Come Fashion Week in New York City, the stakes are high. A perfunctory nod from an expressionless Anna Wintour can make or break a designer. The politics of the front row seating chart can be as dramatic and intense as a Trump versus Ocasio-Cortez Twitter feud. And the pressure to make an impression among jaded fashion editors is as high as Jack Nicholson during his Golden Globes acceptance speech in 2003.
So when something goes wrong, its effect is felt ten-fold – and then reported in multiple influential US publications the following morning. Here is a list of some of NYFW’s finest mishaps. Let’s begin with some stunning concrete landing on veteran fashion critic Suzy Menkes’ head at the Michael Kors show in 1990.
In the 70s and 80s, shows were staged in creative spaces around New York City; galleries, night clubs, restaurants, the list went on. In 1990, Michael Kors chose a gritty loft but when bits of the plaster ceiling began collapsing and subsequently landed on the fashion folk below – Wintour was reportedly spotted picking the cement out of Menkes’ hair – it promoted a venue upgrade. In the spring of 1994, white tents were erected in Bryant Park, Uptown, for designers to show in.
Helmut Lang showed in Paris for years. He then decided he’d like to show in New York but only if New York showed first on the fashion calendar (at this time, NYC designers were scheduled after the Europe shows). It was actual chaos. But when Calvin Klein and Donna Karan jumped on board and followed Lang’s suit, it changed fashion week forever.
A full blown hurricane hit New York City in 1999. A category 4, Hurricane Floyd stormed into town and hit Alexander McQueen’s show on pier 94 on the West side. But the bad weather only added to McQueen’s outlandish theatrics. Shows were cancelled for two days afterwards but the headlines read “McQueen Walks on Water”. Oh, and he dropped his pants.
PETA struck a good few times in New York protesting the treatment of animals. While in 2000, Phillip Bloch’s show was hijacked by protesters with red paint, in 2003, activists actually threw tofu pies at the front row. And of course Anna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker were centre.
In what was truly the worst mishap to ever happen in NYFW history, a rack of hot stage lights somehow dislodged and fell onto the front row at Diane von Furstenburg’s show at West 12th Street in 2005. Four editors were reportedly injured including one poor woman from Cosmopolitan magazine who had to go to hospital and get stitches in her head.
Only Marc Jacobs (or maybe Tom Ford) could run two hours behind schedule and still achieve favourable reviews. He has since started on time every single year.
Zelda Kaplan was a fixture on the social scene in New York for decades. You would find her at night clubs dancing til dawn with people half her age, at art galleries and always front row at fashion week. A fierce campaigner for women’s rights around the world, she was to fashion and culture what Ruth Bader Ginsburg is to lawmakers. In 2012, at 95-years-old, Kaplan collapsed at Joanna Mastroianni’s show. She was rushed to hospital but sadly passed away. “I hope I inspire people not to be afraid of being old – really old,” she said in a 1996 interview. “And not to feel empty about life, because life is worth living, don’t you think?”
On September 11 2001, fashion week in New York was underway. Hours after Marc Jacobs’ after-party on the Hudson River, the first plane hit the first tower of the World Trade centre in Lower Manhattan. Suddenly the same fashion journalists turned their pens to one of the most brutal and historically significant terror events in American history. These writers weren’t hardened frontline foreign reporters but as first-responders somehow found the words and delivered them to the world.
Nicole Kidman was literally standing outside the Carlyle Hotel on New York’s Upper East Side after the Calvin Klein show in 2013 when a photographer ran into her on his bike.
After transporting guests from Midtown to Roosevelt Island, models literally fell down on Kanye West’s “runway” due to heat exhaustion. The Cut’s Stella Bugbee was furiously Tweeting as the models fell down one by one. “Watching editors leave #YeezySeason4,” she tweeted. “But I feel obliged to watch out for these models”.