Woman Dies, Runway Show Goes On. Fashion's Strange Reaction to Zelda Kaplan's Death

Zelda Kaplan is carried off as the show goes on. (AP)

House music fist-pumped on. Models kept their pace. And only a portion of the front row seemed to notice when an elderly woman was limply carried out of the show by two men. A few snapped photos on their camera phones.

New York Fashion Week ended tragically when 95-year-old socialite Zelda Kaplan collapsed and later died during Joanna Mastroianni's runway show at Lincoln Center Wednesday. Kaplan was a downtown New York staple, who spent half her life as a suburban housewife, before becoming a fashion muse and designer well into her twilight years. Once pegged the city's oldest club kid, posing with Kaplan at parties and fashion shows was a bit of a coup.
Kaplan photographed minutes before her collapse. (Getty Images)
But few seemed too concerned when she left the building. Two doctors who happened to be at the show attempted to resuscitate to her as she "flopped over" onto the lap of fashion writer Ruth Finley. At that point, the show was just beginning and it didn't occur to anyone to stop it.

Video footage featured on TMZ reveals a momentarily concerned reaction from the audience. Someone throws what appears to be a water bottle across the catwalk. Audience members aren't sure whether to pay attention to the models or the medical crisis just feet away. Most likely, people were confused, or thought if it's really bad they'd stop the show.
Models, dog take a bow. (Getty Images)
Only it was really bad and the show didn't stop. A Getty Image photo gallery, which includes a shot of Kaplan in her seat before the show started, features images of every model taking a turn down the runway in oversized furry hats and feathery accessories.

The designer thanks her famous guests. (Getty Images)
At the end of the show, one of them re-emerged with a small puffy dog that was clearly a muse for the collection. The designer walked out to receive applause. She gestured toward the most famous people in her front row--former model Carol Alt and a young blonde woman named Heather Schmidt. Then the designer invited Iris Apfel, a renown textile consultant, to join her on the stage to share in the fanfare.

It's not clear whether Mastroianni was informed of Kaplan's collapse during the show, but she did release a statement after the fact, saying she was "deeply saddened to lose Zelda, such an icon of the fashion community."

As news spread of Kaplan's death, the general and quick consensus was that she died "well." That's to say at a fashion show.

"Passing away in the front row was how it was meant to be," designer Richie Rich told the New York Post.

"She came to a beautiful show and went to heaven," photographer Gideon Lewin, husband of Mastroianni, told Newsday.
With Kaplan on her way to the hospital, the show ends with surreal applause. (Getty Images)
Somehow the existential aspect of dying, and only moments before a panting dog became the focus of attention, was glossed over in the aftermath. Photo shoots and magazine spreads have given us plenty of past examples of how disconnected the industry can be when it comes to tragedy--slavery earrings, bruised and battered fashion shoots. On Wednesday, that bizarre lack of compassion again surfaced as the band of dresses played on.

It takes a lot to phase the glamorous set during Fashion Week. Something has to fall from the sky, as it did back in 2005, at a Diane Von Furstenberg show. A track of heavy lights crashed from the ceiling, sending more than one person to the hospital. In that instance, the show was cut short.

Kaplan's dramatic death, however, got a delayed response. And when it arrived, several hours later, it was not unlike the giddy ovation of a well-received collection, or a scene from the movie "Heathers."

"When I die, I'm going like Zelda Kaplan!" tweeted LA boutique owner Cameron Silver, exclamation points and all.

Fashion muse Dita Von Teese added to the surreal applause on Twitter: "What an excellent exit!"

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