Fashion Week’s Dirty Little Secret: Laundry

PARIS — Past the plush Napoleon III sofas, through a forest of orchids and under the keen eye of doormen in pillbox hats, a guest crept out of the Ritz Paris hotel on a mortifying mission.

The guest, dear reader, was me (while working on an article about the Ritz during fashion season some years ago), and this was not a walk of shame.

With a lumpy bag humped over my shoulder, I was headed to a coin-operated laundromat, surely the first guest at this storied establishment to take out his own washing.

I had my reasons.

Packing strategies take on an urgency when your occupation requires you to spend as much as a month at a time following the fashion caravan through some of the most beautiful and expensive cities in the world, as hundreds of retailers, journalists, stylists and photographers routinely do.

 If you seek to make a daily fashion statement like Alex Badia, the style director of Women’s Wear Daily and an Instagram darling, you pack the way 19th-century swells did for the Grand Tour: with oversize suitcases and outfits arranged in advance.

“Fashion Week is like an expedition, an adventure, like mountain climbing,” Mr. Badia said at a Balenciaga show in the Bois de Boulogne.

From two immense North Face bags crammed with his outfits, Mr. Badia had selected on that torrid morning a Joseph coat, a Juun.J shirt, Bottega Veneta trousers and Yeezy sneakers, all in polar white.

“I really, really love clothes,” Mr. Badia added. “Though when I get home, I wear the same navy T-shirt for, like, a month.”

Photo

Alex Badia, the style director of Women’s Wear Daily, before the N.21 show in Milan. He arranges his outfits in advance of Fashion Week. CreditAcielle Tanbetova for The New York Times

If your intention, however, is not to set shutters whirring but, rather, to stay presentable during the weeks crammed with runway shows and industry events, the system you develop is a matter of self-preservation and budget maintenance.

For Greg Kessler, a photographer who has spent 15 years documenting backstage life at men’s and women’s fashion shows in New York and Europe, clean laundry is key to survival. “We always rent an apartment in Paris, and the first thing we ask is if there’s a washer-dryer,” said Mr. Kessler, whose personal style might be characterized as that of a natty slacker.

“One problem is that, being from the United States, you never know if the setting is on the right cycle,” he added.

Calibrated on the metric system, temperatures on European washers can play tricks on the unaware. Run delicates through a wash cycle at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and you end up, as Ms. Kessler said, “with doll clothes.”

In most seasons, Nick Sullivan, the style director of Esquire, arrives in Milan on a Friday evening direct from the men’s wear shows in London, checks into his hotel and immediately tosses his dirty laundry on the floor.

“Then I stuff a bag,” he said, “and on the way to the first Saturday show, I get the driver to stop at Lavasecco di Santa Croce,” one of Milan’s wash-and-dry establishments. “You have to time it right, because if I miss the drop-off, the clothes aren’t ready” to be picked up in time for the next leg of a journey leading to Paris.

Typically, the risk pays off. Not only does having everything washed, pressed and folded at Mr. Sullivan’s preferred spot cost an employer-friendly 60 euros rather than the exorbitant €300 charged by a hotel, “everything comes back folded in cellophane and packaged like a 1950s Christmas present. Plus, I resent spending €300 to wash my smalls.”

These sensitive items and the jeans that no European hotel ever gets right — creases! — are why I creep through lobbies to my favorite laundromat here, a generically named (a sign above the door says “Laverie automatique”) 16-washer holdout wedged between a restaurant and a Martin Margiela boutique on a tiny square in the First Arrondissement.

A full load at this place costs €4.50, and dryer time is calculated in 10-minute increments, each costing a single euro. Since I prefer my jeans air-dried, I bypass this step and take my clothes back to my hotel room to be strung up from shower rods and towel racks and even, during this particular week, the chandelier until the place starts to look like a Neapolitan alley.

Some people would consider it sinful to squander an hour dully observing a wash-and-spin cycle when all around lie the splendors of the City of Lights. Yet a steady diet of fabulousness can leave one aching for mundane pleasures. And when business trips stretch to a month, it is essential, as Madeleine Weeks, the fashion editor of GQ, said, “to do your laundry, pick up Greek yogurt or buy some flowers, whatever you can to make you feel more normal.”

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