10 Fashion Insiders Share Their Most Unforgettable Fashion Week Moments

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Since its inception, fashion week (or fashion month, really) has served as a place for the crème de la crème of designers to showcase their work for the season ahead. But runway moments, really, only scratch the surface of what the biannual style extravaganza represents: It’s a time when It designers are born, and editors of all stripes have an opportunity to shine, a moment of surreal celebrity encounters and can’t-make-this-up backstage magic. Anyone who’s played a part in the whirlwind of it all can attest that the experience is a fun, free-wheeling, and career-defining one.

The first time I officially attended a NYFW show, I was the lowest possible level of assistant, sitting several rows back. I arrived too early and way overdressed, and felt totally sheepish when a few more senior members of my team swept in looking impossibly cool in jeans right before the lights dimmed. It was definitely an anticlimactic start to what has proved to be a wild 12 years of covering the catwalks: I’ve trudged between venues in blizzards, stopping at the old Condé Nast building to change socks in an empty office, and taken blurry photos of Rihanna sitting front row. Outside the shows, I’ve struck up conversations with street style photographers only to discover strange mutual connections (one time, I met someone who had dated my cousin). And once, when taking my boss’s front-row place at a show she couldn’t attend, I was seated next to Jenna Lyons and Ivanka Trump, who were discussing the virtues of J.Crew pants. (Truly it was a different era on so many levels.)

Me (in the blue hat) trying to keep my cool front row in 2012.Jemal Countess/Getty Images Entertainment

All of this is to say, while fashion month can be exhausting, stressful, and quite honestly, a massive self-comparison-fest, it still always proves to be full of memories I enjoy looking back on. So ahead, I chatted with 10 industry insiders — from designers and stylists to writers and publicists — who feel the same way. They’ve shared some of their most memorable moments from fashion weeks past, ranging from the wonderful (returning to the “tents” after traumatic events) to the wild (vintage Kanye run-ins). Keep reading ahead for their stories.

Shiona Turini, Stylist, Costume Designer, & Consultant

“I’ve always loved the magic of a fashion show. Being able to bear witness to a collection that a designer presents to the world for the first time is an incredible feeling. I still remember my first Yves Saint Laurent fashion show as a publicist, and my first Marc Jacobs show as an editor. One moment that stands out was a Comme de Garçons show in 2018 when Rei Kawakubo’s entire casting was Black models. I remember leaving that show feeling like our industry was changing for the better to become more diverse and inclusive. It’s a beautiful thing when fashion can make you feel hopeful and inspired.”

Amy Odell, Fashion & Culture Journalist, Author Of ANNA: The Biography

Kanye West at NYFW circa 2007Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty Images

“The shows used to be a great place to spot celebrities. You know how, if you go out to eat at a place like Gracias Madre in LA, you know you’re probably going to see someone? Well, the shows used to be like that, and it didn’t matter which show you were going to, someone would be there, even if it was just a middling TV actress. When I was early in my job blogging at The Cut for New York Magazine, I would go to a bunch of shows each day and often talk to the celebrities on the front row. Kanye West used to be at a LOT of shows, I want to say circa 2010. You could just walk up to him and talk to him, he didn’t have handlers surrounding him. (Some celebrities, probably to prevent people like me from getting close, had a thick wreath of handlers around them.) I remember at one show, he was sitting on the bench by himself and it wasn’t busy in the venue at all, so I went up to him and he told me about his shirt and how it happened to be from the designer’s women’s collection. I remember seeing him again at the Rodarte show another season. He exited the venue the same way everyone else did; it’s like a miniature version of exiting a concert, so basically everyone is in a big blob and shuffles their feet to the door. It’s not a quick process. I managed to get over to him and said, ‘Can I ask you a few questions?’ Or something like that. And he said, ‘Sorry, no questions.’ And I guess I looked sad or surprised or both because he then said he was sorry and laughed and gave me a side hug where, like, his cheek kind of pressed up against my cheek. You have to remember, this was pre-Kim Kardashian, pre-Gap, pre-Trump — pre- so many things that have come to define Kanye as this larger-than-life figure in pop culture. It seems kind of wild looking back on it that I had those very mundane interactions with him at NYFW. I don’t know that that would happen again today, not only for me, but for anyone covering the shows.”

Amy Smilovic, Founder & Creative Director Of Tibi

Designer Amy Smilovic and her soncourtesy of Amy Smilovic

“This picture [above] was taken backstage at our Spring 2016 Runway Show. And there was so much happening behind the scenes. Myself, my son, my father, and my mother — within a month we all had some very difficult health hurdles. But when your child is sick, nothing else matters. And I remember really having to make sense of how I could focus on fashion and beauty when everything seemed to be crumbling. And it forced me to bring a stronger sense of balance to the collection. A beauty and lightness that was still thoughtful and meaningful. And I remember being so grateful to be there, in that moment. It was a reminder of how style can be so much more than just clothes. It really can give you life.”

Michael Ariano, Global Head Of Public Relations & Publicist To Marc Jacobs

Lady Gaga walking the Marc Jacobs Fall/Winter 2016 showTIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

“One show that I still think about is Marc’s Fall 2016 collection; a dark gothic-inspired collection shown against a stark white set. Not only was this the debut of the incredibly high Kiki platform boots, that had us all super nervous about the models’ ability to walk without falling, but a few days before the show Marc had the insane idea to ask Lady Gaga if she might want to walk the show. Amazingly, she agreed right away, asking to be featured just as any of the other models… so we put her in the middle of the lineup, listed her as Stefani on the show notes, and let the audience discover this cameo in real time. After the show, she refused to take off the look and left the armory for a night out just as she was seen on the runway. Kiki boots and all.”

Tory Burch, Designer, Founder, & Executive Chairman Of Tory Burch

Tory Burch Spring/Summer 2022 Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Entertainment

“We staged our spring 2022 show — our first post-lockdown — on the cobblestones of Mercer Street, right outside our new flagship at 151 Mercer. It was so energizing to see our models walking down the street in the new collection, and it was a full-circle moment for our company; our very first boutique was located just a few blocks away in 2004. After the show, we set up a street fair with local cafés, shops, and restaurants — including Ruby’s, BonBon, and McNally Jackson — to support our neighbors and celebrate New York’s reopening. It was an incredible day full of joy and community (and delicious treats!).”

Priya Shukla, SVP Global Communications, Vera Wang

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and her granddaughter at theVera Wang Spring 2012 show.Gary Gershoff/WireImage/Getty Images

“Our brand [Vera Wang] is synonymous with celebrity dressing, so over the years we have been fortunate enough to have our shows attended by notables such as Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Zendaya, John Legend, etc. But the front-row guest who really sticks out in my mind is Madeleine Albright. In 2011 we had the privilege of welcoming her to our show with her then 9-year-old granddaughter. It was an honor to have met her, she lived such an incredible life of public service and she was a feminist icon. Mrs. Albright spent time with Vera backstage where we discovered that the former secretary of state knew a lot about fashion, she was talking to Vera in detail about the construction of the garments, the color palette, and the tailoring. I had always thought that Madeleine Albright was fabulous, but after that day, even more so.”

Garance Doré, Author & Co-Founder Of Doré

“Really, I crossed paths with so many celebrities at New York Fashion Week, I couldn’t even make a list. I remember one day being seated next to Rihanna at a show, and thinking, ‘There has to be a mistake, get me out of here!!!’ as there are few things more uncomfortable than being seated next to someone everyone is looking at. I remember being in an elevator with Anna Wintour. Oh, the silence. I remember having a full-on chat with Kanye West in the middle of a runway as the show was about to start and not knowing how to tell him it might be time to get to our seats — don’t worry, he figured it out. Those were fun moments, full of teachings — but the moments I loved the most were the ones where magic was created. Magic is the hardest thing to create. It’s a mix of beauty, of simplicity, of authenticity, of warmth. I remember very vividly this beautiful Phillip Lim dinner for his 10th anniversary — just being there, feeling all the majesty of New York, feeling how lucky I was to be there, and taking in the moment, knowing how soon it would be gone.”

Sarah Clary, Stylist

Backstage at Tommy Hilfiger circa 2005Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment

“You always remember your first time. And as a newbie in NYC from the not-so-fashionable Marin County in Northern California, I was a freshman at FIT and eager to soak up all things fashion. Early on at school, students and faculty advised that in order to truly understand the fashion industry, one must jump in with both feet and get wet. I did it all and there was no better way to get wet than to volunteer at NYFW to dress the models backstage. I was filled with uncertainty of what would unfold but driven by my motivation to insert myself in any way I could. I helped at several shows: Darly K, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, Carolina Herrera, and many more over the course of my college days. I wanted so badly to be a good participant in the dressing, even if I was the lowest person on the totem pole. I ate it up. NYFW had an energy I had never felt in NYC or seen. People were out in a different way. Walked and looked differently around the tents. It was like a business meeting and catwalk converged at the Bryant Park crosswalks. Backstage was an organized chaos. Order and long-standing procedure mixed with fun, tons of noise, naked bodies and clothes flying. The coming and goings of people and yet everybody always knew what was needed of them and when. Then in a blink, the show was over. Some people were friendly, some were not. Some talked loudly, some were so quiet. I took it all in and was grateful to be behind-the-scenes a small part of the show.”

Tiffany Reid, SVP Of Fashion, Bustle Digital Group

Ralph Lauren on the runway circa 2010Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images Entertainment

“When I was a young editor at Allure, my boss, Paul Cavaco, sent me to the Ralph Lauren show in his place. I was sitting front row at this very intimate and small resort show, feeling super awkward and like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Ralph usually runs down the runway after the grand finale to hug his friends and family. This time, he ran down the runway, looked me straight in the eyes, and gave me a huge hug in front of everyone there. This remains one of my favorite NYFW memories of all time.”

Bonnie Morrison, Fashion Consultant

Paris Hilton front row at the Narciso Rodriguez Fall 2005 showEvan Agostini/Getty Images Entertainment

“I have not attended a fashion show in a long time and it’s been even longer since I have worked on one, but in my opinion, the Golden Age — especially in New York — was the early 2000s. There were so many shows on the schedule, the Bryant Park tents were at the height of their influence, and it felt like every single person in the country knew it was ‘Fashion Week.’ It’s so corny but I remember walking past people filing out of a fashion show venue when I first moved to New York and thinking ‘that will be me someday.’

A few things that stand out from my time working on shows are really about celebrity and how much it has changed, and also how differently you view time. Narciso Rodriguez had the 8 p.m. slot in the big tent every season, I think on Tuesday nights. If I remember, it had 800+ seats and room for 100 or more standing guests, which was (and is) a big show. Add to that that it was at night, the lobby access of the tents was open to all (invited or not), and Narciso frequently dressed famous women like Sarah Jessica Parker — whose influence on fashion at the time cannot be overstated — you knew that night was going to be 45 minutes of trying to keep a dam from breaking, but while wearing a pencil skirt and pin-thin heels and welcoming every important editor and buyer as graciously as possible. ‘Welcome Grace! How are you André? Linda, right this way.’

Because everyone knew where the tents were, there were at least a dozen shows every day and there were always paparazzi milling around for a quick photo op to benefit themselves or the subject, it was common to see celebrities in transit from the last show — or just hanging out: I remember standing about 6 feet from Beyoncé backstage one year — she wasn’t yet a solo artist, though Destiny’s Child was huge, and she had no bodyguards and the most beatific smile that I still remember clear as a picture. Since camera phones didn’t exist, if you wanted to be left alone, you could be without a lot of pushback. On this night, however, an arguably bigger (at the time) sensation breezed through our door: Paris Hilton. Obviously, everyone knows who Paris Hilton is now, but this was 2004 or 2005: The Simple Life had been a smash, and in this era she would be on the cover of Vanity Fair, host SNL — she was fully at the height of her fame, and everyone knew it. There was also no one like her, and there wouldn’t be for years. She was already in the complex so there was no checking (or stopping) her at the door, and despite the fact that she had never once worn Narciso — this was not current (relatively) understated Paris, but her pink/bare midriff/sparkly/ruffles stage. We had zero idea what to do: she was so famous that turning her away could have easily turned into “an incident,” and maybe it was good for the brand? That’s why people invited celebrities, after all. And besides — which strung-out-from-three-weeks-of-late-nights-in-the-office 25-year-old PR assistant was going to have to do it? It would be more humiliating than Martha Dumptruck having to tell off Heather Chandler (if anyone is old enough to get the reference). So instead of trying to assess the risks versus rewards, we just let her in. Or rather, got out of her way while she went and took a seat — I have no idea whose seat — right at the end of the runway, right in front of the photographer’s pit. The confidence was incredible — I have to give her that. Anonymous crashers either hesitate OR make a scene, and that’s what makes them easy to spot. But Paris just floated by and settled in. We all looked at each other and figured it was a compliment to Narciso that she wanted to be there… even though she sat and texted on her Sidekick literally the entire time. Did not look up once. I’m sure there are photos.”