dark hue on the runway for the first time ever.

Lunch is a gigantic hamburger with fries (models might not eat, but journalists do) and after a quick check of the hotel mail for a few hard copy invitations and another wardrobe change, I head downtown for the Christian Siriano show.

Christian Siriano copyright PPS Worldwide/Zumapress

Non-fashionistas may remember Siriano’s fierce creations from Season 4 of Project Runway. I’m obsessed with the citrine maxi skirt he opens with and am pleased to spot his former mentor and Runway host Heidi Klum front row, looking mind-bogglingly perfect. Also in the house? Kanye West’s ex-fiancée Alexis Phifer, who cuts a tough figure in a black jumpsuit.

There’s not much time to spare, as I’m expected at Pier 94 for Alexander Wang’s hot-ticket show in about 30 minutes, but I do find an extra minute for a few air kisses with a friend and fellow fashion writer, who excitedly tells me about her new gig at Glamour magazine.

Fast-forward a half-hour and I’m marveling at the cavernous space that is Pier 94. Unfortunately, I’m also marveling at the lack of air conditioning. Bleh. Alexander Wang’s futuristic sporty collection makes the sweat worth it though. Overarching theme: Biker girls from the year 2035.

I finally have time for a breather at my hotel, where I build and write the day’s Fashion Week photo gallery for and gear up for a busy night that includes swinging by Midtown to catch part of the Notre Dame-Michigan game. I draw several blank stares from my friend John McQuade ’04 when I complain loudly and repeatedly about having to leave the game watch at Public House to head waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay downtown for a date with Heidi Klum. “Boo-hoo,” he says sarcastically as I bounce out around halftime to catch a cab.

Twenty minutes later, I’m ushered upstairs to a green room inside the Suspenders Building where QVC is throwing a party to celebrate Klum’s new jewelry line. For the interview, I sit on the couch with Her Klumness and gab about jewelry, her children and her rocking nail polish. She tries on my neon-yellow purse, cementing our status as instant best friends.

It’s midnight by the time I get back to my hotel, where I write and publish my Klum interview and gather my invites for tomorrow’s shows: Victoria Beckham, Tracy Reese and Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. Nighty night!

Sunday, September 11

It feels strange to be wrapped up in the fashion world on a day like this. Just miles from my hotel, the families of victims of the 9/11 tragedies from a decade ago are remembering their loved ones at an emotional ceremony being televised throughout the nation. The specter of terrorism — both past and future — has been looming over the city for weeks. Fortunately, my editor has ensured that I have a short day that won’t send me all over the city and into possible danger.

By 8:45 a.m. I’m standing on the steps of the New York Public Library in a faux leather T-shirt and a white eyelet skirt waiting to gain entry into the Victoria Beckham show. The former Spice Girl is a true lady, serving pre-brunch drinks in the lobby of the awe-inspiring library before we’re all directed to our seats. She shows a surprisingly sporty collection, complete with patent leather baseball caps.

When it’s all over, I attempt to fight the post-show crush in an effort to briefly interview Mrs. Beckham, but it’s hopeless. That is, until I squint through the atmospheric dark and finally realize that the slight Brit who’s been yammering away right next to me is V.B. herself. I only manage a question or two, including, “Where’s [newborn daughter] Harper?” (resting backstage, FYI) before her handlers insist that all spectators clear the hall. Oh well.

I have a deliciously long break until the 2 o’clock Tracy Reese show, but because of heightened security throughout the city, I head back to the hotel and use the time to catch up on email, write up the morning’s shows in the photo gallery, grab a bite to eat and organize my invitations for the rest of the day.

Next stop: Tracy Reese inside the Studio at the Tent at Lincoln Center. Reese, who’s one of my all-time faves, proves she’s ready for spring with candy-colored platform sandals and leather and lace shorts. Backstage I steal a few minutes with her, take a photo, and a few minutes later run into actress Angela Bassett, who tells me I’m “just the cutest thing ever.”

Okay, I can officially die and go to heaven now!

After my lovefest with Ms. Bassett — who’s starring with Samuel L. Jackson in my playwright friend Katori Hall’s Broadway debut, The Mountaintop — I swing over to the Box inside the Tent to catch Gwen Stefani’s consistently funky Rasta-meets-skater L.A.M.B. presentation. Unlike a traditional runway show, a presentation is like a fashion museum. Models stand throughout a room while displaying a designer’s clothes. They are photographed, pointed at and made to suffer in excruciatingly painful shoes (often for more than an hour), all in the name of style. In fact, I saw one of the L.A.M.B. models literally crying backstage as hair stylists installed her extensions. Beauty is pain, right?

After L.A.M.B. I’m done for the day, minus the writing I have to do, and feeling a bit somber and pensive because of the 9/11 anniversary. I call my parents, grab a salad for dinner and hole up in my hotel for the evening to count my blessings, among other things, on this emotional day.

Monday, September 12

One of my favorite designers, Tory Burch, ensures that today feels like a true Monday morning with her 8 a.m. welcome breakfast at her new flagship store on Madison Avenue. One jaw-dropping step after another introduces me to her latest gem, a converted townhouse decked out in her signature orange lacquer walls, endless vases of hydrangeas and one room wrapped practically floor-to-ceiling in purple ikat fabric. I’d live here if I could, but instead of bedding down in one of the changing rooms, I take my gift bag and head to Avery Fisher Hall for Rachel Roy’s presentation.

Arienne Thompson photo by Hannah Saleh

Roy, a rising style star and designer for Macy’s, has installed her models on the terrace of the hall, and after a few minutes of note-taking, I find myself standing next to world-renowned makeup artist Bobbi Brown. She introduces herself (as if I don’t know who she is) and asks if I’ve ever modeled. I tell her I’m too short, but she counters, saying I might be perfect for a beauty campaign she’s working on featuring real-life women. Inside, I’m frantically doing cartwheels, but my exterior is calm and cool as I give her my card and say it sounds like a great opportunity.

I’m still pinching myself when one of the ubiquitous street-style photographers asks to take a photo of me in my mustard yellow sweater, kelly green chinos and black wide-brimmed fedora before I leave the presentation. Best. Day. Ever.

I meet up with my editor down at the Lincoln Center fountain and relay my Bobbi Brown story, but she doesn’t believe me. I’m tempted to yell up to the terrace to get Bobbi’s attention as proof, but think better of it as I instead make my way to the roof of the Empire Hotel across the street for a manicure and lunch compliments of Victoria’s Secret.

After soaking up some sun atop the Empire as I wait for my nails to dry, I hop a cab down to my favorite restaurant, Cafeteria, in Chelsea. I’m feeling so good after my wedge salad and truffle fries that I foolishly decide to walk the eight blocks and four avenues to the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet studio for the Donna Karan show at 2 o’clock.

By the time I get in line for the show, I’m on the verge of being a sweaty mess, but somehow my already perfect day gets a little better when famed fashion photographer Bill Cunningham snaps a photo of me. (My editor didn’t believe that one either!) Karan’s show is a beautiful nod to Haiti, and after the show I chat briefly with singer Wyclef Jean, who helped serve as inspiration for the collection.

My next show — Marc by Marc Jacobs — isn’t until 8, so I take my time getting back uptown to the hotel, where I nap and take care of some of my regular workday tasks, including writing about the day’s shows and locking down an important interview happening tomorrow. As darkness settles on the city, I start to get ready for the evening, putting together an outfit of snake-printed skinny jeans, a silk, striped T-shirt and velvet sandals that I hope would make my idol Marc Jacobs proud.

I meet my editor outside the New York State Armory, where Jacobs holds his shows each season, and as we make our way inside it quickly becomes apparent that someone didn’t pay the utility bill because it is blazing hot. Sauna is an understatement, as we witness the rapid fall of fashionistas far and wide succumbing to the insufferable heat. But, in a flash, the show, a collection of youthful color-blocked separates and multicolored sneakers, is over, and we’re released hot and hungry onto Lexington Avenue.

I end the night at dinner with Notre Dame friends Brittny Flint ’08 and Brandon Hall ’06 and a few hours later hit my pillow to dream about my most excellent day.

Tuesday, September 13

Show-wise, this is an easy, breezy day since I only have two shows, the second at noon. But I’m on edge most of the day because of a BIG interview I have scheduled for later in the afternoon. More on that in a bit.

Tory Burch, once again, gets things started bright and early with a 9 a.m. show at Alice Tully Hall. I catch up with her backstage amidst drool-worthy tables of shoes, boxes of sunglasses and racks of raffia-flecked spring sportswear. While sitting on my front-row perch waiting for the show to start, I receive a call from my sister, Amelia Thompson ’08, who asks if I’m wearing a black-and-white striped suit and oversized glasses. When I confirm that I am, she squeals, “I can see you online!” I then realize that the cameras lining the runway are also trained on the crowd for a live stream on Finally, my sister and I are attending a major fashion show “together”!

Arienne Thompson catches an interview with Lady Gaga

Afterward, I make my way to Chelsea for Rodarte, an eclectic, edgy line designed by sister act Kate and Laura Mulleavy. However, the only sisters anyone cares about today are Beyonce and Solange Knowles, who cause quite a stir as they make their way inside. Security makes it impossible to get close enough to chat, but like a true fangirl — I mean digital journalist — I manage to snap a few cell phone camera shots of the mom-to-be and her little sis. Completing the sister trifecta at the Van Gogh-inspired show are actresses Elle and Dakota Fanning, who tell me that unlike many sisters (including me and mine sometimes), they don’t tussle over clothes.

Post-Rodarte, I hit the hotel for a quick change before my MAJOR interview down at Chelsea Piers. My nerves have been so bad I’ve barely eaten all day, and my bright idea to choke down a bowl of soup before the interview quickly proves futile. Instead, I sip some tea, play Angry Birds on my iPad and eavesdrop when Extra host and actor Mario Lopez places his coffee order right next to me at craft services. I wait. And wait some more. And then wait a little more before I’m escorted into a room set up for a photoshoot, where a young blonde girl in literally foot-tall platform heels greets me in a throaty voice: “Hi, Arienne. I’m Lady Gaga.”

I spend 20 minutes laughing with and learning from a surprisingly thoughtful and articulate Gaga, who’s in town to promote her partnership with MAC Cosmetics and its Viva Glam AIDS research arm. We snap a photo together, and as I float out of the studio on Cloud 9, I call my mom to tell her every detail. That night, I meet a friend for dinner, another for drinks and call it a late night and another great day.

Wednesday, September 14

I have a full day of shows, starting with Michael Kors at 10 a.m. inside the Tent. As we mill around before the show begins, stylist Rachel Zoe’s husband Rodger Berman whips out his cell to show me photos of their adorable infant son, Skyler, who has a better wardrobe than most adults.

The veteran Kors draws a front row full of A-listers, including Michael Douglas and Avatar’s Zoe Saldana, but the real star of the show is the designer’s flowing sarong for men. The collection is obviously Africa-inspired, but I’m not so sure how the man-skirt will translate, even on safari.

Next stop is designer Michelle Smith’s Milly line, which I sneak a peek of backstage. I’m tempted to swipe some of the cheerfully mod pieces, but obviously think better of it before finding my seat, where I lust after the models’ matte pink lipstick and monochromatic ensembles. I head back to the hotel, and thus my laptop, to write about what I’ve seen so far.

A little later I am in Chelsea checking out the GAP presentation, which features a bevy of bored-looking models and a tasty charcuterie station. I gulp down a glass of champagne and jet back to Lincoln Center for my final show: Elie Tahari. I feel like a VIP when I get to my seat and see my name printed on the beautifully prepared run-of-show note. The luxuriousness of the note matches the show, which is a gold-infused, Egypt-inspired delight.

My work day is done, and when I step outside Lincoln Center, one of my best friends from high school is waiting curbside to sweep us off for a night of margaritas and Mexican food after a long, long day.

Thursday, September 15

Ralph Lauren copyright Wu Jingdan/Xinhua/Zumapress

I wake up ready to go in more ways than one. As much as I love fashion and runway shows, an entire week of running from pillar to post, being in endless pursuit of celebs and finding different ways to write about shoes gets taxing. Not that I’m complaining . . .

I head downtown for the Ralph Lauren show, where, fortunately, I’m seated right behind star-on-the-rise actress Olivia Wilde. My iced coffee has barely had time to kick in, so I’m thankful I don’t have to move a muscle to interview her before the show starts. She’s lovely and down-to-earth, and as a flurry of photographers come to snap her on the front row, I wonder if (and secretly hope) my face will end up on the photo wire services. Not that I care . . .

Lauren is obviously obsessed with The Great Gatsby, as I see more double-breasted suits and cloche hats than I can count in a sweetly posh collection punctuated by luxe beading and fur.

With a few hours to kill before my final show of Fashion Week, I head to the one place that can help get me through to the other side: the Marc Jacobs store on Bleecker. A pair of jeans, a scarf, a necklace and a few other MJ items later, I’m ready to tackle my final show of the week.

I haul my MJ loot back to the hotel, pack my things and then head out in the rain for the Calvin Klein show, where I sit behind former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers. Klein creative director Francisco Costa sticks to his usual array of sleek modern shapes and simple silhouettes in hues of peach, black and champagne.

I watch the last waiflike Klein model exit the runway and am flooded with a sense of relief as I hear the final round of applause, signaling the end of an exhilarating, eye-opening week. Not that I’ll miss it or anything . . .

Arienne Thompson, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, has literally chased Jay-Z for an interview, violated the Emmys’ red carpet dress code and made Ricky Gervais laugh — hysterically. She’s slightly obsessed with Marc Jacobs and has three closets to prove it.