All of my knowledge of high fashion comes from two sources: Kanye West songs and that one Saturday I accidentally watched a marathon of America’s Next Top Model.
With this dangerously small amount of information, I agreed to cover New York Fashion Week for TIME. While experienced journalists would be able to answer the “Who, What, When, Where and Why” of Fashion Week, I was tasked with articulating the “Huh?” us less trendy mortals usually resort to when reading about the event.
I was assigned to cover a show by designer Anna Sui, who my fashion-minded friends have assured me is a Very Big Deal. As I walked into the Lincoln Center, Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” was blasting throughout the building, which seemed appropriate based on my preconceived notions about fashionistas. All the people milling about in front of the theater looked appropriately fabulous. Some sipped champagne, while others took pictures in front of a legitimately slick Mercedes-Benz. I immediately realized that my conscious decision to wear a Polo sweater to this event was not going to elevate me to the coolness level of a Benz with suicide doors.
Since no one seemed to want to hand me a free beer or glass of champagne, I shuffled my way to the theater. I’ll admit, it was a little less grandiose than I’d imagined. The runway sat level on the floor—for some reason I thought it’d be elevated and the models would glower down at us. It was already after six, when the show was scheduled to start, and the room wasn’t even half full.
I found my seat and immediately launched into my first fashion interview, ever, with Andrijana Subotić Pjajcik. She’s a Croatian fashion designer and, more importantly, the lady who happened to be sitting next to me at this show. Andrijana was on her first trip to New York as a gift from her husband on her 40th birthday. She’d already seen Michael Kors’ collection at an earlier show and was excited to check out Sui. “I have my own shops in Zagreb, so I make some comparisons,” she says. “I saw lots of inspiration walking through New York.”
Andrijana took a great deal of pity on my woeful lack of knowledge and explained that her style was mostly avant-garde, asymmetrical designs that emphasize muted colors. She hosts two shows herself each year in Croatia and has owned her own fashion label for eight years. One odd impact of the global recession: more unemployed Croatians have taken to fashion design, crowding the market.
Beyond the shows, Andrijana said the highlight of her trip had been going on a Sex and the City tour in the West Village. Apparently Carrie and company were also a big deal in central Europe.
(VIDEO: Top 10 Models Falling Down)
While we waited, Andrijana pointed out a few fashion world bigwigs, including Grace Coddington, the creative director at Vogue. Finally, at around 6:40—fashionably late, of course—the lights dimmed and the crowd grew silent. At the far end of the runway, “Anna Sui” flashed in brilliant gold letters and a French rendition of The Loco-Motion erupted in the small theater.
What happened over the next 15 minutes was a blur of psychedelic clothing and French pop songs. My woefully untrained eye got a big ‘60s vibe from the clothes I saw, mixed with some futuristic elements. I saw at least one pair of glasses that must have been borrowed from Cyclops of the X-Men and one glittering yellow coat that I can only describe as a “bling jacket.” Many of the more reasonable clothes seemed appropriate for Megan Draper, Don Draper’s young, trendy second wife on Mad Men. A lot of the outfits were certainly interesting, but it would be hard to imagine anyone walking down the street wearing this.
By 7, all the models had finished glaring at us (OK—some smirked), Sui had come out for a brief bow and the lights were coming on again. While the fashion show had been surprisingly interesting, it seemed like quite a lot of anticipation for a 15-minute event. But maybe some of the folks at Fashion Week would say the same about waiting in line three hours to watch grown men chuck a ball across 100 yards of grass, which I have happily done before.
I wanted to get Andrijana’s take on the bizarre assortment of clothes we’d just seen so I could sound smarter in this article, but she disappeared as soon as the lights came on. Like all of us, Andrijana had come to New York to make it—before the show, she’d been debating whether to give her business card to Coddington, the Vogue creative director. My advice was: You’re in New York for six days, so why the hell not? Hopefully she took a chance and approached her.
From what I surmised about the odd spectacle of watching supermodels walk around in crazy clothes no one ever thought to make before, fashion is about being brave.