Paris is to fashion week what Beyonce is to pop music – the undisputed queen – and while it's easier to attend the men's shows than haute couture or ready-to-wear, it's still a fraught process.
Newly Paris-based Australian writer Annabel Ross discovered a world every bit as glamorous and cliquey as you'd expect, with a few surprises.
Here's six things she learned trying to go behind the velvet rope.
1. Getting an invite is as difficult as you'd expect
I decided I'd like to try and attend fashion week quite late in the piece; the week before it started, in fact. This is inadvisable as media accreditation closes two months before each show.
My only option was to contact the PR teams of all the designers directly – I sent off some fifty emails –and hoped for the best (you'll also need a verified Paris address).
I got pretty lucky considering I'd left it so late, but if I'd gotten onto it earlier I might have had success with more of the higher-profile shows. It's not like fashion week in Melbourne and Sydney, where you can buy tickets. In Paris, unless you're accredited media, work in the fashion industry or a celebrity, you've got buckley's chance of getting an invite.
2. You will want to set fire to your wardrobe
I'm not going to lie; I went shopping before fashion week and spent a small fortune at Galeries Lafayette so I would look the part. Blame the Paris heatwave (sweat was my constant accessory all week) or first-timer panic, but I ended up buying pieces I would never normally buy – I'd been studying the fearless choices of those papped at previous fashion weeks – and one show in, decided they were wrong, all wrong.
I didn't have time to shop again, so had to make do with my existing wardrobe and the few things I bought that I didn't hate, and for the most part I felt like a peasant.
Basically, you're surrounded by the most fashionable people in the world, and when you're not at that level, clothes that you would ordinarily feel good in suddenly just won't do.
3. Making friends is tough, but not impossible
I made friends with the fashion assistant from Vogue Man of the Netherlands on the first day; he borrowed a pen and we got talking. He was lovely and undoubtedly the highlight of my fashion week – thanks to him I got into the A.P.C. party that night (a surprisingly low-key affair at a dingy but cool discoteca in the Pigalle) and he got me a seat next to him FROW at the Issey Miyake show.
It's fashion; it really is about who you know, and so making friends is all the more important when you know nobody at all. That said, I barely spoke to anyone else all week, so perhaps asking for a pen is the way forward.
4. Seating is hierarchical and cutthroat
Once you receive an invite – and they're old school, they like to post aesthetically pleasing invites in the mail for you to proudly brandish at the door – it will usually be colour coded and/or numbered in some kind of way to subtly indicate your level in the pecking order.
I was surprised to receive a last-minute invitation from Kenzo, and even more surprised when I read it as Aa, the front row. I'd taken a seat next to actress Natasha Lyonne and was already feeling more than a little uncomfortable when the rightful ticket-holder approached and I shuffled to my seat in Ad (I blame the cursive scrawl) a few rows back. Ouch.
5. Not all shows are created equal
So I missed out on the likes of Dior Homme, Balmain and Lanvin and I can only imagine what they were like, but the two biggest shows I attended, Issey Miyake and Kenzo, were suitably spectacular.
Issey was at the Universite Pierre and Marie Curie, the tiered grey concrete steps a perfect backdrop for the label's cool minimalism, and Kenzo's show had colourful abseilers performing acrobatics down the walls of the Lycee Camille-See.
It didn't necessarily make them the most interesting, though. Julius' basement show had an underground Berlin vibe, with techno that throbbed so hard chunks of plaster fell from the walls; at the the neon-hued Angus Chiang show, a couple of models strutted the catwalk with plastic bags on their heads; and in Henrik Vibskov's sleep-themed show, models sauntered between trippily patterned sleeping bags, unfurled and hanging in rows.
6. The people-watching beats the parade
The people-watching is out of this world at fashion week, and the more outre and/or renowned the label, the more attendees go all out with their sartorial choices.
The Issey Miyake crowd was a cornucopia of awesomeness – ridiculously attractive people in breathtakingly striking designs, many of them flouting one of Issey's popular Bao Bao bags, and some far-out choices including one fabulous paparazzo who looked primed for a fetish night at Berghain, and a guy swaddled in white bandages, mummy-style.
I saw some beautiful clothes in the parades, don't get me wrong, but it's what other people wear that really grabs your attention, and is why you feel so much pressure to make the right impression.
Paris Men's Fashion Week was equal parts fun and traumatic, and it's with no small amount of terror that I consider the prospect of attending both the haute couture shows, and my credit card bill at the end of this month.