This February, while standing outside the Collina Strada fashion show in New York, a young woman wearing a red bomber jacket, a matching set of devil horns, and silver leather pants strutted up to the wall of photographers and let them snap pictures of her. She was wearing sunglasses, and her face was covered in glitter. When a passerby stopped to ask for her photo, she posed as if her life depended on it.

Once inside, I scoured the audience looking for her, but the woman was nowhere to be found. She’d either dressed up to crash the show, and failed, or just shown up to have her picture taken by paparazzi.

In a world where luxury fashion feels ubiquitous, where brands take over restaurants, hotels, and even beach clubs—Gucci, Fendi, Valentino, and the trendy French fashion house Jacquemus all had branded sunbeds in St. Barth’s, St. Tropez, and the Amalfi Coast this summer—it seems that people are more desperate than ever to be part of the fashion world.

Outside the Collina Strada Fall/Winter 2023 show, New York.

Social media has made it so buying clothes isn’t enough anymore—anyone can do that. What’s cooler is being invited to something exclusive. And fashion month, which kicks off this weekend in New York, is the culmination of the craze.

In the run-up to New York Fashion Week, hundreds of TikTokers took to their accounts to share tips for gaining entry to what they call “high-profile events,” including step-by-step instructions. “E-mail P.R. companies,” a popular TikToker suggested in one video, and “create a media kit” for yourself. “Set up a Web site under your name,” another proposed.

Last February, “Page Six” reported that people were doing just that—setting up fake Web sites and e-mails to get themselves onto the much coveted lists for fashion shows. On Reddit, a forum called r/ActLikeYouBelong, where locations and tips are exchanged among users, has more than 600,000 members.

Sediuk made the most of his time on the runway.

The intruders aren’t difficult to spot—every New York show has some variation of the girl in red. In February, at the Collina Strada show, a man wearing an all-fur outfit and whiskers stood waving to the crowds outside the venue. At Dion Lee, a woman in a thong and a transparent tutu managed to get into the show and took hundreds of photographs, all angled to make it look like she was sitting in the front row.

When the shows are over, the journalists and the rest of the fashion crowd tend to rush to the next show, while the crashers linger, taking selfies or, better yet, snagging the coveted celebrity photo.

“Fashion Week makes people more hysterical than ever, especially the Instagram generation,” Jade Alexandre, a creative director at the Mazarine communications group, tells me. “Everyone wants their followers to know they are part of something really exclusive, and they’ll do anything to prove it.”

Social media has made it so buying clothes isn’t enough anymore—anyone can do that. What’s cooler is being invited to something exclusive. And fashion month is the culmination of the craze.

Gate-crashing fashion shows is hardly new, but once upon a time episodes were few and far between, and they were usually memorable.

“In the 90s, I used to work with the Italian ready-to-wear brands Genny and Byblos, during founder Donatella Girombelli’s time,” Alejandra Cicognani, who runs a P.R. agency in New York, tells me. “There was a man who impersonated Valentino—he used to do his makeup with a suntan and wear hats. A group of people would pose as bodyguards and cameramen.” The Valentino impersonator was last spotted in 2017, stalking the streets of Rome and telling models their walks were terrible.

In 2010, meanwhile, a high-school student named Rebecca Shumlin made headlines when she and her friend hacked into a P.R. firm’s database and got them both added to the party and runway-show guest lists during New York Fashion Week. As Shumlin and her friend strutted around the city, the blogger and street photographer Scott Schuman, known as the Sartorialist, captured her wearing large sunglasses and a trench coat, Gossip Girl–style. At the time, Gawker wrote, “I kind of admire their moxie!”

French comedian Marie Benoliel, known as “Marie S’Infiltre,” sneaks onto the catwalk during the finale of the Spring/Summer 2020 Chanel show, Paris.

Four years later, at a Prabal Gurung show in New York, Vitalii Sediuk, a Ukrainian reporter who had previously pranked Will Smith, Gigi Hadid, and Kim Kardashian, jumped onto the runway in a black trench coat, which he unfastened to reveal a leopard-print thong.

And in 2019, the French comedian Marie Benoliel, who goes by the stage name Marie S’Infiltre, wormed her way into the Chanel Spring/Summer fashion show in Paris wearing her mother’s Chanel tweed suit and stormed the runway mid-show, prompting Hadid, who was modeling for the show, to escort her off the stage. Benoliel’s intention? “To have fun,” according to The New York Times. “It goes too far to take seriously something that is not serious,” she told the paper.

“Everyone wants their followers to know they are part of something really exclusive, and they’ll do anything to prove it.”

But while gate-crashing used to be relegated to real fashionistas who loved clothes, or to attention-seekers with a point to make, today dozens of uninvited people might try to access a show at the same time, often without really being interested in what is being showcased. Instead, it’s about the gate-crashers’ own image—a front-row seat at Eckhaus Latta or a party at the Boom Boom Room looks great on Instagram, and it’s becoming a problem for fashion houses and their publicists.

Selfies at the Boom Boom Room or it didn’t happen.

“Chiara Ferragni once tried to crash one of my shows,” the Milanese designer Luisa Beccaria recalls. Ferragni is Italy’s biggest fashion influencer and is invited to every show, but in the late 2000s she was a fashion-obsessed blogger looking for her big break. “Today,” Beccaria says, “it’s different—outside the fashion shows, there is always a line of curious gate-crashers.”

“We see quite a few impostor e-mails during the season—people pretending to hold titles at publications or companies which they don’t,” says Gia Kuan, who runs her own fashion P.R. company in New York. “Faking media credentials during the request process or even showing up on-site with a fake media pass is fairly common.”

“They’re all doing it for the posts,” Alexandre says. “They just want to get that photograph of them in leather standing next to Uma Thurman. It’s an identity-establishing thing.”

A pre-fame Chiara Ferragni at a Philipp Plein men’s-wear show in Milan.

“A few months ago,” Michael Schwartz, Purple PR’s luxury-fashion-and-jewelry director for Europe, tells me, “a crasher came into a Philipp Plein runway show in Cannes and was audacious enough to try and walk the runway during the finale.” The vice president of the group, Carolyn Batista, adds, “We don’t know who she was—she came in as a plus-one.”

“The truth is, the people who once wanted to get in were the real die-hard fashion fans. I don’t think those people exist anymore,” the co-founder of a luxury-fashion consulting company tells me. “Fashion shows today are about the outlandish outfits, the K-pop stars, the celebrities. People just want to belong to something. It just isn’t about the clothes anymore.”

Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor at AIR MAIL