I'm Done with Phoenix Fashion Week

Looks from Rocky Gathercole's Phoenix Fashion Week 2016 showing.
Looks from Rocky Gathercole's Phoenix Fashion Week 2016 showing. Melissa Fossum
I’ve covered Phoenix Fashion Week every fall since 2011. I’ve written about its high highs, and very low lows. Call it a labor of love. Call it insanity. Call it off.

In that time, I have critiqued local up-and-coming designers, championed could-be stars, and spotted models on the rise.

I've also provided some much-needed reality checks. Remember that time a designer sent a flock of models down the runway wearing pantyhose as pants? Or when Dolcessa Swimwear, after being featured in Sports Illustrated, competed as an emerging designer? And hey, what about the time they had the same designer close out the event four years in a row?

I was there for all that, and heaven help me, so much more.

But you won't find me in the front row this year, scribbling notes for what would've been my seventh year of reviews. In fact, you won't find me anywhere near the casino where it's held. I'm not covering it.

Phoenix Fashion Week founder Brian Hill called me around 5 p.m. on Friday, September 29, to let me know that there would be no seat available for me at Phoenix Fashion Week 2017.

They're changing things up, he told me. They're looking to sell more front-row seats. (My absence frees up two whole chairs per evening.) They want to engage more bloggers and "mainstream media."

Are you fucking kidding me? Phoenix Fashion Week broke up with me.
The event I've stuck with for six years straight — despite the headaches and the eyesores — gave me the old "it's not you, it's me."

It took a few hours and a few glasses of wine for that to really sink in. Then, I realized something: The feeling's mutual.

Truthfully, I had been dreading the prospect of going this year and covering the annual fashion event that's named for Phoenix but takes place in Scottsdale. The event that turns into a watered down Magic Mike re-enactment any time male models take to the runway. The event that can't help but call things "couture" that are not and will never be couture.

It's only now — like literally at the moment I'm writing this — that I'm realizing how toxic our relationship was.

I showed up. I heeded warnings to take my seat early each night lest it be given away (despite the fact that starting on time would count as a miracle of biblical proportions). I dutifully reviewed a barrage of T-shirt "designers" and hobbyists. I wrote late into the night, obsessing over when to pull back on my harshness and when to let somebody really have it.

I thought I could offer thoughtful criticism and push it to become something better. Despite evidence to the contrary, I thought it had the potential to evolve. I thought I could change Phoenix Fashion Week.

That might make me a total idiot. I'll own that.

Now that I think about it, this year's lineup should've tipped me off that we were done.

Dolcessa Swimwear is showing again. Pop diva costumer Rocky Gathercole is showing again. Yas Couture is showing again. Suitmaker to well-coiffed athletes Elevee Lifestyle is showing again.

Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results?

And besides continuing its persistently flawed emerging designer contest (during which up-and-comers compete for money and prizes to launch labels), Phoenix Fashion Week is billing five designers who have less than nothing to do with couture as "luxury couture."

I have to assume that my disinvite is a power defense move. I've been tough on past editions of the event, sure. But I shudder to imagine what kind of show they'll put on this year if they don't even want me to see it.

Part of the problem might be that we've grown to know each other too well.

If the event's organizers already know that I'll hate what they're doing, and they are — for God knows what reason — dead-set on doing it anyway, then it's probably best we part ways.

Last Friday, when Hill called me with the news, he tried to soften the blow. He told me I could still send a photographer (ha!!) and that he'd let me know if something opened up.

How gentlemanly. What an offer.

But of course, that won't happen. Because Phoenix Fashion Week and I? We're over.

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski