Take the rough with the schmooze
I recently returned from 15 straight days of fashion week in Milan and Paris. There were some great shows, and I interviewed designers including Dries Van Noten and Olivier Theyskens - but I can't say I've returned in the most sprightly form.
It's true that I experienced some rather glamorous moments and parties, as well as getting a big hit of world-class leading design. All in all, though, it can be rather exhausting.
Fashion week is a constant dance of stops and starts. It's running to shows in 10 minutes, and then waiting outside for 30 as they are inevitably late (though some are on time, just to keep you on your toes).
Within this cycle, they manage to slip in the magical performance we are all there to see. The music sets the mood, veering from menacing (weirdly so at Dries) to camp and happy (at Rykiel), and even including live bands (Florence and the Machine playing at Chanel).
When the lights flash on, gamine girls with impossibly long legs strut the runways in impossibly high heels.
The creations they wear flutter about, some light and sensual, others stiff and tough. The fruit of six months of labour by design teams. It is this mystique, beauty and revelry in fashion that has captured so many people, and goes on to fill thousands of magazine pages. And in 15 to 20 minutes, it's all over.
The fleeting nature of runway shows captures the essence of fashion - it can be magical, transformational and is often about the first impression.
The Milan circuit has all the glamorous Italian houses on show, and for spring, it always promises a healthy dose of sex appeal to heat things up. I rather liked Prada, a darker Cavalli and the glitzy cheek of Dolce & Gabbana this time. The city's glorious sunshine was a bonus to what can usually be a week of shivering in rain-filled boots, trying to pass off as 'grunge chic'.
But Milan is best done with someone who knows their cenacolo from their Cipriani - so try to hang on to a local to get the best out of the city.
Paris offers the sweet promise of irreverent, daring fashion. It is less traditional than its Italian counterpart, and all sorts of wonderful characters come out to play. Terry Richardson and Carine Roitfeld had exhibitions at Colette.
The city is also more accessible, with more to do should you have an hour to spare. I amuse myself at the Musee d'Orsay or the outdoor cafe at the Petit Palais when there is a gap between shows. Both are great for people-watching and eyeing the most conspicuous fashion-show goers. Telltale signs this season are a see-through button-up blouse, black bra, high-waist belted skirt and, of course, the obligatory cigarette.
After 15 days, I've seen more celebrities than I care to - after traipsing around Milan for 10 hours in heels, you stop caring when Scarlett Johansson sits in the front row. You want them to start the show already.
I sipped champagne because there is often not much else to drink at events. I abandoned my heels for flats, lest my feet turn into bloody stumps from the daily battering. I bought Prada loafers, which then broke. And everyone started to blur into one another. Let's call it 'fashion week fatigue' - but I'll be honest, I wouldn't miss it for the world.