As the show season drifts from city to city, from sleet in New York to spring sunshine in Paris, the front row adapts, unravelling a trail of trends at each port of call.
Style lessons from the front-row fashionistas
Never mind what's going down the catwalks. What's being worn in the front row? Thanks to style blogs such as Jak & Jil and Face Hunter, and increased internet show coverage generally, everyone seems ravenous for titbits about fashion's elite. What's in the image-makers' wardrobes? What are the rare birds who sit silently in their pecking order, tweeting but rarely talking to each other, actually wearing?
I'm always impressed as the show season drifts from city to city, from sleet in New York to spring sunshine in Paris, how the front row adapts, unravelling a trail of trends at each port of call. Ignore these at your peril. In London recently one rainy morning during fashion week, I counted six Tyrolean-style hats in the front row mainly worn by the Japanistas (the groovy Far Eastern fashion mafia).
I guessed these had not come from the lush green pastures of Switzerland, more likely menswear shops such as Ede & Ravenscroft and James Lock in Savile Row and close to the trendy Dover Street Market, where they all hang out between shows. I bet now we'll be seeing more of these come September. Also in London, flying jackets were as visible in the front row as on the catwalk. How did the fashpack know to put these in their suitcases?
I remember interviewing US Vogue's fashion editor at large, Hamish Bowles, on this very subject and he revealed to me that he dispatched several trunks (Louis Vuitton, of course) weeks in advance of the shows, packed full of clothes to suit all weather conditions, occasions and trends. Last season, remember, his Russian fur trapper hat - and his moustache, which debuted during New York fashion week - subsequently influenced countless menswear editorials.
This season, pre-Christopher Kane, front-row A-listers embraced black leather, especially those sort of "stealth wealth" jackets that cannot be determined by season (only by expense). Popular front-row skinny biker weathered styles were by designers such as Rick Owens and Comme des Garçons. Black leather trousers also made the front row, which at times resembled a Guns N' Roses tribute gig. I'm still loving how fashionistas of a certain age are rocking this look more than young girls.
Most, if not all, front-rowers are thin (that's a given), but until now age has not divided them. In Milan and London, the impact of the spring/summer Celine show was visible, with leggy interns and juniors posing in parkas, ponchos and loose, asymmetric knits and tent-like rainproof jackets (Barbour is the new Burberry by the way), worn with tiny shorts or leggings (or both) exposing acres of skinny leg.
Younger fashion novices also embraced Alexander Wang's sporty, soft tailored look - because they could. Anyone older than 20 would look ridiculous in drawstring trousers, "paper bag" skirts and grungy knits. Tyre-track wedge bootees so beloved of models are another no-go area for Condé Nast execs. When threatened, the A-list elders donned battle dress in the form of the Chanel tweed jacket. No contest.
Last week The New York Times ran an article bemoaning the fact that because the same (old) people take their places in row one every season, the result is nothing short of dullsville. Only in New York could Anna Wintour, the 60-year-old British-born editor of US Vogue, who heads up an industry currently valued at $10 billion (Dh36.7 billion), come under fire for wearing impeccable Chanel, Oscar de la Renta and Caroline Herrera.
Across the pond and everywhere else, her twinkly, tweed-centric granny chic wardrobe is not only revered but right now looks bang up to date. Outerwear, especially something your grandmother would approve of - knobbly wool jacket, sensible coat, fur stole - is enjoying a bit of a moment. Miuccia Prada just saluted Mad Men, and most days in Milan, French Vogue's 50-year-old Carine Roitfeld wore her "hairy" pensioner-friendly coat by Prada.
Not all fashionistas are adopting this new cover-up, however. Lady Gaga, WAGs and fashion wannabes worldwide will be heartened by the front-row styles of Lulu Kennedy, the founder of the London-based young designer stable Fashion East; Japanese Vogue's Anna dello Russo; British Vogue's Lucinda Chambers; and American Elle's Kate Lanphear: they always look wildly fashionable and yet always true to themselves, no matter how young or old they are and no matter what time of day, type of weather or capital city.
If you've ever looked at a catwalk show and wondered "who on earth would wear THAT?", it's these front-row fashionistas. And what's more, they wear it well.