Lynn Yaeger: Reserved
The front-row fixture reflects on her first fashion week and the many since.
The first time I saw my name on a spindly gold fashion-show chair, my eyes filled with tears. I may have been in the 11th row, but it was the DKNY show, when the Seventh on Sixth tents were still in Bryant Park, and the paper taped to the seat said “Lynn Yaeger, Village Voice.” For me, it was like the equivalent of winning the Pulitzer Prize.
But if I felt like I had finally arrived, it was hardly smooth sailing. In those early days, seats at shows like Todd Oldham, Anna Sui and Isaac Mizrahi were already coveted by local celebs, New York eccentrics and drag queens with hair piled so high you dreaded being stuck behind them. The last show of the evening was a serious nightlife event, a velvet-rope affair—and oh, the shame if your name was not on the list. (I still remember sobbing over the phone to my mother when I didn’t receive an invite to the Versus Ver-sace show, an exotic interloper on the New York calendar, and she said, “I am so sorry for you Lynnie! I have no idea what you are talking about, but I am sorry.”)
Although I may have a ticket, it still comes with a price. If you are a writer, you are likely expected to weigh in about the shows, offering something honest, something provoca-tive—something someone will want to read! But, how do you tackle that task without a: breaking any hearts, or b: risking being banned by a designer if your review is not a bowl of whipped cream?Of course, those days of rejection are—at least for the most part—far behind me, after so many seasons in the business (can it really be roughly 40 Falls and Springs?!). My seat may have moved up, but in my heart I am still that girl who is grateful to have any seat at all.
I remember crying in the press room over such a slight during an early fashion week (I certainly seemed to do a lot of crying in those days), when Bill Cunningham, the eminent photographer and a wonderful friend, told me, “Don’t take it so personally!” He then went on to lecture me, in the gentlest possible way, that I shouldn’t make friends with any designers, as that would compromise my independence and integrity. This was terrific advice, and I followed it for at least two weeks, or until the first designer asked me out for coffee. (I couldn’t help it! I am a friendly sort!) In the years that followed, I am not too ashamed to admit that.
I have hung out with these creators, had too much too drink, shared dark secrets—and then twice a year I am frequently called upon to sit in judgment of their most recent work. Well, who ever said life, or fashion, was meant to be easy?
In a quest to figure out how to cover shows when I am frankly unthrilled by the strutting on the runway, I reached out to my bestie, columnist and theater reviewer Michael Musto. Mikey, who do you do if the play—how shall we say it—stinks? “I go backstage and say, you did it, you really did it! You said you would do it and hot damn, you did it!” he advised, recommending that you repeat this mantra as long as necessary.
But what if circumstances—or your job— compel you to offer something more substan-tive? I asked Vanessa Friedman, the newly appointed fashion director and chief fashion critic at The New York Times, what she does when faced with a less- than-stellar cat-walk. “Sometimes I feel bad,” she admitted. “I understand how much work is involved—I get that! But I really believe that your positive words have no value if you aren’t also willing to be negative.” Whatever she is doing, her iron-fist-within-a-chic-velvet-glove approach seems to be working. “I’ve never been banned from a show. The designers may not like what I wrote, but they have to accept it. That’s what I owe them... you have to stick to your guns.”
If Friedman represents one end of the fabulous fashion spectrum, my friend Mickey Boardman, the editorial director of Paper magazine, dances in the opposite direction, never risking bruising tender artistic sensibilities by shooting off his mouth. “I don’t think of myself as a critic, I’m more of a cheerleader!” he declared when I inquired, going on to confess that his own “my-name-on-the-chair- at-DKNY”moment came at the cocktail party before the Met Ball and “Johnny Knoxville introduced me to the Olsen twins! And I saw Gabriella Windsor—the daughter of Princess Michael of Kent—dancing by her-self!”
Boardman, who remains sunny even under a broiler-hot tent in the Tuileries or slogging through the slush to Milk Studios in the Meatpacking District, informed me that he sees his role as “reporting the good news. I would never say, ‘Wow, that show was terrible.’ My job is to shine a light on the stuff that’s really great.”
But Mickey, what if you are at a show and it’s really, really bad, and the designer button-holes you, and there’s just no way out? He paused for a moment, the Chanel necklace re-posing over his Lacoste polo shook softly, and then said, “It’s like when you go to a wedding and the daughter’s dress is really ugly. You say, the music is amazing!”