No tantrums please, I'm Anna Wintour
'Vogue' editor looked horrified when North West threw a wobbler at Kanye's show, says Tanya Sweeney
It's not often that I empathise with Anna Wintour, but it seems I've found an unlikely kindred soul in the Vogue editor. 'Nuclear Wintour', as she's called, has reduced dozens of her staff to quivering wrecks, yet she finally met her match at New York Fashion Week. And her match was a tantrum-throwing toddler; Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's daughter North West.
Anna's body language spoke volumes - her body tilted at an angle, her face impassive behind those ever-present shades. Anna is a paragon of ice-cool politesse, but the message was abundantly clear: she'd rather be back at the office, or anywhere than within earshot of this bawling baby. How did Kanye's collection actually fare? Few are any the wiser. Most of the press coverage about the show was about one thing: a tot having a tantrum.
A humiliating moment for Kimmy K? Apparently not. A day later, North West was back on the FROW for Alexander Wang's show, and seemingly less in the mood for an unending parade of models in couture. As North squirmed and wailed, Kim cut a bewilderingly neutral figure. I understand that mothers need to acquire a superhuman skill whereby they hear white noise instead of their child's screeching… and in this respect, Kim is a champ.
Kanye was on hand this time to placate North with a smile (which, let's be fair, probably set her off even more). It was then Nicki Minaj's turn to hide her horror. Kanye's reaction to the episode was… well, typical Kanye. "She just wanted people to stop being mean to her daddy," goes he. "Because she knows that her daddy loves the world and just wants to make it a more beautiful place." Hmm. Quite.
Across town, Victoria Beckham's show became a family affair, with her four children, aged three to 15, taking pride of place on the FROW. Yet unlike North, young Harper was a seasoned pro, even managing to feign the sort of chilled-out ennui that seasoned FROWers have been attempting to master for years.
It all makes for a rather wonderful photo-op, doesn't it? Brand Beckham and Brand Kardashian are certainly safe given that the heirs are showing an interest (or eh, not) in the family business. But here's the thing. Fashion shows are not really the place for young children, even if they are related to the designer.
As a dad of seven children, designer Paul Costelloe recalls how his family would certainly support his shows. But the FROW was usually verboten territory.
"They would often stay close to the back as there was always a little place there for them," he says. "I'd never consider putting my family in the front row, and if someone else had a young child there at the show, they would often be bored stiff. If a child is well behaved and truly interested in what's going on, that's one thing. I only hear good things from people about Victoria Beckham's children and how well-behaved they are.
"But a child below the age of six or so who is getting bored is just putting pressure on the parents, and worse again they're putting pressure on other members of the front row. If that were the case, I'd be pretty annoyed. It's a distraction. It's like a child being annoying in a restaurant… it can sort of upset the whole room."
As the pinnacle in a billion-dollar business, fashion week is a whirligig of glamour, pressure and all-round mayhem. Designers spend months and millions creating the right kind of spectacle, and the right kind of atmosphere, to showcase their creations. The audience, too, expects an hour of aspiration and escapism. A bawling child is, by and large, not part of the plan.
"It's a very important workplace and an expensive venture at that," says Costelloe. "Any distraction from the garments can only serve to alienate people, and they're likely to think, 'well, I won't go to that show again'."
Fashion designer Joanne Hynes pinpoints an interesting development: that children have become 'a new trend' in and of themselves. In a world obsessed with trophy accessories, a baby on the hip affords plenty of social capital.
"I can see why some people bring their children to fashion shows… they want to show them what mummy does, or the child has an interest in fashion," she says. "But I do wonder why else they're bringing them. Having babies around seems to be very much a thing of the moment."
When Hynes' own daughter Fainche (now two) was born, the designer took little time off from work, and the baby became a regular fixture in her design studio.
"I wanted to be there but I didn't want to be apart from the baby, so I managed to bring her with me until she got to a certain age," she explains. "Then she started moving about a bit… but she still came in to work with me every so often."
Designer Brendan Courtney is even more forward about his distaste for tantrums on the FROW: "Children should be seen and not heard," he says. "Children are like farts… you can only bear your own. I have friends with kids and I think, 'I don't love your baby as much as you do'. We were seen and not heard as kids and it did us no harm."
He's right, of course; most of us rarely ventured into adult-only spaces as children, much less brought to fashion shows as a sort of trophy accessory. As I recall, my brothers and I were brought out very, very occasionally to restaurants. Normally used to the drudgery of suburbia and Findus Crispy Pancakes, we'd get excited and overawed by the experience to the point of hyperactivity.
Naturally there would be upset, tantrums and loud, loud, chaos, and we'd be banished back to the Crispy Pancakes while our parents took months to get over the trauma.
But that was then and this is now. I live in Dublin 6, which has a rather high cute-kid quotient. Yet in some regrettable instances, the embarrassment threshold appears to be much higher among parents. The behaviour of kids, however raucous, goes unchecked.
And like Kim Kardashian, parents have evolved to the point where their little ones' public tantrums barely register anymore. Good for them and all that, but for those of us watching from the sidelines, letting little ones carry on to their liking is… well, see Anna Wintour's face.
"Bringing up children isn't easy," reasons Costelloe. "Young people don't have the same support from families, and babysitting is expensive. I can understand why parents might bring their children with them.
"The more you bring children out, the better they will behave. They know immediately how to act in certain spaces and behave among adults, and if you isolate children for years, they're bound to go crazy. When our children were babies, we used to bring them to restaurants and put them under the table in their Moses baskets."
Hynes has also attempted to bring Fainche to restaurants with her partner John, with varying degrees of success: "We're pretty selective about where we go, but you can tell which ones (are child-friendly) with one quick scan," she smiles. "And if the buggy doesn't fit through the door, you know it's not really going to work."
Child-friendly spaces across Ireland are swelling in their numbers, and not before time. But for everywhere else - restaurants, art galleries, music festivals, flights - there's an unspoken code of conduct that everyone, toddlers and all, should adhere to in order to keep the peace.
And it's not just us selfish, precious child-free folks who take exception to little ones hijacking the tranquil of a public space. Parents who were smart/considerate/sensible enough to leave their own children at home don't necessarily warm to the sound of screaming brats, either.
Ultimately, there's a time and a place for little ones to express themselves and venture out into the world. Alas, that time is before 7pm, and that place is… well, anywhere but near me.
WHY KIM WAS RIGHT TO BRING NORTH
As a parent to a two-year-old daughter, I completely empathised with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's attempts to soothe their daughter on Saturday.
Like most parents, I almost pulled a muscle cringing at those pictures of North West melting down during New York Fashion Week. We've all been there. Toddlers are, by nature, unpredictable beasts. Even more so when you're really counting on them being picture perfect as the world's media watches, waiting for a slip up.
My daughter is two months older than North and she is no stranger to throwing a tantrum. Right now she's learning that, while I'd prefer it, she doesn't really have to do as I say, unless she feels like it. I hear the word "no" about 5,000 times a day. And it's fine, because this is how she exerts what little independence she has.
North is no stranger to a front row seat, but this was the first time we've seen her pulling a typical toddler move - her image, at just 21 months old, is as carefully constructed as that of her superstar parents.
Of course the Kardashian-West naysayers were quick to come out and criticise Kim for having her there in the first place.
As a mother, I call foul on that.
If we don't bring small children to formal places like restaurants and fashion shows (if that's where your life takes you), how are they ever supposed to learn how to behave appropriately? A typical show only lasts about 10 minutes anyway; it's not like she was expected to sit there quietly for an hour. Remember that the next time you admire a well-behaved child in mass. They don't come out knowing the rules; they have to be taught.
Saturday's show, during which Kanye presented a collection for Adidas, was huge for the Kardashian-Wests as a family. As for the second episode at Alexander Wang, there wasn't the same motive to support Kanye's much anticipated collaboration.
In fact, the only obvious reason for bringing the little lady back to the FROW was for another photo op. And the flashing bulbs of countless photographers at one of the most photographed events in the world did little to soothe the already tense toddler.
But Kimye clearly don't care what you or I think about their choices - something we've known for some time, in particular the day they chose to name their kid North West.
So instead of throwing shade, maybe we could all learn a thing or two from them.