Never doubt Aspen’s ability to feast on issues of vanity, even amidst a crippling national recession. “Aspen” –as an idea– is elevated in the American public’s imagination as the self-actualized pinnacle of the American Dream. This remote mountain retreat of soaring peaks, powdery slopes, and wide-open skies righteously touts Gatsby-like success and excess, be it après-ski soirees or outrageous real estate prices. Need more proof? Take a walk past the chichi shoe, fur, and handbag boutiques with easily mispronounced French and Italian names.
Designer-thread retailers are big business in Aspen, a town eponymous for international self-trumpeting festivals and celebrity charity events. Thus, it was merely time and starry-eyed destiny before the fashion world descended on Aspen with the good intentions of hosting an “official” winter fashion week.
Why a fashion week in Aspen? According to an official press release, winter sports products, including ski wear, are a mammoth industry that netted an estimated $3 billion in sales in 2008. Almost $663 million is spent on snow accessories alone, making this sector of the fashion and design world a colossal and growing entity. Obermeyer ski wear, founded in 1947 by active skier and mountaineer Klaus Obermeyer, is a shark in the premium winter wear industry, long calling Aspen his personal and corporate home. These factors, along with Aspen’s international reputation as a billionaire-friendly haute couture hangout, make it perfect for hosting a week of high-altitude hedonism in the snow.
The 2009 Aspen Fashion Week was the brainchild of Aspen-based special event public relations guru Lisa Johnson, who previously served as a puppeteer pulling the strings behind the Aspen Chamber of Commerce and world-famous events like The Winter X Games and the annual Food and Wine Classic. Lisa heavily promoted Aspen’s first annual fashion week to a national audience on ABC’s Good Morning America, drumming up press coverage from outlets like W Magazines, Vanity Fair, and the Los Angeles Times.
Heralded in promotional press releases as “the stunning backdrop of the Rockies with Bryant Park glamour," the international fashion cognoscenti descended on Aspen for the inaugural fashion week between March 1st and 4th. As was expected, Fashion Week increased the ski town’s already astronomical fur-to-high-heel ratio and filled the streets with slender models, fashionistas, the crème de le crème of the glossy fashion rag press corps, and blazer-wearing male jetrosexual hanger-ons, assumedly attempting to seduce the model crowd in the post-après ski hotel hot tub scene.
Aspen Fashion Week kicked off with splashy and bling-tastic champagne and liquor-drenched extravaganza at the super-swank Sky Hotel sponsored by W Magazine, Burberry, and Jaeger Le-Coultre. Soho and Rodeo refugees lined up around the block, spilling into the Sky’s swanky 39 Degrees Club to get as close as possible to the action.
Never mind Aspen’s Fashion Week overlapping with Milan’s fashion week and piggybacking on New York’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. This didn’t stop the garment and runway icon Valentino Garavini from descending upon Aspen, cold and all, for a Wheeler Opera House screening of the documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor. The retired designer, who boasts homes in Rome, Paris, London, Gstaad, Tuscany and New York, attended an au courant post-screening party at the Tuscan Villa, a multi-million dollar private residence. Other high profile notables in attendance included Gucci Group CEO Domenico del Sole and New York-based millionaire matchmaker Janis Spindel. According to an article in the Aspen Daily News, Spindel, who moonlights as a dating self-help author, came to Aspen’s during Fashion Week with a loyal assistant and the intentions of updating her Rolodex with potential clients. The newspaper profile had her fishing for rich, single men at fashionable events and upscale haunts like 39 Degrees and the Caribou Club.
As for the fashion highlights, in-store promotions and showcases occurred throughout the week. The titans of the skiwear and snow wear industry displayed trendy collections for the upcoming 2009/2010-ski season at downtown retailers like Moncler. A March 4th runway show at the Belly Up featured name-brand designers and sporty winter garb from the likes of Fendi, Rossignol, Isaora, Ed Hardy SNOW, Gabriel Conroy, Under Armour, Obermeyer, Kästle, Dennis Basso, and Circe Snow.
Fashion Week’s red-hot attitude and voguish predisposition didn’t exactly bring out everyone’s best. According to police reports and the Aspen Daily News, a part-time male model allegedly punched a waiter at La Cantina after the ski-wear fashion show at the Belly Up.
These liquor-fueled setbacks won’t deter preparations for next year’s fashion week. According to an official press release, 2010 will include full-scale runway productions and outdoor tents. Think Bryant Park-once-removed with snow, skiing, more top-shelf intoxication, and hot tubs. Lisa Johnson is quoted in a press release saying, “The positive response from designers, sponsors, media, and consumers proved that there is a need for an industry event that puts a spotlight on the booming ski and sportswear category.”
It is too soon to tell what an event like Aspen Fashion Week could eventually evolve into. Will it descend into madness and just another week of awkwardly dressed inebriated models strapping on skis and over-inflated hotel prices during prime snow seasons? Or will it eventually solidify into a venerable celebratory occasion of substance like the Aspen Institute's Ideas Fest? There are a lot of “weeks” and “festivals” in this town. Hopefully Aspen Fashion Week becomes a positive projection to the world outside the snowy and sometimes-myopic wonderland of Aspen. Indeed, all the cards are in place for Aspen Fashion Week to become another marquee event for a town with a year-round population of 6,000 that can burn like a 7-billion megawatt bulb.
Photo credit: Leigh Vogel