The End of Bitchiness

Fashion people aren’t mean anymore. They’re downright snuggly!

Karl Lagerfeld

It was part Rue Cambon and part Ru-Paul’s Drag Race.

Yes, I’m talking about the annual F.I.T. Couture Council luncheon, held last Friday at Lincoln Center, the new home of New York Fashion Week. I played host to the crowd of Chanel-encrusted exquisites and fashion exhibitionists. Karl Lagerfeld, the designer who has led Chanel for nearly 30 years now, was the star honoree.

Lord knows Kaiser Karl deserves to be thus feted. He has made an inestimable contribution to the magic and craft of fashion. And he has never gotten dusty. He’s never had a Phil Collins moment. He has somehow managed to stay hip and relevant since he launched his first collection. But most noteworthy of all, I’d argue, is that Karl has a devilishly quotable, Wilde-ian wit. His brilliant and tart-tongued observations have enlivened La Mode for four decades, in six languages.

When, back in the ‘90s, the Met bagged a Chanel retrospective in favor of a Jackie Kennedy homage, Karl said, “It’s perfect. They can call it the Necropolitan Museum.”

When Pierre Cardin banned the press from his shows, Karl said, “That’s like a women without lovers asking for the Pill.”

When nemesis/colleague Kitty D’Alessio was put out to pasture, Karl said, “The good news is that Kitty D’Alessio has been made director of special projects. The bad news is there are no special projects.”

When his mother asked what he wanted for his birthday, Karl said, “A valet.” He was 4 years old.

Karl, in other words, is fucking fabulous! But he is also, at this particular point in fashion history, a unicorn. He is the last of the great, quotable bitches.

Permit me to explain: The Fashion World is assumed, by an increasingly style-obsessed public, to be an intimidating hornets’ nest of snarky asides and venomous back-biting. Every designer is imagined to be a monumentally disdainful fag or hag or fag-hag whose sole aim in life is to look down on the frumpy trolls of the world and make witheringly hilarious comments.

The truth is both surprising and disappointing. Not only is fashion no longer bitchy, it has become positively snuggly. Even on today’s vastly expanded and demented fashion landscape, it is virtually impossible to find anyone who will say anything even remotely caustic about anyone else. Designers are either mute—the current crop of stars has taken its cue from the modern-day Garbo of the fashion world, Martin Margiela—or they are folksy and affable.

This situation is, as you can imagine, wildly unacceptable to me. Last Friday, inspired by my dejeuneravec Karl, I set out to scour Fashion Week for this seemingly vanished commodity.

Teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson

FRIDAY: Dinner With a Fellow Midget

I enjoy an early-bird special with teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson before Fashion’s Night Out. (She eats early because she’s so young. I eat early because I am so old.) After a chicken Caesar, Tavi and I head to Barneys to greet her followers. If there was ever an indication that the fashion world had lost its hauteur, it would be the global, uncynical embrace of this now-legendary 14-year-old. Guiding Tavi through the crowd and watching the glassy-eyed reverence, I feel as if I am on a date with the Infant of Prague. Nobody flips the bird. Nobody mocks our collective lack of height. It’s all very disconcerting.

In the perfume department we run into Daphne Guinness, whose archly severe beauty suggests that she sleeps in a black onyx coffin and eats the livers of people like Tavi and myself for amusement. Was she bitchy? Au contraire. The Brit aristo was warm and jolly. Warm and jolly! What an outrage!

SATURDAY: It’s a Wang Thang

I am sitting at the Alexander Wang show and desperately trying to understand the demise of bitchiness, when it suddenly hits me: There are no longer any bitchy designers because all the hottest designers are now Asian. Richard Chai, Doo-ri, Jason Wu, Derek Lam, Peter Som, etc., etc. And everyone knows there is no such thing as a bitchy Asian person, because Chairman Mao killed off all the bitchy queens with bitchy genes during the Cultural Revolution. Don’t try to tell me they weren’t the first to go! If you had a smart mouth, or too much eyeliner, or one too many embroidered chrysanthemums on your skin-tight cheong-sam, then Mao was totally not feeling you! Right? What’s that? These designers are not all Chinoise? Hmph. OK, back to the drawing board.

Victoria Beckham

SUNDAY: Essex and the City

10 a.m.: The Victoria Beckham show. Surely the rail-thin ex-Spice Girl, the so-called queen of the WAGs (or “wives and girlfriends,” of footballers, that is) might find it in her heart to slap a minion or mock an editor’s frowsy shoes. But no! Like Daphne Guinness, La Beckham is a fully paid-up member of the Looks-Bitchy-but-Isn’t Club. In fact, her delightful show might just be the least bitchy event of Fashion Week. Why? I’ll tell you why: She actually commentates the intimate defile herself. Instead of pounding house music, we listen as the mother of three chats charmingly about her love of Brancusi and high-heeled shoes, in a chirpy Essex accent.

Conclusion: To be a great bitch you need a certain un-Beckham-ish grandiosity, a remoteness, a droit-de-seigneur, a folie de grandeur. This kind of foofy French attitude is—quel dommage!—totally absent from today’s classless fashion fiesta, all of which takes us conveniently back to our unicorn, Mr. Lagerfeld. Karl was once asked to specify his favorite names. Instead of “Sebastian” or “Francoise,” or even “Mildred,” he replied …

“Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI.”

Long live Karl!

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.