The Collina Strada Show Was an End-Of-Summer Night’s Dream

collina strada runway new york fashion week september 2023
Collina Strada Was an End-Of-Summer Night’s DreamJohn Lamparski - Getty Images

They say you’re a true New Yorker when you’ve lived in the city for 10 years. But I think you’re a true New Yorker when you’ve sat front row (a.k.a. FROW) at New York Fashion Week. All of that is to say, I am now a New Yorker! My front row cherry was popped at Collina Strada’s spring/summer show and it a formative experience, like riding a boosted Citi Bike or sobbing on the sidewalk. Sitting FROW took my fashion week experience to new heights. And I mean that literally—the show took place on the roof of an industrial building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Allow me to share with you my ascension to Collina Strada’s version of fashion heaven...

Arriving to a fashion show in a far-flung building you’ve never been to can be intimidating, especially when you’re wearing your grandma’s hand-me-down white terry cloth blazer over your shoulders like I was. I didn’t quite know where I was supposed to go, even with the map I’d been provided via email. A chic older woman saw me walking hesitantly and pointed me in the right direction, where I fell into step with Esquire fashion editor Alfonso Fernandez Navas, who, as it turns out, was also going to the show. Who needs maps when chic older women and dudes named Alfonso exist? Handwritten posters saying “COLLINA STRADA THIS WAY” guided us to the intimidating swarm of black-clad people with iPads, the fashion week equivalent of the TSA.

collina strada front row backstage new york fashion week september 2023
Harry Hill and Brittany Broski.Dominik Bindl - Getty Images

After clearing customs (making sure my name was on the list), I took in some pre-Collina Strada sights: Dorian Electra posing with a bright yellow scooter that matched her hair, and a fashion Tik Toker opening his JW Anderson frog clutch to reveal his inhaler. I tried using telekinesis in the form of a smize to get a photographer to notice me, but it didn’t work, so I followed some model-y looking people into a freight elevator, naturally. Alfonso would’ve taken my picture, I thought to myself as we lurched upwards. Once we arrived on the top floor, we stepped out onto an expansive roof—the sun just beginning to set as if on an operated timer—and followed a path to a long, runway-sized tent.

I had two questions on my mind as I was lead to my front row seat: 1. What am I going to do with my feet? And 2. Will I be sitting across from Mary-Kate and/or Ashley Olsen? The second question was answered immediately, as there was only seating on one side of the runway. The twins would need to be squatting in the bushes in order to be across from me. The first question would have to wait until the show started, which was about 10 minutes after I sat down. Suddenly, the lights in the gold-draped tent shifted, and I knew we were about to be transported—I just didn’t know where to.

collina strada runway new york fashion week september 2023
John Lamparski - Getty Images

Enchanting music swelled loudly, and then there was a young woman twirling, jumping, and flitting excitedly down the runway, like she’d just discovered her limbs. We’re talking jubilance, people. After swirling up and down the catwalk in a pair of silky coral-colored pants, she handed her ribbon to internet muse Devin Halbal, who sat just three spots away from me, and began strutting down the runway, as if remembering her model status. The show had begun.

The models poured forth after that, lead by Hari Nef in a gauzy number and cartoonish smile bigger than Barbie’s. The end of the runway is always a turning point, but at this show, it was a transformative moment. Each model began their journey with a huge, theatrical smile that lasted until the end of runway, where they’d wipe it off and finish their walk with a fierce pout. The models’ facial expressions existed on the same spectrum the clothes did: soft to spiky. Lace and ruffles mingled with metals and silks. Sustainable nymphs and pattern-wielding sprites populated an enchanted forest of watercolors. If Rapunzel had access to Pinterest in her tower, all these looks would be on her mood board. If fairytalecore isn’t a trend yet, it might be one now.

collina strada runway new york fashion week september 2023
Hari Nef walks the runway.John Lamparski - Getty Images

Fashion shows depend on star power, and this one was no different. Although the star power here was admittedly odd: the models were wearing pimple patches. Ink-black Starface Hydro-Stars were adorned to arms, shoulders, and even foreheads. For a moment, I thought they were drops of blood and feared first for the models and then for my strappy white sandals folded under my front row seat. But alas. It was like Snow White had lead the talent through the forest and down the skin care aisle at Target. I’m telling you, this show was enchanted.

collina strada runway new york fashion week september 2023
King PrincessJohn Lamparski - Getty Images

It all ended with a performance by one of the models, who just so happened to be indie-pop singer King Princess. Sheathed in a transparent black lace dress, she sang a fun song I wish I’d Shazam’d. I feel like there are several unspoken things you can’t do in the FROW, and one of them is definitely Shazaming songs. It just isn’t the vibe. All of the models came out and danced along, a pulsating mess of smiles and flowing fabrics. It was one of those ecstatic New York moments that you wish you could bottle up and put in your pocket. But I didn’t have any bottles on hand, so I’m glad I got to experience it IRL, wearing my grandma’s old blazer, in the front row.

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