September 11, 2010 1:22 am

9/11, a rip in the world’s fabric

Why the fashion industry should do more to remember the tragedy

Recently a young New York designer named Joseph Altuzarra came to see me. He is one of the more interesting designers to emerge in recent years and we were chatting about this and that (how he has managed to keep his business debt-free: his chief executive is his mum, a former JPMorgan banker) when Altuzarra observed that his spring/summer show had been scheduled for Saturday, September 11, at 8pm.

Are you going to do something? I asked. He didn’t ask what I was talking about, which he knew had nothing to do with what was going to be on his runway, and everything to do with the larger context. He said: “I’m not sure. We thought about it. Do you think we should?”

I have no idea what will actually happen on Saturday night – he didn’t get back to me, nor did I expect him to – but I hope something does; that amid the hoo-ha and hoopla that surrounds the fashion season, which started in New York a few days ago, there’s a space for some acknowledgement of an event that happened and that mattered, in a very essential way.

This may provoke a sort of “Duh!” response in you and New York – the municipality – does have a memorial every year but, since 2002, the New York fashion world has chosen to go about its business every September 11 pretty much as though it’s September 12. Outside, there may be a moment to think about the past but, inside, it’s all future.

Now, I get that this is part of fashion’s thing. That the industry is premised on the idea of transience and change, and the ability to reinvent one’s self and one’s past. That it is generally ahistorical, or aware of history only as a sort of Aladdin’s dress-up-bin, from which it can pick and choose as it desires.

I also get that fashion is global (there are designers showing in NYC from Brazil and Korea) and that September 11 and all it now implies is a very American issue, and one that simply is not a factor to many other nationalities (China is holding that giant shopping extravaganza Fashion’s Night Out on September 11). I get that fashion week is increasingly a celebration of an industry and its razzmatazz, as opposed to a trade show (to wit: the shows are based in Lincoln Center now, home of the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Ballet).

And I get that the New York fashion week schedule, especially on the first Saturday of the season (a time no one with any power really wants to show because no one with any power really wants to sit in the audience) is filled with young designers such as Altuzarra, many of whom had not even graduated from school in 2001; they are post-September 11 designers. And I understand that imposing any sort of mass industry event on people can be construed as inappropriate; that emotion and memory and how one chooses to observe are all specific to individuals. And yet ...

Maybe it’s because Saturday happens to fall right in the middle of the Jewish high holy days, and I am deep in my own period of remembering and bearing witness, but I can’t help feeling that this is wrong. That it is important to the integrity of the fashion industry, which was, after all, deeply and viscerally affected when the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and which did pull together and rise to the occasion in the months after the event, to acknowledge that on this day something happened that had repercussions far beyond its own world.

. . .

Because when those buildings fell, they fell on the beginning of fashion week, crushing it, and almost crushing many baby designers. It already wasn’t business as usual – it was fashion week – and then it really wasn’t business as usual, so during this particularly unusual time of year, it seems even more unusual to try to separate the world-changing event from the industry event. Indeed, in my memory, the two are inextricable.

I remember being in New York nine years ago. I was living in London at the time and working for a magazine, and had come over for the shows with my then one-year-old daughter. I remember getting the calls and seeing the smoke and the feeling of suspended animation. I remember taking my child to Central Park every day for a week because the collections had been cancelled, seeing the tanks lining Fifth Avenue and pushing her on the swings while Black Hawk helicopters flew overhead. I remember standing on Brooklyn Bridge and looking back at Ground Zero and thinking, “This changes everything”. And I remember coming back to England in mourning.

And I remember returning for New York fashion week the year after, and sitting in show after show on September 11, thinking, “Does anyone know what day it is?”

I still think that. It’s not that I believe September 11 should be a day held apart, but I do feel that on this day there should be something: a black rose on people’s seats; an American equivalent of Britain’s red poppies; an announcement; even just a Xeroxed statement – that touches the insides of viewers, not just their outsides. Something that says, superficial we may be, and geared toward consumption, and focused on the unnecessary things in life, but we are also a part, literally, of the fabric of the world. And we all remember.

vanessa.friedman@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/friedman

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