REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: The Szish Dish -- New York Fashion Week

Of all the chaos, beauty and drama the fashion industry generates, the seemingly most glam event of all, New York fashion week, is really just a trade show.

The twice-annual affair is about the business of selling clothes, or that new fragrance or line of sunglasses. The styles that catch the eyes of editors and buyers will be the ones that end up in your favorite shops next season (hence, the six-month lead time).

Friday marked Fashion Week's official kickoff as it showcased designs for spring/summer 2007. In addition to the Twiggy models, creamy hues and delicate, feminine details spotted on the runways, there were, of course, plenty of celeb sightings just off the runways: a demure Carmen Electra at BCBG and an angelic Emmy Rossum at Phillip Lim (who told me she was already lusting after the white coat accented with rosettes). Celebs, a front-row fixture at the runway shows, help get a designer's name in the press. In exchange, they get first dibs on red carpet get-ups.

Despite close encounters with Hollywood A-listers and exclusive previews of all the clothes we'll be wearing next March, the weekend was really only a warmup -- spring training for the spring '07 collections.

Among the sartorially-obsessed, Fashion Week truly begins with the Marc Jacobs show, traditionally held on the first Monday night of the seven-day event. Year in and year out, Jacobs' show is the one we wait for. Literally. His presentations have been known to get under way up to an hour-and-a-half late.

The 43-year-old Jacobs -- who was lauded in this weekend's Wall Street Journal as "the single most influential designer in the United States" -- heads a veritable empire. He designs his namesake label, the more affordable Marc by Marc Jacobs line, and is also the mastermind behind Louis Vuitton's ready-to-wear collections.

Jacobs not only operates in the glare of the industry's spotlight but under a paradox: He bucks the mainstream trends, only to ultimately dictate what will become the next mainstream trend. He delivers the unexpected -- not in a manic, unwearable way but in an intelligent manner that challenges the existing aesthetic.

Jacobs creates what we don't think we want to see; we often walk out of his shows shaking our heads, thinking he's finally gone too far. And sure enough, a few days later, we're convinced it's the most brilliant collection we've ever seen.

In many ways, I have grown up with Marc Jacobs. He influenced my fashion tastes before I even knew who he was, back when I was sporting the grunge look he pioneered on my college campus. (Though that may have been less an adherence to his missives and more a symptom of my financial station -- more Salvation Army than Saks.)

I next "met" Jacobs in 1996. While interning at CNN (remember "Style with Elsa Klensch"?), I found myself backstage at his fall show, sipping Champagne with supermodels Shalom Harlow, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. But it wasn't the elbow-rubbing with the fashion elite that won me over -- it was the fashion: chunky million-ply cashmere turtleneck sweaters, cropped peacoats fastened with the biggest buttons I had ever seen, and floor-sweeping wool sailor skirts. It didn't even matter that I couldn't afford the clothes: I was hooked.

Jacobs soon got me through my job interview with Anna Wintour at Vogue. "Who is your favorite designer?" she asked. "Marc Jacobs," I replied. After she slowly scanned me from head to toe, she smiled and said, "I can see that." I got the job that same day.

But the most memorable fashion show I've ever attended was Jacobs' Spring 2002 collection, displayed on the evening of September 10, 2001. It was staged at a pier along the Hudson River.

As the last model exited the runway and Jacobs appeared for his customary modest bow and wave, the flower-encrusted stage backdrop parted to reveal a flower-laden, jasmine-scented hall (Jacobs was also celebrating the launch of his debut fragrance), with rustic dining tables overflowing with platters of figs, nuts, fresh fruit and rare cheeses.

The Champagne was flowing, the crowd -- including luminaries like Sarah Jessica Parker and Hilary Swank -- was beautiful, and fire boats on the river sprayed jets of colored water.

Night quickly turned to morning -- the morning of September 11. A night of frivolity and celebration, decadence and glamour, followed by a morning of horror. The remainder of fashion week was promptly canceled.

Suddenly, all this fashion stuff seemed painfully trivial. It was difficult to celebrate art and commerce when there were infinitely more important events going on around us. Like everyone in those terrible hours, days, and months, I wrestled with the larger questions.

Now, five years later, the fashion crowd eagerly awaits the start of the Marc Jacobs show. But that doesn't mean we've forgotten what happened back then. We will not be celebrating fashion tonight or this week or in years to come, simply for the sake of celebrating, but rather, because as Americans, we still have the freedom to celebrate.