Sedaris and Stamberg Deconstruct a Fashion Show Susan Stamberg visits the runways of Paris with essayist David Sedaris and historian Joan DeJean to get a close-up view of fashion marketing.
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Sedaris and Stamberg Deconstruct a Fashion Show

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Sedaris and Stamberg Deconstruct a Fashion Show

Sedaris and Stamberg Deconstruct a Fashion Show

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Well, it may be cold and icy in your neighborhood, but clothing for spring and summer is arriving in stores right now. And we've been preparing team coverage of this event for this quite some time. The inspirations for some of these clothes were on view last fall at the ready-to-wear fashion shows. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg went to the shows in Paris with a fashion historian and another astute observer, writer and Paris resident David Sedaris, author of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Here is Susan's report.

SUSAN STAMBERG reporting:

Here comes some stripes, black and white striped skirts, long skirts, more black and white. You get the theme?

Mr. DAVID SEDARIS (Author): I'm sensing stripes.

STAMBERG: It's a real show, music, spotlights, gorgeous girls, applause. I wore black, of course. My fashion accessory David Sedaris dressed up special, too.

Mr. SEDARIS: This shirt is from a thrift store, and I don't spend money on clothes, because I just regret it afterwards. But I've never spent as much money as I did on this jacket. And I thought, boy, everyone is going to go ape over this jacket, and then nobody said anything. So, I started saying to people, how much do you think this jacket cost? And the highest guess that I got was $40.00. Someone said, that's so Gap.

STAMBERG: I'd say 60.

Mr. SEDARIS: You're so wrong.

STAMBERG: Look how she stamps her heels into the floor. That girl's hips must be killing her after the end of the day. They're so skinny, those models, thrusting their little hips down the catwalk towards the clicking fashion photographers. David Sedaris likes these striped clothes by Kenzo. Living in Paris, Sedaris sees lots of stylish people, though he is no fashionista.

Mr. SEDARIS: I'm not a dress-up person, but since moving here, I iron more, you know, or I get my mother-in-law to iron for me.

STAMBERG: When she's away, he does his own ironing. David Sedaris wandered into the world of fashion with a friend a while back. They went to a fancy Paris hotel where the buyers and editors and models hang out.

Mr. SEDARIS: And the lobby was just filled with impossibly attractive people. And we were just these two toads sort of hopping across the carpet.

STAMBERG: So they looked at you like that? That's how they made you...

Mr. SEDARIS: Oh, no, no, no. It wouldn't even be that they would look at you. We could have been naked, we were invisible. Just two little brown toads hopping through the lobby.

STAMBERG: He was wearing a different jacket that day.

Mr. SEDARIS: $60.00, you thought?

STAMBERG: Oh, I didn't see that pocket. $65.00. David Sedaris' jacket has a designer label, Dries Van Noten. It actually cost him in the high three figures. It's a nice jacket, nothing like the $2,400 Kenzo dress that floats past us in this auditorium, or the $400 pair of slacks. They will look different in the stores, by the way. What we're seeing are the designers' dreams, their inspirations. Store buyers may ask for changes, drop the ruffle, raise the hem. If the store is important enough, the ruffle goes. There will also be knockoffs in cheaper fabrics and much lower prices. But it all starts on runways in New York, London, Milan and here, Paris.

Valentino's spring/summer ready-to-wear collection was déjà vu all over again to historian Joan DeJean, author of The Essence of Style. Not that the clothes were old, but the whole idea of showing them this way to buyers and fashion writers goes back to the cord of Louis VIV. That's when marketing of fashion began.

Ms. JOAN DEJEAN (Author): 1678 is the first season for fashion marketing, the winter of 1678. The 17th century is the first time fashion is marketed aggressively, and it's just like what's happening today. People were sending out fliers, they were marketing the gorgeous fabrics, they were marketing gloves, they were marketing purses.

STAMBERG: What was happening in 1677 that made them decide that 1678 would become fashion?

Ms. DEJEAN: My guess is nothing different in the fashion world, however the newspaper world. A newspaper decided to start covering. And so it, what did it do? It marketed winter 1678. And then after that, the fashion industry catches on that this is good, and the two work together.

STAMBERG: Seen any court clothes yet?

Ms. DEJEAN: Well, the huge bow is just the kind of look someone would have worn then, all the ruffly looks, too, a lot of ornamentation on dresses, absolutely.

STAMBERG: Taking notes, smiling rarely, the queens of today's fashion press, editors of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar. They have front row seats at all the shows. What they like will affect what we buy. Historian Joan DeJean says the power of the press goes back 400 years.

Ms. DEJEAN: The press' role was huge in the 17th century. Certainly, they started doing fashion engravings, with captions that would say point by point, so, this kind of lace here, and this kind of lace here; little arrows to make sure you know you get the thing right.

STAMBERG: In the old days, you wore your same gray dress all year, with maybe some red trim in the winter, green in summer. But once the notion of marketing seasonal clothes was born, fashion changed quickly, and wallets went on diets.

Ms. DEJEAN: You're going to start buying things you never dreamed of before, things you don't need, but it's all going to be so beautiful that you would feel you have to have it. Now, does that sound like what we saw today? They're making people change for the sake of changing.

STAMBERG: Which brings us back to David Sedaris and his $65.00 plus, plus, plus jacket. More, he said, than he ever paid before. But he spent it. Why? Fashion marketing.

Mr. SEDARIS: And then you think, I'm such a chump, because I bought it thinking it would make me look like that guy. Like that guy could wear just a shawl made out of fiberglass insulation, and he'd look wonderful. So, it's not the coat, it's him. And so you just feel like such an idiot when you spend money on clothing, and then you think, oh, it's still me.

STAMBERG: David Sedaris' illusion that clothes make the man explains why, in the U.S., women spent some $95.5 billion on clothing last year. Many dream of narrow hips and flouncey frocks as the ready-to-wear shows keep feeding those dreams.

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I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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