Has fashion ever made you cry?
I had my moment while working on this issue. It happened as I was reading the funny, insidery Fashion Week essay by photographer Evans Caglage, who, for 20 years, captured the beauty — and sometimes the inanity — of runway shows for Fashion!Dallas, the weekly style section of The Dallas Morning News, which became the very magazine you are reading now.
A lot of “fashion people” will profess to being moved to tears by a detail, a dress, even a whole collection. I get that. I do. But my waterworks finally came when I got to the section in Caglage’s story about September 11, 2001. I was in New York with him, covering Fashion Week for Fashion!Dallas, too. I was the section’s staff reporter. Its full-time stylist and creative director, Tammy Theis, was with us. Theis and I were hunting for trends and stories. Caglage was documenting the catwalk action as it thundered at him through his Nikon. We packed into tents. We taxied up and down Manhattan. We darted from store opening to fashion show to cocktail party. On the crisp, cool night of September 10, we were on a Chelsea pier, cantilevered out over the Hudson River, literally rubbing elbows with Moby and supermodels at the rollicking after-party of the Marc Jacobs show. Some of the models even danced on tables.
Riiiiing. Riiiiing. The phone in my hotel room. Nine that next morning. I forced an eye open. “Hey, it’s Tammy. Have you seen? A plane hit one of the twin towers! It’s on CNN.”
It is, still today, hard to sort out what happened next.
I do know this: We hit the ground, running. We were suddenly, reluctantly, the unofficial New York bureau of The Dallas Morning News. It would be a couple of days before News staffers — Tammy and I only half-jokingly called them “the real reporters” — would arrive. (It’s a long drive from Dallas. Planes had been grounded.) Caglage, Theis and I spent the next several days roaming New York on foot, looking for stories for The News. Theis and I interviewed firemen, nurses, witnesses. We talked to shopkeepers, concierges, tourists, waiters, officials and, yes, fashion people, about the meaning of it all. Back in Dallas, Tracy Achor Hayes, the longtime editor of Fashion!Dallas, was the link to our kind of reality. She kept us focused, kept the story ideas coming. We would file — newspaper lingo for submit — those stories each day from our hotel rooms, on our company-issued laptops, or we would call them in directly to reporters at The News from pay phones (!) on the streets, since cellphone service in the city was nonexistent or spotty for days. We even recorded stories over the phone to be played as audio files on dallasnews.com. During one, from Times Square, I had to stop and wait. A pack of fighter jets whizzed over my head, roaring like freight trains.
Reading about Caglage’s own experiences in those first moments — he got to the scene as fast as he could — brought mine rushing back, too. “When I got closer and should’ve seen two towers,” he writes, “there was only one. My mind couldn’t go there.” He got even closer. “Someone yelled, ‘Oh, my God!’ I looked up and saw the second tower fall. Dust. Gasping for air.” It did seem, for a time, that an apocalyptic New York was our new reality, and maybe our new hometown. (Transportation was upended, along with lodging.) But how to get back to Dallas was low on our list of priorities. We had stories to tell, work to do. We had gone to cover hemlines and designers, and instead were covering dead firemen and missing people.
Caglage is at The Dallas Morning News today. He has traded photographing fashion for food. Theis co-owns the Wallflower Management modeling agency and Hayes is an editorial director at Neiman Marcus. I would have never made it through those surreal New York days without them. They were what I knew. Everything else had gone upside down. I leaned on Hayes’ exacting instincts and perspective — and I clung to Theis’ unbelievable strength and gumption, and to Caglage’s dry wit and trademark gentle ease.
You know, for “fashion people,” they’re all right.