Fashion weak. A letter from… The front row, by Robin Givhan

 

Fashion weak

Surviving the shows with a broken foot.

By Robin Givhan
Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme

 
Fashion weak. A letter from... The front row, by Robin Givhan. Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme.

   
I broke my foot in January 2019. I was skipping using an extra-thick, weighted rope to increase the challenge. I was going fast and feeling invincible when I missed a step and landed on the rope. My foot twisted as I came down and it was quite the spectacular break. Surgery. Pins. A giant orthopaedic boot. Crutches. And then came fashion month.

   I spent 10 days in New York hobbling about in my boot and leaning on a crutch. I spent another week in Paris wearing sneakers and Birkenstocks and praying that no one trampled on my stubbornly swollen, sometimes throbbing foot as we were herded in and out of shows. I also learned several things about my colleagues, the fashion industry, human nature, Uber and taxi drivers.

   I would not have been able to cover the collections had it not been for the kindness of the people in this industry. How I was given a seat – sorta, kinda – backstage at Tomo Koizumi’s wonderful New York debut because the actual show space was down a daunting flight of steps. Or how at Tory Burch, I had a special pass that allowed my Uber driver to pull up directly in front of the entrance at Pier 17 instead of the main drop-off point. He was so concerned he was doing something wrong by proceeding past the barricades that I had to encourage him onwards: “Embrace your privilege!”

   Snow, sleet and hail – all on one God-awful day – tested my resolve. It began when I mustered my determination and called an Uber for the four-block trip for my morning appointment at Diane von Furstenberg’s offices. I apologized for the short ride and Mr. Uber, shrugged and said, “No problem. Obviously, you can’t walk!”

   At DVF, the designer talked me through the collection while voicing concern for my foot. She asked if I had a car and driver. Uh, no. I assured her that Uber would suffice. She was unconvinced. She announced that her driver would take me to my next appointment. No, Diane. Diane. Diane! Which is how I came to arrive at the Gabriela Hearst show in the back of Diane von Furstenberg’s Bentley. Professional ethics would have me reimburse her for that ride; I have no idea how. So I offer transparency and a thank you. And yes, it was much nicer than an Uber.

   When the shows ended, I took the train from New York back to Washington. At Union Station, I rolled my suitcase to the taxi line while balancing on my boot and my crutch. I climbed into a cab and before giving the driver my destination, apologized for the short trip. The driver yelled at me for wasting his time after he’d been waiting in the line of cabs and hoping for a trip across town. New York fashion week didn’t reduce me to tears; a DC cabbie did.

   In Paris, my injured foot was healed enough for Marni sneakers and Rick Owens Birkenstocks. It’s a good fashion moment to have a broken foot. No one needed to know that my footwear choices were based on medical necessity.

   On the runway, Thom Browne showcased chunky wingtips. Dior was a world of pointy toed, monk-strap flats. Chloé was full of low-heeled boots. Chanel offered comfy shearling snow boots. I was on trend. And instead of visiting my usual shopping haunts like L’Éclaireur, I discovered Tabio, a deluxe sock shop near Place Saint-Sulpice. I needed fancy socks to go with my Birkenstocks.

   While I found the fashion community kind and accommodating, the infrastructure of fashion shows is brutal. In New York, despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, runway presentations are not organized with the disabled in mind – not even the temporarily disabled. Paris is even worse. What if you were older? What if you didn’t spend hours cranking up your heart rate at the gym? Elevators are not readily accessible; several venues didn’t even have them. Spaces are deliberately darkened, making negotiating uneven floors treacherous. What if there was an emergency? This last round of shows and my broken foot reminded me that inclusivity is about more than just the models on the runway and the executives in the boardroom.

   I only succeeded because people went out of their way to help. I felt welcome because I was known, but I was left wondering, how would a newbie in a wheelchair or with a cane fare?

In System No. 13. Click to buy.

14/06/2019