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OPINION COLUMN: TED KRUCKEL

Fashion's Night of the Living Dread

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Last year I was fascinated by the idea of Fashion’s Night Out. It all seemed so Vogue zany: Anna going to a Macy’s in Queens, Hamish Bowles singing standards with flappers at Juicy Couture, and Grace Coddington window-dressing live at Prada. It was as if Vogue had, in one single move, shed its image as the gatekeeper of high style and instead picked up the shield, Jeanne d’Arc-style, and was now demanding “fashion for the folks.”

It turned out to be, at least for this event writer, an evening of the rarest type: where hype and publicity were outdone only by execution. It was a breathtaking achievement, turning out large crowds all over the city. (Although not in every single case. Last year I made it my point to visit shops in almost every neighborhood listed, and it seemed that the success in some stores had made the recession even more painful for others by sucking all the customers up in the vacuum of cool.)

I even got on a subway and ventured to Queens, partly out of disbelief, to watch Anna Wintour, Michael Kors, Mayor Bloomberg, and the cast of Hair kick things off in an odd ceremony that included boring speeches, massive crowds, models, and, of course, a fur protester or two. Fun!

Once back in Manhattan, I found that almost every store I visited had found its own little vibe and, importantly, natural niche of customers.

Almost.

What marred the evening for me was the vulgar use of celebrities to generate crowds, which kind of went against the idea of “home-grown” entertainment. The most jarring was the angry line of Charlize Theron autograph seekers at Dior, who prevented guests of neighboring shops from coming and going. But these were quibbles.

But only a day or two later, there was Anna Wintour being quoted in Women’s Wear Daily saying that, well, maybe this once-in-a-lifetime undertaking could be resurrected next year.

Uh-oh. As I wrote then, the best way to ruin the legacy of a great evening is to try to catch lightning twice in a bottle.

By now my editors are surely tearing their hair out, wondering when, when will our columnist get around to covering this year’s Fashion’s Night Out, held Friday, September 10, 2010?

But I don’t know how I can explain my horror and disgust at this year’s mess of an evening without contrasting it to the brilliant debut it followed.

To be sure, this year my fellow BizBash-ers were ready for action, so I was assigned a small and manageable, but appealing, chunk of the evening: the meatpacking district. My list included a Hewlett-Packard/Diane von Furstenberg digital lounge, a block party by Helmut Lang, and Shake Shack burgers flipped at Tory Burch. I even got in the spirit of things, signing up for the dance contest at Tracy Reese. So my comments can only account for one area of a citywide promotion.

But whereas last year I felt Vogue deserved the key to the city, this year they should be given a summons for causing a public nuisance. I now rank Fashion’s Night Out right alongside the Feast of San Gennaro. The evening was an unpleasant, discordant, and decidedly un-chic affair at every turn.

At DVF, gimmicky photo booths were badly placed by the main entrance, as well as interactive touch screens showing the collection and social media comments. Despite security, the store was not only crowded but actually a safety hazard. The frontwoman for a deputy mayor, mistaking my notepad for a sign of my involvement in the event, wondered if the event was even too unsafe to bring her city official to. A deputy mayor! After you had your picture taken, you waited like cattle to get—voilà—a digital picture of yourself. Will wonders never cease.

But the line (here and everywhere!) was a mile long, because every downtown denizen had put on their highest heels and showiest outfits to stomp the cobblestone streets. They lined up everywhere, waiting 20 to 30 minutes at a time for a free cupcake or hamburger. The crowd was very young. I asked two attractive ladies who were in the Tory Burch Shake Shack line for 20 minutes what they had bought so far. “Tonight’s all about the free stuff.” Tory wasn’t the only one with the food cart idea, sorry to say. We saw a hot dog truck, two coffee trucks, and a yogurt truck, all thronged with grasping freeloaders.

The “block party” at Helmut Lang turned out to be a store party where a DJ played and absolutely nothing happened, with nobody of any particular note there to notice. Sigh. Remember Helmut Lang?

The only drink we were able to get came at Calypso, Veuve Clicquot. Too bad it was warm. But at this store, at least, people seemed to be shopping. The fur hats were cute.

Selma Blair was the attraction at Stella McCartney, where I counted 45 people waiting to get in. Now I find Blair to be a pretty and charming actress, but the idea of waiting in line to get her autograph—well, let’s just say I kept moving.

In fact, you had to keep moving. The crowds on the street buffeted you along from one blaring DJ storefront to the next. As I walked by the stores on the sidewalk, the music reminded me of a college dorm hallway on a Friday night. This one likes reggae, that one likes krunk, the dykey store had a Joan Osborne remix. While all were legitimate music choices, with them all playing at once, grasping for attention, you thought, “Nobody cool should be doing this on a Friday night.”

So we decided to beat it. Which wasn’t easy, since the streets were stopped dead. Out of nowhere, a table with the familiar logo of Sant Ambroeus featured neatly organized Insalata Caprese sandwiches. But no takers? “These sandwiches are $3 each, to benefit Acria.” I was never so happy to pay for anything in my life. There were three workers, all thrilled to have a customer. With free food and drink everywhere (despite being almost impossible to get at), $3 for a sandwich seemed like a hard sell. I wondered, “What kind of business can these clothing stores be doing with customers who wait in line for 20 minutes to get a free fish taco?” Let me know.

With hope of escape dwindling, and the idea that we might just have to lie down in the street and be trampled by stilettos—like that lady suffragette did with the horses—as a way of showing our displeasure with Fashion’s Night Out, a white knight suddenly emerged. Aveda was sponsoring pedicabs (at a cost of $300 a night per driver, which included a week of advertising on the vehicle). And while they wouldn’t take us all the way home, they got us to 20th Street and Seventh Avenue (with a full-size sample of some hair infusion), where, thankfully, no fashion parties were being held and we were allowed to buy drinks and food with no lines and no celebrities and no DJs.


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