What follows is a minute-by-minute timeline documenting the mental and physical collapse of 20 fashion models.
Let me explain. There are three methods by which clothing designers can unveil a collection to (a very, very, very small portion of) the public at New York Fashion Week: They can host a runway show, they can host a presentation, or, weather permitting, they can toss all their beautiful gowns off the roof of an office building in Midtown and hope for the best. Most people opt for one of the first two.
Unlike the traditional frantic-paced runway show made famous by film, television, and the song "I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt," a fashion presentation is a static event. In a show, models strut single file down a long, narrow catwalk, while spectators rush to jot down notes. The entire affair typically lasts no more than a few minutes.
A presentation, by contrast, is designed for audience convenience; all of the looks are visible for the duration of the event—usually 60 to 90 minutes—which means editors and and buyers can breeze in and out according to their own schedules, while still having a chance to see an entire collection up close.
For a designer, the main difference is the price tag. In 2012, Crain's reported that hosting a presentation at The Box—Mercedes Benz Fashion Week's dedicated presentation venue in Lincoln Center—would cost about $30,000. It's not unusual for a high-end runway show to fall in the realm of $500,000.
For the audience, the main difference is that you watch a fashion show, whereas you merely coexist in the same space and time as a fashion presentation.
Standing near several beautiful people holding their bodies in Guantanamo-quality stress positions, watching as they are fed a steady stream of Jolly Ranchers, does odd things to your sense of time. If you only stay for a few minutes (as most people do), you miss this. You also miss how awkward it is.
This is why, last week, I decided to stay for the duration of young celebrity favorite Erin Fetherston's Autumn/Winter 2014 collection and document the events of each minute.
6:00 p.m. I, along with about 100 of my most fashionable friends who I don't know yet, am admitted into the W hotel's Great Room which, according to the W website, is the perfect place to hold an event that is "amplified."
6:01 p.m. I pick my way through a dense crowd of photographers, poshly dressed children, and incredible-smelling women embracing so enthusiastically I can only assume they are enemies.
6:02 p.m. I come face-to-navel with the focal point of the room: a collection of 20 models, arranged class-portrait-style on a tiered platform draped in beige sheets. (The inspiration for Erin Fetherston's Autumn/Winter 2014 collection, according to the Erin Fetherston Autumn/Winter 2014 collection printed press release: Manhattan's famously sororal Barbizon Hotel for glamorous, ill-fated ladies.)
6:03 p.m. I canvass the perimeter of the platform, to better understand how the women are arranged. Most of them stand, though a lucky few are permitted to sit in chairs holding peculiar poses.
6:04 p.m. One, who looks like the actress Rose Byrne, only less surprised, is arranged artfully above the fray on a ladder. Another balances nervously on a stool. All wear 4-inch Manolo Blahnik pumps.
6:05 p.m. Somehow—I guess, because so many things in life take about 15 minutes—I get it into my head that the presentation will take about 15 minutes. I marvel that the models are still able to keep so still five minutes in. The only fidgeting is from those few ladies wearing strapless dresses, whose small busts cannot support such an ambitious attempt to defy gravity; they tug their creeping tops back up at a rate of once or twice a minute.
Otherwise, movement is limited to heads and eyes.
6:06 p.m. I accept a glass of gratis sparkling wine and walk around the perimeter of the room.
6:07 p.m. Swinging '50s hits like "Papa Loves Mambo" and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" pipe out from all corners.
6:08 p.m. What a dynamite place to host a memorable conference.
6:09 p.m. Making eye contact with one of the models isn't like making eye contact with a stranger in real life because, in real life, a stranger whose gaze you catch from across the room will quickly look away. If you make eye contact with a model and avert your gaze, it is not uncommon—but very unsettling—to find her still staring at you when you look back at her several beats later. If a person did this to you on the bus, you would interpret the act as a tacit declaration that they mean to stab you. The models seem content to wage silent mental warfare.
6:10 p.m. I get very excited that the presentation is about to wrap up.
6:11 p.m. Watching the models model for this unbroken stretch of time has been a devastating psychological challenge, the full repercussions of which will probably not become apparent for several months, and I am relieved to have made it out the other side.
6:12 p.m. Second glass of gratis sparkling wine.
6:13 p.m. While jostling my phone to snap another photo of the models for no reason, I accidentally slosh about half of my second glass of gratis sparkling wine onto the coat and boots of another guest, who, thankfully is facing the other direction. I quickly ghost into the crowd. I whisper: Can't believe someone sloshed wine on that woman. People are animals. (Animals don't have thumbs and would therefore have considerable trouble holding a glass of wine without spilling it.)
6:14 p.m. I take one last hard look at the dresses which, it must be said, are sublime; tailored and shimmery and sheer in all the right places, and more beautiful in person than photos convey. If this is what we are going to be wearing in the fall and winter of 2014, we are all going to look truly darling.
6:15 p.m. The quarter hour mark arrives and passes.
6:16 p.m. None of the models make any move to leave the stage.
6:17 p.m. None of the models make any move to leave the stage.
6:18 p.m. None of the models make any move to leave the stage.
6:19 p.m. None of the models make any move to leave the stage.
6:20 p.m. None of the models make any move to leave the stage.
6:21 p.m. Why isn't anyone leaving the stage?
6:22 p.m. I ask a fellow spectator if she knows how long the presentation is. Her response: "I think this one's only an hour."
6:23 p.m. "ONLY AN HOUR." I FREAK OUT.
6:24 p.m. I get another glass of sparkling wine.
6:25 p.m. I notice that many of the women have subtly rearranged their limbs.
6:26 p.m. Arms that previously hung loose are now propped on hips. Legs are crossed. Elbows are bent so that hands may be brought up to rest delicately against delicate faces.
6:27 p.m. Some of the women do that thing where you cross one arm across your chest and clutch at the opposite arm's elbow, which makes them look like bashful tweens at a middle school dance who don't know they beautiful.
6:28 p.m. I sneak back out to the lobby to get a gift bag (which I see many other people holding) and to remind myself that there exists a life beyond the four walls of the dynamic meeting and event space that is the Great Room at the W New York - Union Square.
6:29 p.m. The gift bag includes a wooden comb, a hairspray, and another hairspray.
6:30 p.m. A model wearing a sheath dress with a green lace overlay begins to sweat so profusely that external forces must intervene. One of the event coordinators—a young woman wearing all black and, for some reason, socks but no shoes—rushes up and hands her a cocktail napkin so that she may dab her glistening forehead while remaining in place.
6:31 p.m. I realize that two of the models standing on the tier behind her are whispering to one another and smirking.
6:32 p.m. I try to catch their eyes to let them know I'm cool too, but they do not look at me, which is fine because I'll catch you later, girls. Text me where the party is. Or I'll just figure it out, maybe.
6:33 p.m. OK, catch you later.
6:35 p.m. With some difficulty due to tight pants, I sit on the floor in one corner of the room next to a pile of handbags and observe the scene from this vantage point. It looks largely the same.
6:36 p.m. A man holding an expensive camera swoops into and away from the models' faces, clicking away. They pretend not to see him, which involves a lot of pretending since, at any given time, he is close enough to successfully complete a round of "Pass the Orange" with at least one of them.
6:37 p.m. I stand up with even more difficulty than I previously experienced.
6:38 p.m. I observe in my notes that I am "ready to tear my eyes out." Donald Rumsfeld could not have planned a more physically and mentally demanding fashion event for terrorists.
6:39 p.m. I catch my first glimpse of the collection's designer, Erin Fetherston, who looks prim and meticulous and, with her neat blonde ponytail secured with a black ribbon, so much like all of the models that when she stands in front of the platform to pose for pictures in front of her Mad Men menagerie, I briefly think they have added another girl to the roster midway through the presentation. Her irises are a shade of pale blue I previously have only observed in the eyes of Rankin-Bass characters. She has a very particular bang-smoothing technique that is mesmerizing in its precision, which I watch her subconsciously demonstrate across multiple interviews.
6:40 p.m. When she finishes, her bangs look exactly the same as they did before but, y'know, great.
6:41 p.m. The models, who have now been holding their stress positions for over 41 minutes (as they were already in place by the time we were admitted) are seriously beginning to wobble now. Many of them appear to be inadvertently rubbing their arms as a way to pass the time.
6:42 p.m. There is only one woman—seated in the front row with her hands placed just so on a pile of two slim books—who never moves, ever.
6:43 p.m. I would say she was like a statue, except that statues eventually crumble and fall over.
6:44 p.m. She is like a mathematical constant.
6:45 p.m. There is a brief, whispered commotion as a model who is standing upright on the platform abruptly starts to fall over for no apparent reason (apart from the 45 reasons that have elapsed since 6 o'clock). The shoeless handler pads over brandishing a miniature bottle of water with a straw in it, and taps the model's arm with a single finger (*tap tap tap tap tap tap*) to get her attention and offer it to her.
6:46 p.m. After the model passes back the bottle, the handler gives her a single red Jolly Rancher, which the young woman transforms into a Somber Rancher by eating it very sadly and slowly for a full minute.
[There was a video here]
6:48 p.m. I notice that lots of the handlers are holding Jolly Ranchers now, and holding them up to catch the models' eyes as you might when training a bird to perform a simple trick.
6:49 p.m. The trick the models are learning is do not move from this fucking platform or you will die.
6:50p.m. The model standing at the very front of the arrangement is abruptly ushered off the platform and into a backstage area by a handler with a pixie cut. This is the biggest action of the night so far. I record in my notes: "She almost made it :(."
6:51 p.m. I peep through the crack of the open entryway and glimpse her sitting in a chair (her feet propped on another) sipping water through a miniature bottle. This is the state of a shortay who has been working for 51 minutes.
6:52 p.m. The models on the right side of the stage silently pass around a miniature bottle of water.
6:53 p.m. They all share the same straw.
6:54 p.m. I overhear the following conversation between the ever present black-clad handlers:
Woman 1: Can we get her water?
Woman 2: We don't have any more water.
6:55 p.m. Woman 1: What about sparkling?
6:56 p.m. The model who had to leave the stage returns to her place, but now sits on the platform instead of standing.
6:57 p.m. The woman standing on the stool carefully picks her way off it with the assistance of another model.
6:58 p.m. She stands on the sheet-covered platform.
6:59 p.m. Several of the models begin openly (quietly) talking and shifting their weight from side to side. Everyone is ready for their mom to come pick them up, including me.
7:00 p.m. The same woman returns to her precarious perch for final pictures.
7:01 p.m. She is a fearless hero and an inspiration to all.
7:02 p.m. I have to say, the visual of all these beautiful women posed so rigidly in their beautiful clothes really is something. They look great. I totally see the appeal of dolls and people you can dress up as dolls.
7:03 p.m. The models are permitted to leave their places en masse. They clutch one another's arms as they pick their way carefully off the scaffolding. I stand in place and they float around me like waves washing over a rock.
[Images via Getty / Caity Weaver]