Fashion week frenzy hits New York

PART trade show, part social event and part marketing blitz, New York’s Fashion Week is up and strutting.

With an eye toward people rather than clothes, reporters and photographers spent a day poking around the tents at Bryant Park, navigating the backstage thicket of blow-dryer-wielding stylists, pole-like models and headset-wearing publicists and sizing up the scene along the catwalks.

Betsey Johnson is to Carolina Herrera what a misfit is to a debutante when it comes to the designers' clothes, personal aesthetics and, as a tour of the shows revealed, behind-the-curtain shenanigans.

Backstage at Betsey, Johnson's trademark prom-dress-on-acid look an only-Betsey alchemy of corsetry and crinoline was on full display. The balcony of Irving Plaza became a bar-cum-dressing room. Chandeliers draped with fringed lampshades hung from the ceiling, while gilded mirrors and black-and-white photos of rock icons such as Debbie Harry and Billy Idol lined the red walls. As Joan Jett & The Blackhearts' I Love Rock and Roll pumped out of the stereo, stylists moulded models' manes into mohawks and smeared on streaks of fuchsia and orange face paint. Amid the hairspray bottles and eye-shadow palettes littering the tables lay overturned plastic champagne flutes.

"Grab a beer and enjoy it!" Johnson shouted.

At Herrera's Bryant Park backstage, however, there was room to lounge. Models sat cross-legged on the floor, smoking and poring over The Daily, Fashion Week's quotidian rag. Herrera discreetly powdered her face and reapplied her lipstick Her frocks, fur-trimmed and ladylike, hung neatly on racks.

The scene also was relatively sedate elsewhere at Bryant Park, among the flirty ruffled gowns at Oscar de la Renta. The designer, dapper in a charcoal pinstripe suit, held court with fashion heavyweights, some literal, like Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley, who wrapped his impressive girth in a long brown fur stole, draped over a Juicy Couture tracksuit.

At Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta, dressers wore safety pins on their lapels for easy access; at Betsey Johnson, they wore them in their ears. Laura Bush made an unprecedented first-lady appearance at the tents, promoting her awareness campaign on heart disease. Still, the celebrity wattage was relatively low Katie Holmes was a no-show at Carolina Herrera, and at Oscar de la Renta, Billy Joel and Barbara Walters were about as bold-faced as it got. At Badgley Mischka, paparazzi lights and lenses were turned toward Mariska Hargitay and accidental stars such as Nicky Hilton.

So it's no real surprise that Anna Nicole Smith could steal the show. She shimmied into the Betsey Johnson event, her towering blond curls, persimmon-stained lips and newly svelte self an irresistibly campy magnet even for seasoned fashion folk. Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field snapped away with Suzy Menkes, grande dame of The International Herald Tribune's fashion page.

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