Alan Cumming and MC Kato at NYFW

The author, MC Kato, and actor Alan Cumming hang out behind the scenes during New York Fashion Week.

Editor’s Note: Chicagoan MC Kato has been making a name for himself in the music industry by creating an eclectic sound that combines his love for hip-hop and his classical music background. He’s performed at SXSW, opened for major Hip-Hip acts like KRS One, and frequently finds himself on the guest list for major events. This year he was invited to New York’s Fashion Week (NYFW), and was privy to many runway shows displaying the upcoming trends in spring 2012 fashion. Kato offered to be Man Up Chicago’s correspondent for the show, and he wrote this article describing his behind-the-scenes experiences at NYFW. You can also check out the Q&A we did with him about his favorite men’s looks from the show. To learn more about MC Kato and his music, visit his websiteFacebook page, or follow him on Twitter.

New York Fashion Week is the Burning Man for the rich and famous and the epicenter of the flaming effigy is Mercedes Benz’s Lincoln Center showroom. The experience is wholly unique, and I’ve been everywhere from SXSW to the MTV Music Awards. I’ve hung out with the Wu-Tang Clan, partied with hard drinking reality TV stars, and talked politics with an abundance of actors, but my first Fashion Week was like falling through the looking glass.

Fashion overtakes the whole of Manhattan. What is probably the most fashion conscious city in the US reaches heightened levels of awareness twice a year for a single week. Security was already crazy with September 11th being on Sunday but the extra police presence didn’t produce a noticeable effect. The massive crowd surrounding Drake after he walked out of Versace was unimaginable, and although not as crazy as the amount of fans trying to catch a glimpse of Justin Bieber at another event.

With all the photographers, bloggers, and reporters running around you’d think drawing some media attention would be easy (the whole point for artists, actors and others not in fashion is publicity). Not exactly. Unless you’re outlandishly dressed or a legitimate superstar, you can walk five miles of red carpets and get your picture taken a thousand times, but your photo will not show up even on the most insignificant blog. If I wasn’t hanging out with major producers, actresses from movies and TV shows, and reality stars all succumbing to the same issue, I would have thought it was just me. Luckily some people recognized me for my music so my ego didn’t leave to bruised.

Seychelle Gabriel and MC Kato at NYFW

Seychelle Gabriel, of "Falling Skies" and "The Last Airbender," hangs out with MC Kato at NYFW

I stepped up my fashion game too: knit flat bottom ties, bright red boat shoes, corduroy, army boots, suspenders, and more. Even my socks were colored and matched my outfits. You can tell a lot about the people by how they dress. Inside the Benz tent there are many different types of fashionistas. If you are not dressed up you’re probably part of the press and carrying around a camera. Of course there are people invited who actually work. The industry people who run the fashion world move around with businesslike purpose and dress appropriate yet practical. Then you have the people, like me, who come for publicity. You can tell who they are because their dress has distinct personality, not just style. Finally, the rich were out in troves. How can you tell someone is rich? Simple: $10,000 handbag, $20,000 skirt suit, $1,500 shoes, $25,000 in accessories and jewelry and their style still looks understated. The rich are the ones who let money instead of fashion speak — but then again they might be the same thing. I originally brought a nice wool suit, one that costs maybe $800, just in case I felt like looking dapper one day. I never wore it because every suit I saw was at least $5,000.

I hope I’m not making the week out as being all bad or the people snobbish. On the contrary, the
opposite is true. I had many nice conversations with random people at shows. I met a girl from
Austria who was putting on shows for some very high end brands. We talked about the snow capped mountains where she lived and I told her she needed to visit the Rockies one day. I stood in line behind a beautiful blonde woman who had a line of balding men handing her business cards. I had to ask three people who she was before I was told “Howard Stern’s wife.” A mother with her teenage daughters (impeccably dressed) told me she wished she was as tall as me (I’m 6’1”) because she was having difficulty seeing. I offered to sit her on my shoulders so she could get her picture. The people were friendly and in a good mood despite how draining the week gets. I don’t think I’ve met that many friendly people in all my visits to New York – it almost felt like Chicago hospitality.

Friends, comped bottle service, and peers in the entertainment business were the highlight of my week. Additionally, I’ve never seen so many beautiful women I had to look up to, literally. Every party felt like a staged commercial — every person in attendance was attractive and impeccably dressed. My friends and I partied almost every night until 5 AM and in the entertainment  business, that’s called networking. Of course I missed a few early morning shows; the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week schedule started around 9 AM each morning.

What initially threw me off with the shows was how short they were. For all work and time that goes into creating 30 or more pieces of attire, each outfit only gets about 10 seconds of runway time. Runway shows are what you expect and see in videos. Bright lights, white walkway, shadowed attendees watching from the seats. There is a clean room feel to the shows that go on in the tent – giving them an almost antiseptic feel. The production, despite all the planning, seems mostly scrapped together last minute. In fact, if you listen close, you can hear the music from the rehearsal 5 minutes before they open the doors to seat guests – normally half an hour late.

A model at the Stevie Boi NYFW party.

Off-site, most shows try to replicate the feel of the Lincoln Center and fall drastically short. The best off-site shows tailor their event to the venue they happen to inhabit. Stevie Boi’s show was probably my favorite of all that I saw. If you don’t know who he is, he designs eye wear for celebrities like Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Snookie. The show was held in an underground bar with dim yellow lights and arched ceilings made of stone. The place was so packed that the models had to walk angles because ‘standing room only’ overflowed onto the square runway. That didn’t stop the show from leaving everyone in awe. I went back online and found video of the show but it doesn’t do it justice. There was something alive in the vibe of the night. Even with hundreds of flashes going off, the crowd seemed to melt away only to feed energy to the models walking.

I accomplished most of what I set out to do and I consider the week a success but I no longer look at fashion the same way. When people ask about my music I tell them that my CD and my live performance are two completely separate experiences and there is no way to understand unless you experience each personally. If you, at any moment in your life, have appreciated the way a tailored shirt or new set of kicks make you feel, you need make you way to NY and experience fashion week.