Multiple Lenses: Experiencing Fashion Week in the Internet Age

Unlike my awesome coworker Alyssa (who's getting backstage manicures as we speak), I am far from the colorful circus of New York Fashion Week. I may be writing about the whole thing, but I'm miles and miles away in Chicago, experiencing the week behind the trusty but sometimes frustrating screen of my computer.

In terms of technology, there's never been a better year to not be at New York Fashion Week. I can find everything I need from the comfort of my own home. Almost all of the shows are live-streamed. Nina Garcia is documenting the whole thing through Google Glass, and if her editorial eye isn't enough for me, there's a whole host of photogs, models, bloggers, editors, It Girls, makeup artists, and journalists who are not only writing about it, but Tweeting and Instagramming and otherwise giving real-time updates to those of us who couldn't make the front row this year (thanks for the invite, Oscar — next time. Kisses!).

On the one hand, I feel incredibly lucky to get an eagle-eye view of shows and see what some of my personal heroes glimpse, think, or even look like (#selfies) during NYFW. On the other hand, I have to keep reminding myself that I'm experiencing the week through a complicated series of lenses, meaning that in an industry that's all about surfaces and artifice, I'm creating an artificial experience for myself.

Let's take the Richard Chai show. I experienced it through multiple lenses: the lens of my computer, and then of the original poster (the video camera above the show, the Instagrammed photos of the models). But most importantly, I experienced it along with the ever-present opinions of whoever was posting about the show (the captions on the Instagram shots, for example) — a metaphorical third lens, if you will.

Even in the Internet age, if you're not there, you're not there. You can soak up all the information you like online, but the only way to get an undiluted sense of the experience is to be there, physically. (I think even Nina's Google Glasses might get in the way of a pure NYFW experience.) Because the mass dissemination of information on the Internet isn't just information, it's information hashtagged with an opinion. The farther you get from the actual live experience — the hushed whispers as the lights dim, the swoosh of fabric, the details of heels and manicures and jewelry, the subtle expressions — the more you take on the role of passive consumer rather than active taste-maker/participant.

Don't get me wrong — that's perfectly cool. (This isn't just an excuse for me to whine about missing the Alexander Wang show.) Fashion is one of the most vibrant art forms of our society, and like anything that has a lot of participants, fashion has a huge spectrum of roles to fill, from creator to purchaser and everything in between. There's room for all of us here in the world of thoughtful fashion.

But when you're watching live-streams and constantly updating feeds, it's really easy to forget that you're experiencing NYFW through multiple lenses — and with each lens comes a greater and greater risk of distortion. It feels like I have a sort of God-like stance on NYFW from my computer: I can view multiple collections at once; I can see what everyone is thinking about the shows; I know that Emily Weiss spotted Sophia Coppola but Sophia didn't spot her; I see it all! But then I have to remind myself that I'm not really seeing. I'm being shown what other people have directly seen. There's a huge difference between seeing a piece from a collection, and seeing a photo of the piece from a collection with a caption beneath it. It's easy to think that the information age has erased the boundaries between being there and not being there — but it hasn't.

If there's one thing the Internet has made even harder for writers, it's coming up with a unique stance on anything. Creating something original is really hard (just ask any of the crazily talented designers currently displaying their work). See, on the Internet, whether you agree or disagree with the captions and hashtags and conclusions you're being fed, your mind is no longer a blank slate. Your experience is not really your own —it's one step removed from the original experience, it's an experience of an experience. If you want to talk about it, you have to work that much harder to make it new. (I almost attributed that phrase to Tim Gunn. Nope, it's Ezra Pound. Too much Fashion Week!)