When young girls, often starry-eyed by style, ask me how I became a fashion writer, I sometimes wish I had a more glamorous tale to tell.
Raised on steady diets of InStyle and "Sex and the City," many of them look at me as though they're half expecting to hear that someone with the stature of Anna Wintour or the eccentricity of Andre Leon Talley found me seated in some classy cafe scribbling in a journal and took me under their influential wings.
In reality, the opportunity found me more quietly: There was a need for a fashion writer at the Post-Gazette, I was asked to fulfill it and I accepted. I felt up to it, thanks to a lifetime of loving and studying the arts and a stint in the fashion editorial department at Conde Nast's Modern Bride magazine. Ever since, the job has been a mix of quiet, quirky and quintessential moments that I've come to realize makes the role -- or anything in life -- interesting and beautiful.
This week, I head to the Big Apple to cover my fifth season of New York Fashion Week. Everything about this bi-annual affair, which attracts fashion insiders from across the globe for eight days of runway shows and presentations, is a combination of couture and challenge. For me, it begins with packing.
I hate to pack. I'm not good at it and no matter how hard I try it never seems to improve. I regularly travel by Megabus, the uber-affordable bus line that says it can transport someone from Pittsburgh to New York City for prices as low as $1.
I've hobbled up to the bus stop at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center bogged down with a rolling suitcase (always the maximum size allowed) stuffed with everything I need (and likely many things I don't). Also with me is a carry-on bag, aka the everything-I-couldn't-cram-into-the-suitcase tote. Laptop and camera chargers are wound around toothbrushes. Velcro hair rollers share a ziplock bag with miscellaneous snacks and beauty products.
While the bus driver checks passengers in, I begin to sweat and stress. Will my luggage meet the size and weight requirements? Will the attendant loading the bags make a snarky comment about how heavy mine are and ask if I'm planning a yearlong voyage? On one trip, I hailed a cab to take me to my Upper West Side hotel. After the driver heaved my bags into the trunk, he climbed back into the car, massaging his shoulder.
"I think I pulled a muscle," he said.
It's difficult not to get swept up into the spirit of the Super Bowl of style and want to bring along some favorite looks. Photographers camp outside Lincoln Center, home to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, snapping shots of the fashionistas and fashionistos. There is a science to catching a street-style photographer's eye: the more colorful the hair, the better; layer lots of jewelry (anyone who can pull off so much bling must have a sense of style); wear sunglasses (even if it's dark or rainy); walk quickly (that person must be in a hurry to get some place important -- and, therefore, must be important).
At the shows, you never know who you might encounter. Martha Stewart, Joan Rivers, Ivana Trump, Kelly Osbourne, countless reality TV personalities and Ms. Wintour herself have dotted the front rows of some shows I've attended. Once I was in my seat when a petite young woman with long dirty blond hair approached me.
"You're sitting in my seat," she said.
I rummaged through my overfilled, oversized carry-all and pulled out my crumbled receipt-like ticket, evidence I was in my assigned spot. She held hers next to mine.
"Looks like we have the same seat number," I said, puzzled by the mistake. The woman looked closer.
"Look! We have the same name," she said.
We laughed. Unlike the Smiths, Jones and Johnsons of the world, our long German surname isn't common in America. She was a fashion photographer from overseas, and "Bauknecht" was her married name. We spelled "Sara" the same way, too. The mix-up continued throughout the week, and my doppelganger and I had to share our story several times with ushers so we could score our own seats.
Because of blogs and social media, a fashion writer's role knows little rest during Fashion Week. Shows run from sun-up to sundown, and the breaks between them are spent tweeting about top trends, posting a picture of a celebrity sighting to a blog or filing a story for the next day's newspaper. It can be draining -- physically and electronically.
To assist with the latter, tables with rows and rows of outlets are set up inside the tents, but finding a spot at one is like landing an invite to Michael Kors' runway show -- nearly impossible. I've entertained myself over the years by coming up with creative places to charge my phone on the go. My personal favorite: the vacuum testing section of a Bed Bath & Beyond in Chelsea. I entered and heard the "vroom, vroom" of the vacuums and thought: There's got to be an outlet around here some place!
Staying stocked with food is equally trying, as the days' schedules leave little time for eating anything that requires silverware. Among fashion journalists, this predicament has been affectionately dubbed "the Fashion Week diet." New York Times writer Eric Wilson did a piece on it earlier this year, revealing that he once ate "a dusty lozenge discovered on the bottom of a colleague's bag" for lunch and "was grateful for it."
I'm still grateful to the Loehmann's department store in Chelsea for the platter of finger sandwiches on hand at its Fashion's Night Out festivities a couple of years ago. I sat on the floor in the corner of the women's department savoring a handful of them like they were a Thanksgiving meal (with my phone plugged into the nearest outlet, of course).
After another 9-to-9 marathon day of fashion, I always look forward to stepping outside the tents and seeing another beauty -- the city sky. Sometimes I stand in the middle of the Lincoln Center plaza near the fountain and inhale deeply. The aroma of the Manhattan air is a mélange of asphalt, cab fumes and entrees from nearby eateries, and in those moments it smells luxurious. I feel alive, ready to face another day of the ordinary and extraordinary.
Thank you New York -- and thank you fashion -- for five seasons' worth of these moments to experience and to share. And thank you, Pittsburgh, for listening.
To be continued ...
Stylebook at New York Fashion Week
Starting Thursday, visit the PG's fashion blog Stylebook at post-gazette.com/stylebook for daily photos, videos and trend reports from New York Fashion Week. Follow PG fashion writer Sara Bauknecht on Twitter @SaraB_PG for tweets from the runway.fashion
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG. First Published September 3, 2013 4:00 AM