the last runway show – portrait of the artist live sketching
Maybe this is my last runway show, I tweeted. Then I went into the Photoautomat at Palais de Tokyo, as I do every season when I’m in Paris, and recorded my face. I had a premonition that I would achieve in this show the last piece of the portfolio – a record that proves that I did this from my own point of view, that I sketched at runway shows for 10 years, that everything I did was live, in real life. And I did it. Here it is.
Now I quit.
I had a fantasy that my last show would be a designer I cared about – like maybe Rick Owens or someone else whose worldview at least seems somewhat harmonious with my own. Instead, of course, I was sketching at the show of Andrew Gn, a society designer that I’m not really familiar with, surrounded by a cloud of heavily perfumed wealthy American and Russian women who were all staying at the Ritz with their husbands and gay best friends. “Are you going to sketch the show? That’s great!”
“I hope so,” I said. All I wanted was to do some good sketches so I could take advantage of this rare position, a front row seat, so the Go Pro could capture the process for the record, so I could just stop. I really wanted to stop, but first I had to… prove something? The sketches turned out well enough, but the content of the show was unremarkable.
The existential dissonance had started to really hit me while I was still in New York. I was sketching at a show and felt the whole purpose of the thing was suddenly derailed. Why am I doing this? I asked myself. What was the achievement I was seeking here? Was I trying to take attention away from the designer? The answer was very obvious but it ashamed me. I had known this all along but had been doing a very elaborate dance of veils in my own head to avoid admitting it.
I wanted approval! I wanted to be recognized for what I was doing – which, let’s face it, is simply a fantasy version of a style of reportage that is no longer appreciated for a variety of reasons economic, systemic, and technological. I was following in the footsteps of dead men whose names have been forgotten by fashion, whose careers had flourished under far different circumstances. I was drawing like Kenneth Paul Block, performing for a non-existent editor and invisible audience. Who did I think I was?
It became very obvious that what I wanted was approval – not in fact simply to sketch at runway shows – when I encountered the young illustrators also live sketching in Paris. Megan and Talia are both adorable and both having a great season. Even though I’m not having a great season, I don’t resent their successes, after all I literally wrote the only book on how to do live runway sketching, I’m giving away everything I’ve learned, I even gave away my first home-made live sketching kit to Talia, and she’s using it this season. These girls are far better equipped than I am at getting access. And the reason why is because I’m desiring approval, rather than cleverly playing the In and Out game to win.
I lost the In and Out game at Rochas. I had received a standing ticket for this show – the only “big name” ticket I had received this season. When you have a standing ticket, you are treated as a subhuman. You are corralled into a sort of a pen made of velvet ropes right next to the entrance of the show. From here, you can see the MVPs of the In and Out game do their thing. The recognizable faces who don’t even need to flash their ticket. The official attendees who duly flash their tickets. The people who insist that “the ticket must have been sent to the wrong hotel” and barge in with so much bluster. In the pen, I was surrounded by a group of kids in high spirits, singing pop songs and laughing. Then I saw the head publicist tell the security guard watching our little cage, to send all of us away. There was no room for us. The kids gasped in disappointment.
In this situation, it is possible to use your indignity to advantage. If I had loudly complained about having my time disrespected, chances are they would have let me join the crowd at the door for some small view of the thing. Then I could have said, I was at Rochas, I was IN! But instead, I was a loser who just stepped OUT, over the velvet rope back into the gallery, where I was confronted by a rock with a human-shaped hole in it, still smelling of a human artist who had lived inside of it for a week. Apparently Abraham Poincheval had been released from it that very morning.
This was the best view of a rock that you could possibly get. The best seat for Rochas, inside of the rock, completely empty! And better art than mine. Much more interesting. I looked at it for a long time.
Afterwards I walked outside and saw the kids from the cage smiling and laughing, being cute and lively, taking photos of each other with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
I never checked to see what the clothes at Rochas looked like, because obviously, I don’t care.
If you talk to the people attending fashion week from the smaller countries – like say, Ukraine, or yes, Canada, you learn about how subterfuge and networking allows them to infiltrate and attend almost any show. Certainly this system is available to me too, it’s the name of the game, but I never could bring myself to do it. I thought I ought to be recognized and credited on merit! Don’t you know, I’m a columnist at a national newspaper!
Actually, I’m a fool. Or an egomaniac. Probably both.
I never looked to see what the clothes at Dior looked like either. If I’d had the Dior ticket this season, I would have gone and made a big deal about it, but it’s not because the fashion at Dior is interesting, it’s really not. It’s because in spite of myself I’m still in the thrall of this notion that an invitation is a mark of relevance. It’s an idea that is incredibly difficult to let go of, even though it’s very plainly pointless. Even as I write this, I have to admit I still wish that the narrative of 10 years of live runway sketching ended like this:
This was the most exciting season of my life. As the official illustrator for WWD, I was able to attend and sketch the most noteworthy shows of the FW17 season. I’m thrilled to finally be able to present an historically significant portfolio of work.
That was how it was supposed to end, like a fucking movie!
Instead, it’s ending with this lame blog post where I’m telling an indifferent world that this decade-long endeavour was meaningless. And so what. Now what. I don’t know.
I don’t know.